Saturday, 29 April 2017

Heathcliff as a band and Cathy as a fan: Alistair James AW17

Funnily enough, in spite of my fondness for Austen and period dramas, it was only in recent years that I finally interacted with any of the Bronte clan. Considering their moody and dark romance, it really is a wonder but I guess the taste was a little more Austen during my childhood and both have a tendency to be given rather dusty press that can put off younger readers.

Nevertheless, my introduction came with the release of Fukuraga's 2011 "Jane Eyre", starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I remember insisting that my then boyfriend and his parents chose it among our options for something to watch one lazy evening and quickly became utterly absorbed and very bad company. However, it was "Wuthering Heights" that made me really fall in at the deep end.

I don't know why, really. Heathcliff is kind of everything I despise in a man and, yet... And, yet, in every adaptation and the original text he is utterly charismatic and I cannot help but be drawn to him and the gothic tale of passion, hatred, disaster, grief and pain that centres around his and Cathy's cursed love story.

So, during the brief moment I had to dash around the Designer Showrooms at LFW this season (only an hour), in my chaotic haze, my attention was immediately captured by a collection described as "'Wuthering Heights; if Heathcliff was a band and Cathy were an obsessive fan". I was sold immediately and the garments I was able to peruse there and then were right up my alley; gothy babydoll dresses, lots of black lace, elevated band tees. Upon nerding with one of the designers over the concept, I took a business card and some photographs as a reminder and went on my merry way.

I was feeling a lot of designers in the moment that day but that Bronte collection stuck in my head. So, I trawled through the photos and business cards and managed to find the name, weeks later, when the whirling around my brain refused to stop; Alistair James.

Alistair James is a two-man show; eponymously named after, and the brainchild of, Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise. The pair are a bit of dream team with Walsh being a womenswear designer who was worked with Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen and Wise a textiles designer who has worked at many labels, including Alexander McQueen.

Their AW17 collection takes inspiration from the Brontes, who lived a short distance from Walsh's home by the moors and was designed while staying there. Alistair James' girl this season is a "playful dreamer" and "lovesick consumed by her infatuation [sic]". With customised prints of abstract ladies frolicking in a winter garden and "Heathcliff" print, featuring lustful figures and lingering eyes, the collection is presented in tones of black, white, dusty blue and vibrant reds and pinks and includes a recurring silhouette inspired by Charlotte's "Thackerey" dress. Perhaps the most iconic element, however, are the Heathcliff slogan sweaters that are embroidered with phrases from the novel and give a nod to Heathcliff as a band.

Moody, sensual and cool, the collection is wearable and pretty with just enough theatricality and nods to the writers to keep fans of the works and fans of the aesthetic alike rather happy, indeed.

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(Images courtesy of Alistair James)

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Monday, 24 April 2017

Beauty isn't policing your body under a reign of terror

Adolescence affects us all differently and we all react differently accordingly. For me, it was not a case of not wanting to grow up but, rather, that the sudden and drastic changes in my body made me feel attacked, as if I was robbed of a great sense of self and given this utterly new strange form to inhabit. A form that was no longer naturally and childishly slender but curved and cumbersome with bits that got in the way of climbing things and running freely and being freely. It embarrassed me and made me super aware of myself. I was always quick to rid myself of any signs of these changes, of this new, foreign me, that I could.

Hair - or body hair, to be exact - was the easiest to shed and, despite being warned against it by all the women I knew, I began to remove the soft blonde hairs that covered my arms and legs very early on. In turn, darker, coarser hairs took their place and I was quickly stuck in an endless cycle. It seems exhausting and downright ridiculous to the adult me now but, for almost a decade, I shaved my limbs daily and with an almost religious fervour.

Today, with newly changed sheets and warmer weather lying in wait, I shaved my legs and nicked my ankle badly in the process, something that is not uncommon for little clumsy ol' me. But, as my policing of my body hair is no longer a frantic beast, it had been a while - especially since I had done such a thoroughly good job of it. It stung and rushed with blood that, I knew, would not stop for some time. I stared at the reddening water at my feet and the throbbing wound on my leg and a rush of memories washed over me. Memories of a thousand other nicks, of bleeding through multiple bandages and all over everything, of being embarrassed by the whole thing and lying about how I acquired the cuts, of carefully navigating them a day or two later to repeat my routine...How did I ever have so much time or energy to waste on such painful frivolity?

Of course, I don't believe in judging how others deal with their own bodies and it's not as if I am against hair removal or ready to embrace a life completely free of hair removal myself nowadays. In saying this I'm also no longer willing to be embarrassed by something completely natural, to waste endless additional hours in the shower removing hair, to actually bleed for some ideal of beauty.

Looking down at that blood made me realise just how far I had come. In fact, I have these realisations often. Realisations of the fact that I'm closer to the woman I'd like to be. And, while I will forever want to be liked and approved of, the approval and opinions of others bother me less and less. Cliché as it may be: life is simply too short.

