Tuesday, 28 May 2013

J Crew Autumn/ Winter 2013 Preview

Last week I went to the preview of J Crew's Autumn/ Winter 2013 collection held at Central St Martins College of Art and Design.

J Crew's clothes are always impeccably tailored but this collections seems to be more adventurous than usual with regard to patterns and texture. The mix of colours and patterns gave the collection a 'global traveller' vibe rather than the usual all-American preppy aesthetic. Having said that, the numerous coloured blazers with contrasting piping show that J Crew still excels at the preppy look.

I love this soft grey jumper with the sparkly embellishments. That camel coat with the embellished lapels is also rather marvellous. 

And, of course, the lovely menswear. I like how J Crew manages to inject colour into their men's collections without looking comical or costume-y.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Food, Fête & Fire

This bank holiday I escaped from London to soak up some sun in the countryside with friends and family. The weather was much nicer than I think anyone expected. On the Saturday, there happened to be a Village Fête near my friend's house so we ended up spending the whole day lounging on the grass and eating hog roast and pie - it was glorious!

 The delightful Emily and Alice partaking of hog roast with all the trimmings

After leaving the fête, we went to an adorable, old-fashioned sweet shop...

Then we spent the whole evening in the garden by the fire pit; eating, drinking and chatting until we were practically falling asleep around the fire.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Cosmetics A La Carte 40th Anniversary

Last night I went to Cosmetics A La Carte's 40th Anniversary party. To celebrate the anniversary, there was an exhibition at The Redchurch Gallery looking at the history of the company. It was a lovely evening with some beautiful exhibits and, of course, a chance to have a play with the amazing range of colours A La Carte makes. 

 Bust inspired by Lady Gaga.

I have several items from the A La Carte range, all bought for me by my lovely brother, and they really are wonderful. I have very pale skin so it's great to go to the boutique in Knightsbridge and have the shop assistants help me pick out the best colours to suit me.

My favourite item from the A La Carte range is a lipstick called Tulip, a vibrant blue-red. I get inundated with compliments whenever I wear it.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Bits and Bobs

It's Saturday which means it's time again to share some of the interesting things I've come across this week...

- Chris Hadfield, astronaut extraordinaire, has just returned from the International Space Station. Here's an interesting article in which he discusses the future of NASA and the need for patience when it comes to space exploration.

- The Washington Post has a great article looking at how studying Russian literature can have a profound effect on young offenders.

- I am a big fan of coloured trousers. Read here to find out how coloured trousers will change your life.

- Apparently men with larger biceps are less likely to support wealth distribution than men with smaller biceps. This study from the journal, Psychological Science, looks at the correlation between upper-body strength and ideology.

- This week The Guardian has had two articles discussing what has been termed the 'crisis of masculinity'. This first one looks at male criminality while this second one is a bit more generalised. While the articles are interesting (particularly the one looking at male crime rates), they reminded me of this absolutely fantastic article written after the Newtown shooting.

- Check out Google's Earth Engine - interactive satellite imagery spanning two decades. Warning: this is the kind of website where you can lose yourself for hours.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Baking Improv

In a turn of events that will surprise absolutely no one, I baked at the weekend. While me baking is in no way unusual, me going off-piste in my culinary endeavours certainly is. I am a stickler for recipes, particularly when it comes to baking. I'll happily throw together some vegetables, meat and pasta for a casual evening dinner but if I want to make something a bit more substantial, or bake something, I will always pull out a recipe book and follow it meticulously.

Unfortunately, I was a little low on supplies when I turned to my kitchen cupboards at the weekend and none of my recipes seemed to fit with the ingredients I had on-hand. And thus, these oaty-fruity-cakey delights were created. These are quite dense and chewy little cakes, with a nice bit of zing from the fruit. They tasted especially good when they were still warm from the oven. Considering I was just making things up as I went along, they turned out rather marvellously.

120 grams butter
120 grams sugar
2 eggs
120 grams flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
120 grams rolled oats
50-75 grams frozen summer berries
1 handful sliced almonds

Makes 12-16 (depending on how stingy you are with your portions)

  • Set the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease the holes in a cupcake/ muffin tin (you may need more than one tray).
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs one at a time with a tblsp of flour to stop curdling. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the remaining flour and fold in gently.
  • Add the vanilla extract and fold in gently. Finally, add the oats and the summer berries and mix everything together gently.
  • Separate the mixture between the holes in the cupcake/ muffin tin. You want the holes filled about half-way. Sprinkle on some sliced almonds and press slightly into the batter.
  • Bake for about 20 mins - they should be nicely golden brown on top. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for a few minutes.

