Thursday, October 06, 2016

master class


I refer to the 90s a lot when talking about style because 1990s minimalism had a huge, lingering influence on how I like to dress. But although the likes of Calvin Klein have retired, one designer whose work I've loved for years is still flying the flag for the power of minimalism - Narciso Rodriguez. 

In his hands, minimalism is luxurious and sensual, and he has that knack for playing with new ideas without beating you over the head with it. The clothes are pared back and precise, but not cold or austere. And there's an air of distinction that sets them apart - he conjures up a world of a cool, urbane, modern woman with purpose - but they are also restrained so that a woman can still be herself.

Narciso Rodriguez says a lot, with very little.

Photo via

Sunday, October 02, 2016

like the boys


I love me a good style guide. I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks is a good one, and I actually enjoyed one of the Nina Garcia ones (I think it's The One Hundred) because it was full of good sense. I liked a Denim Story by the Current/Elliot founders because it was full of inspiring imagery, and Style Forever by Alyson Walsh is a recent one I picked up that didn't disappoint.

Yes, these books often trade in cliches and can be prescriptive, but the good ones are more than just a bunch of diktats about what to buy, pictures of Audrey Hepburn, and glossy spreads of perfectly tidy walk-in wardrobes. The good ones are little bit autobiographical or the author shares a bit of lived experience about his or her style journey. Or that of stylish people, preferably accomplished people that you until then had never heard of. They convey a sense of enthusiasm for fashion and the joy of being well put together. They organise the art of dressing into a few helpful, loose "codes" that have you going "that's me!" and there's a sense of coziness, knowing that somebody "gets it". They have a good mix of the imagery that inspired them and original content that was produced for the book. In other words, these books have coherent style and substance.

A few years ago, I picked up Tomboy Style at the library (I always pick these up at the library because so many of them are rubbish or books I will never read again), with great hopes. After all, I had followed the Tomboy Style blog and enjoyed it. And people have called me a tomboy all my life and here was a whole coffee table book about it. I was about to be validated for my style choices. 

But the book was disappointing. The pictures of Diane Keaton, Katharine Hepburn etc were things you could easily look up online, and there wasn't any good writing to pull it altogether and make a compelling argument for why such an aesthetic mattered. And then there was rather cheesy subcategories of tomboys: the "sophisticate",  the "naturalist" etc. It was like a collection of blog posts, and not even very good ones.

I was excited when I found out that one of my favourite bloggers Navaz Batliwalla of Disneyrollergirl was publishing her contribution to the genre: The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman. I'd always enjoyed her take on style and the fashion industry, and her breakdown of what "gentlewoman" style is all about is always spot on. Plus, this is a style tribe I feel like I belonged to. It was a no-brainer whether ti pick it up when I saw it in the store. 

It's a slim volume, and I got through it rather quickly - a bit like how long it takes me to get through the fatter editions of The Gentlewoman magazine - but this is not to say it was insubstantial. I love that the book comprises mainly of interviews with inspiring women, and women who aren't already featured to death, to boot. There were just enough visuals to draw the eye and convey a sense of what the book was trying to say, and the selection felt thoughtful.


The book starts with an enjoyable essay on the evolution of the Gentlewoman, and I like the emphasis on women of accomplishment who also happen to be aesthetes. It has a section on the "hero pieces" of a gentlewoman (as you would expect, the perfect shirt, blazer, good watch) and caps off with an index of where one might buy these things and other recommended places to visit (parks, museums etc).


The interviews with the women - Polly Morgan, Donna Wallace, Bella Freud, Lyn Harris, Phyllis Wang to name a few - set the book apart from other style books. I also like that, for a change, here was a book that is about something modern and actually unfolding now - rather than a retrospective of something already well-established or celebrated - but at the same time it's also celebrating the classics.  

I would have preferred Batliwalla's point of view to come across more strongly, not mention perhaps what this particular aesthetic means to her personally. But these shortcomings didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book.

I'd also love to revisit this book in a few years, to see if the gentlewoman style still feels relevant. I love The Gentlewoman magazine, which has really driven this whole aesthetic in a big way, with COS helpfully providing affordable pieces to help live the whole look. It will be interesting to see if this style endures. 