So, yeah, sometimes my penchant for ankle-grazing trousers will reveal the fact that it's been a while between shaves but now it bothers me less that the dude across from me on the bus or the girl next to me might notice. I can't say I'm completely over it. I'll still wonder if they see it but I won't stress out about it and I'm not going back to daily shaving in case strangers spot an errant hair.

In the time that this blog went from a fashion blog to a fashion, beauty & other stuff blog and I went from barely washing my face (I kid - mostly) to full skincare regimes and relatively advanced knowledge of (if infrequent use of) cosmetics, I grew to focus on the beauty industry a lot more. I've worked with lots of brands and tried all sorts of products. I've gone through brief periods of overly intense scrutiny of self. I've grown up and let go of some (some) of my body and appearance hang-ups. And I've come to realise that there is no beauty in policing your body under a reign of terror.

It's perfectly fine to take care of yourself, to want to look good, to want to present and groom yourself well but "beauty" should never cross the line into obsession and there should always be breathing room. Humans are hairy, sweaty, porous creatures that have bumps and lumps and will never, ever be perfect - no matter how close to it some people make it seem. The sooner you embrace your humanity and imperfections, the sooner you'll have more time, headspace and peace.

Right?


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Monday, 3 April 2017

Wide-Eyed And Travel: 36 Hours In Cork

I am surrounded by great people, by people I love dearly and have a fantastic gang of friends and family. Much as I enjoy being in the midst of these groups of wonderful human beings, I am also a big fan of one-on-one quality time. Hard as it can be, I try my best to make sure and set aside time with my favourite people - no easy feat when I have so many. Cara - my college best friend, former housemate and wifey - and I had been talking about going away together, just us two, for ages. And finally, last weekend, we made it happen with 36 hours in Cork.

Despite the bus strikes and wildly increased train fares, we managed to make it down to Cork at just after eleven on the Saturday and, luckily, were able to check into the lovely Montenotte Hotel early. After dropping off our bags, showering and changing (neither of us expected it to be quite so hot), I was drying my hair when I got a text from our bus company saying that, because of the strikes and intimidation from drivers from other services, our bus back the next day was cancelled. Thankfully, we were able to resolve this relatively quickly and find an alternative service home but that twenty minute window of stress wasn't fun. Great way to kick off a weekend of relaxation! But we were determined not to let the whole mess ruin our entire weekend.

We hopped along to the English Market to browse the market itself and to grab lunch as I was getting hangry and that's really not a good look on me. Situated in the stunning historic market, upstairs above the central fountain and stalls, is the Farmgate Café, The Farmgate is over thirty years old and has two locations - one in Midleton and one in Cork City - and serves traditional, seasonal, regional and centuries old food. It is one of Cork's culinary constants and did not disappoint. After all the running around, travelling and panicking, I cannot overstate just how good it was to be digging into perfectly cooked hake and vegetables and sipping on an Aperol Spritz (with a little umbrella that they added and made us giggle!) on a balcony overlooking the sunny English Market.

Refuelled and happy, we wandered the market before heading on to the Crawford Art Gallery. One of my favourite galleries in the country, it is housed in the stunning former Custom House and became the local design school in the 19th century and then the art college shortly thereafter. Now it is a public art gallery and, currently, it has several excellent exhibitions on - it is easy to get lost for hours in the place. After leaving and strolling about in the sun and having a goo around some of the shops, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and then drinks on their incredible terrace as the setting sun painted the Cork skyline in vivid blush tones. Though we had only just dolled ourselves up for dinner, we promptly changed into our pajamas and popped into the in-house cinema for a movie.

Wholesome as our weekend was, we were both asleep by midnight and up before nine to go for a swim, steam and sauna. Once we'd packed up and left our bags at the (almost overly friendly) hotel reception, we went back down the town to pick up coffee for a friend and a pick-me-up for us in the famous Cork Coffee Roasters. Then we had a very tasty brunch in the cute and quirky little Brick Lane - who were incredibly helpful and kind about making the menu as gluten and dairy free as possible for Cara.

The rest of the day was spent on the stunning campus of UCC, exploring the beautiful architectural gem that is the Glucksman Gallery, drawing and colouring in the educational section (though it is, admittedly, aimed at kids), and walking along the riverside. We then found time to squeeze in some cake and tea at Quay Co-op before hopping on the bus back home.

The Montenotte is a beautifully decorated gem with amazing facilities and exceptionally helpful staff. One could easily spend the whole weekend there without stepping a foot outside the building; going to the cinema, hanging out at the pool, enjoying drinks on the terrace and eating in the restaurant. But, with Cork unfolded and lovely right before your eyes, exploring her architectural wealth, historical and cultural heritage and multitude of cool eateries and foodie havens is a must. We would, without a doubt, come back to check off the endless list of things we couldn't fit in this time around. In the mean time, I have to convince Cara not to leave me for the city, so enamoured is she by the place...

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