Sunday, September 18, 2016

now and forever


Earlier this year, I bought a pair of Jack Purcells, in plain white weather. No bells and whistles, classic as they come, having been in production for decades.

Last month, I bought a pair of pink sneakers from COS. Blush pink is a pretty understated colour, but it's also a trendy at the moment (everyone is doing pink sneakers), and these shoes owe a debt to a number of brands (Common Projects, Adidas). These are shoes designed to tap the current fad for chic sneakers. 

Recently I bought a plain white cotton shirt from Uniqlo, made of a smooth fine cotton, fairly wrinkle-resistant, with a slightly oversized, mannish fit. Again, classic, basic.

Within weeks I bought a Zara shirt, despite my attempt to stop shopping there  (it's my first Zara item this year, which is exceptional for me, but still). It's blue-and-white striped, but with very on-trend floral embroidery. It's also the first time my mum and I fell for the same item - she being a fan of bright colours and florals; me, well, not usually a fan of bright colour and florals. We bought it promising to take turns on its ownership.

3) I saw this, and thought, why the hell not. It's an easy way of doing something new with things already in my closet. 


If anyone asked me to describe my style, I would answer automatically: "classic". But when I really thought about it, I realised this is untrue, especially if we go by a traditional definition of what is considered classic - perfect shirt, trousers, jeans, LBD, trench coat, t-shirt etc without embellishment or exaggeration. 

I like all of these things and it is certainly true that I don't like exaggerated silhouettes (wide shoulders, big flares, minis, high waists, low waists etc). But I also like fashion. Yes, there is an entire industry built around fashion, and companies shout trends at us, hoping we'll keep buying and buying. 

But people have always embraced and rejected ideas of how to dress, even before fashion became a thing for the masses. Every now and then, an idea comes along that catches my fancy, and suits my needs, and I partake. It can be a fresh colour combinations (blush pink for sneakers!), or it can be a silhouette (loose dresses over loose pants). 

I guess a better answer when asked about my personal style would be: "classic, but with exceptions". A nice way of capturing the infinite shifts in taste that will happen all our lives, not to mention the differences between one person's tastes from another. 

So right now, I am enjoying a touch of softness (pink, florals) and a more relaxed silhouette (keeping everything loose). 

Monday, August 08, 2016

first impressions


My last post about jeans got me thinking about the denim styles that made an impression on me while I was growing up, and a standout memory for me would be the various ad campaigns run by Calvin Klein in the mid-90s, especially the ones for the ckOne perfume.

I know these are styled images, photographed by Steven Meisel, but there was something very loose and effortless about the whole thing - the models they used were cool (Kate! Stella! Trish! Jenny! Kirsten!); the clothes were very basic, and the make-up was barely there. I still find these images timeless, and I would wear everything in those ads, even now.


Admittedly, there are caveats. It's not easy to pull off perfectly straight-leg jeans - they can be hard to pull off for anyone who doesn't have narrow hips, or are short. I like them cropped at the ankle best - I have curvy hips and I that find a cropped leg seems to balance everything off nicely, especially if you wear flat shoes. When I travel somewhere a bit nippier, I just put on some socks - thin wool ones.

(Also, I think I'm past the age where I feel ok walking around in a denim mini, but that's not saying I don't love it on others.)

Below are some more great images - from US Vogue, in 2000 - which made an impression on me, jeans-wise. I hate to be one of those people who talk about how great things were "back in the day", but imagine, 16 years ago, Annie Leibowitz was capable of photographing models for Vogue in all their natural beauty, without photoshopping the images to death:


My favourites? Shalom's and Carolyn's jeans.

Images from here and here

Monday, August 01, 2016

of a certain vintage


A few months ago, I bought a pair of vintage Levi's online on impulse. Okay they're not that old, certainly not pre-1970s, but I'm pretty sure Levi's doesn't make them quite like this any more - they're in the kind of thick, sturdy denim now extinct in the mass market, plus they have the kind of high rise and button-fly I rarely see on women's jeans. They remind me of a pair of old Levi's my sister had in the 90s', which is perfect since I had an early 90s' childhood and a late 90s' adolescence, and am a long-time fan of Thelma and Louise and their high-waisted badassery.

I know classic 501s look terrible on me, so I bought these with the aim of bringing them to my tailor - I wanted the relatively high waist (just around my belly button), the button-fly (I love ripping the buttons, hah) and tight fit around the butt and thighs, and so long as these bits fit well, the rest is easy.

It's not unusual for me to buy secondhand jeans or jeans on a deep discount with the aim of getting them drastically tailored - most of my old Diesel jeans are altered because when I worked there, it was the era of bootcut jeans and I don't like bootcuts. My "boyfriend" jeans are all jeans bought a size bigger and then taken in at the hip to fit. I read this quote on Jean Stories - "When you purchase jeans, you want them to fit comfortably over your largest body part (be that your thigh, waist, or hip) and everything else can be shaped to your liking" - and I understood perfectly.

I lucked out because these ones did fit perfectly at the waist, hips, and thighs, never mind that it was frumpy as hell from knees down. My tailor easily took care of that and gave me the tapered fit I wanted. He also cropped it a little more so that it hung above my ankles, which I find to me the most flattering length for me, and also quite practical - no wet hems in the rain.

For alterations inspiration, I found some good ideas on RE/DONE, which offers a fairly decent, albeit expensive preposition for those who don't want to hunt for old Levi's and get them tailored themselves: they source and alter vintage pairs in several cuts. They've become quite a thing, and even if one doesn't need to go to such expense to achieve the same thing, I can get behind something that at least makes good use of unwanted clothing.

I was actually motivated to write this post after I saw comments on a post on A Cup of Jo on the non-stretchy jean trend, and I was fascinated by how some people hate them - many swore they would never go back to the discomfort of non-stretchy jeans. I'm not averse to stretch, but I am definitely on the other side of the fence - the stiffness of old-fashioned denim looks better on me and because most of my jeans are non-stretch anyway, I'm used to them and I don't feel uncomfortable at all.

But what does everyone else think? A ridiculous trend or the revival of a good idea?


Sunday, July 24, 2016

a league of their own


I caught the Ghostbusters reboot last night, and like everyone I know, loved it. It's not a perfect movie (it's not terribly original, to be honest) but it made me laugh and it warmed my heart to see women being women and doing things and just being awesome friends and having adventures. The women in my circle of friends agreed it was great to see a movie with female friendship at its centre, and just a little sad that it's actually refreshing, rather than something we can count on.

It also reminded me of one of my favourite movies of all time - A League of Their Own.


I caught this on HBO one random night last year, and spent a happy couple of hours enjoying every scene of a movie I loved as a kid. I'm a sucker for any kind of sports movie, so throw in a group of awesome tomboys trying to make a women's baseball league happen in an era where women belonged in the kitchen and a highly watchable cast (Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell, Tom Hanks, Madonna) and you have a captive audience in me.


Watching a movie I haven't watched in a while always brings some surprising revelations - in this case it was the fact that the movie also starred David Strathairn, looking Don Draper-handsome.

The other revelation was how great the costumes are - a look I can only describe as "lady-like scrappy". On one hand you had your women in standard 1940s garb, but on the other hand there was the odd baseball cap thrown into the mix, the dirt on their faces right next to their siren red lipstick, the flat-lace-ups shoes with the full skirts. It was still a traditional time for women but these were rule-breakers trying their best to get by. You have Geena Davis in a neat little suit, blouse and hat - and then she's off, sprinting alongside a train that's pulling out of the station, carrying two suitcases and tossing them onto the train, looking grimly determined. She's a heroine, but she didn't need a pair of trousers to prove it. The women wear floral tea dresses, satin slips and curl their hair, but there's a worn, dusty, undone look to everything, because they have other things to worry about.


The movie doesn't overdo the "girl power" message as well, even though it was set in must have been a tremendous time for women, who had to move into the workplace with the men at war. One player has to bring her son on the road with her because there's no one to babysit, but the point isn't overplayed.


I don't dislike movies about women dealing with relationships and romance (which is usually the case when a movie has a cast full of women) but it's just nice to see us defined in other ways, and in the case of Ghostbusters, having this "normalised" in a straightforward blockbuster. Here's to not having to wait decades to see another film about a group of women doing things.

Which are your favourite movies about women doing stuff?

Pix from here and here

Saturday, July 02, 2016


Paris, April 2015

"I found myself walking like someone half asleep up the quai du Lourve, toward Chatelet and the big white Renaissance Revival Hotel de Ville. I walked until my feet hurt and I was soaked to the skin: past the Pont Neuf and the smooth round turrets of the Conciergerie and past the Michelin-starred restaurant that once had been a cheap brasserie. The urine-soaked odour of the metro wafted up through a sidewalk grate. The facades of the 18th century ile Saint-Louis looked luminous against the gray Parisian sky." -- "My Paris Dream", by Kate Betts

I recently finished reading "My Paris Dream", and when I got to this passage I felt such a strong sense of being understood. Whenever I make it to Paris, I find myself making at least one long walk across the arrondissements, letting myself fall into a Parisian reverie. This the the romance of Paris I never tire of - winding my way through the Left Bank and letting the sense of history and now collide and wash over me.

My love of Paris is not always understood, and in fact it amuses my friends that I am such a cliche - the Asian girl who loves Paris! I can only say that the city got me at the right age (when you are 21, is there anywhere else better to learn the ways of the sophisticated?), and having the chance to make multiple visits over the years and slowly getting to know the city has only made me love it more.

The Seine is my North Star. I like starting somewhere near the Grand Palais, crossing over to the Left and making my way down towards the ile Saint-Louis, making long, looping detours as I go, depending on my mood. If I'm rambling without purpose, I love the numerous art galleries and book stores of the area, or the stalls selling books and drawings along the river - I like buying old French magazines as keepsakes and once I found a French guidebook to Paris published in 1955, complete with a pullout map.

For the fashion-minded, you will find the amazing Dries Van Noten boutique, the Golden Goose store, and L/Uniform on the Quai Voltaire stretch alone. The Left Bank is also home to my favourite Parisian department store - Le Bon Marche - and of course once you reach the delightfully posh St Germain-de-Pres area, you'll find a good mix of the major names at a variety of price points, from Hermes to Muji.

For the food-minded, there is of course Poilane and Pierre Herme, and a never-ending parade of bakeries like L'eclair de Genie and others whose names I can't remember. Not far from Le Bon Marche you will find the beloved Mamie Gateaux, and if you are willing to make it far down enough to the Cimetiere du Montparnasse or Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, then I recommend grabbing dinner at La Cantine du Troquet, where the food, atmosphere and service are all excellent - you have to love restaurants where the staff don't mind explaining their all-French menu to you with patience.

The Left is also home to my favourite museum in Paris - the Musee Rodin. Apart from his unbelievable sculpture, the beautiful mansion that houses the museum is also dreamy to wander through, to say nothing of its gardens, which are perfect for picnics on good days. You can also see his drawings, as well as the works of the underrated Camille Claudel, which I love. The Eglise Saint Sulpice is of course also a draw for tourists, as is the wonderful Luxembourg Gardens, the perfect place to unwind after a day of tramping around the Left.

Any any point, it is possible to wind your way back to the Seine, and bear straight down to the ile de la Cite, and any of the bridges that traverse the river is a gorgeous place to watch the sunset, not to mention the people. You may also wish to make for Sainte Chapelle on ile de la Cite, the prettiest church I have ever seen.

A vast swathe of the Left Bank is dominated by the Sorbonne, which seems to add to the area's tradition and history, and slowed the tide of commercialism somewhat. Yes, there are chain stores and pricey boutiques, but you only need to cross the river to the Marais area to see what "commercialised" can really mean. The Left Bank isn't the haven it was for artists, writers and philosophers in an earlier era, but the romance remains, which isn't easy for such a storied district.

Yes we travel to open our eyes, but sometimes we also travel to dream. Paris, for all its changes, remains very much a dreamscape for me. I leave to a fellow Francophile (or shall I say, Parisophile) to say it best:

"Behind me, a breeze suckled the blinds from a large open window. The view spanned Paris, one of those views that came with sunshine and clarinets, from the Eiffel Tower to the Grand Palais, to the fondant of the Sacré Coeur.

I wanted to levitate right out of the room." -- "Paris I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", by Rosencrans Baldwin