These were so quick and easy to make, I'm thinking about making them again this weekend with chunks of apple and cinnamon instead of the summer berries. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Bits and Bobs

Here are some interesting things I've been reading this week...

- China sure has some bizarre buildings. Click here to see the weird, the wonderful and the downright ugly.

- This is a fascinating piece about women in Afghanistan struggling between modernity and tradition. It reminds me of Escobar's wonderful book, Encountering Development (1985).

Escobar discusses how women in Lamu, Kenya, have been affected by Western music, films and soap operas, leading to a reflexive interpretation of what it is to be a Muslim woman in a modern world. However Escobar points out that there are differences between the liberty that the Kenyan women strive for and the liberty that Western women enjoy. For example, women in Lamu were rejecting the veil, not because they perceived it as illiberal and a symbol of oppression but because they saw it as impractical as a part of a busy modern lifestyle. A must read for anyone interested in international development!

- These children's playgrounds are both incredible and nightmare-inducingly surreal!

- Throwing a lavish Gatsby-themed party might be somewhat missing the point of F Scott Fitzgerald's classic book but here's some reasons why you should throw that party anyway. 

- And speaking of Gatsby - check out this wonderful site looking at Fitzgerald's relationship with fashion.

- Delving into the shady world of the Paparazzi and the Italian elites

Thursday, 9 May 2013

What the Fashion Industry Could Learn from the US Military

A petition on Change.org, requesting the restriction of ‘thinspiration’ language on twitter, has just reached 1,781 signatures. Thinspiration is a portmanteau meaning ‘inspiration to be thin’, which has become associated with pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia communities on several popular social media sites. The petition argues that permitting thinspiration language and imagery to proliferate on social media sites results in the promotion of unhealthy body types and encourages young women to develop eating disorders. Pinterest and Tumblr have already taken steps to remove thinspiration content; now twitter is being pressured to do the same.

Reading about this petition has brought me back to thinking about the ongoing discussion of the size zero phenomenon. The debate on size zero reached frenzied heights in 2006 when models Luisel Ramos and Ana Carolina Reston died from anorexia, resulting in Madrid Fashion Show banning size zero models. Milan Fashion Week followed suit shortly after, prohibiting models with a Body Mass Index lower than 18. The frenzy seems to have abated somewhat in recent years but the gaunt models, and the followings they have online, remain. 

Those opposed to size zero have long bandied around names of who is to blame. It’s the model agencies’ fault for hiring only unhealthily skinny girls. It’s the fashion magazine industry’s fault for publishing photos of visibly bony models. Now it’s social media’s fault for not banning the language used to promote unhealthy body ideals.

But for me this debate ultimately comes down to design because, at essence, that is surely what fashion is all about. Strip away the magazines, the photographers, the stylists and the model agencies, and what you’re left with is the designers… designing. If we want to ensure that women in the fashion industry are a healthy size, we need to start designing clothes for healthy-sized women. It’s here that the fashion industry could learn a lot from the US military.

Pentagon officials and engineers have historically built a bias against women’s bodies into military technologies through the use of restrictive design guidelines. Military Standard 1472 suggests the use of 95th and 5th percentile male dimensions when designing military systems. By using this standard, only 10% of the male population cannot be accommodated by a given design feature. Unfortunately, the gap between a 5th percentile woman and a 95th percentile man is vast. A significant number of women are thus deemed ineligible to use a variety of military systems.

The most well-known case of bias against women’s bodies in military design is the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS). Originally, the JPATS specifications included a 34-inch minimum sitting height in order to operate cockpit controls effectively and eject from the aircraft safely. However, at 34 inches, around 50-65% of the American female population was excluded. As a result, a significant number of women were prevented from pursuing aviation careers by prohibiting them from JPATS training.

Change was eventually achieved through government interference. Former Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, publicly recognised that women should play a greater role in the military through a directive issued in April 1993. Then, in 1994, the Defense Authorisation Bill was passed, including a provision which prevented the Air Force from spending $40 million of its $41.6 million trainer budget unless the Pentagon altered the cockpit design for the JPATS (Weber, 1997; 245). The Clinton Administration, reeling from the embarrassment of its poor handling of gays in the military and trying to make a stand against an increasingly confrontational Pentagon, was the driving force behind innovation in cockpit design.

Excluding women from air combat because they couldn’t fit into cockpits was deemed unacceptable. Excluding healthy women from the fashion industry because they can’t fit into the clothes should be deemed similarly intolerable. 

Of course the pressures applied to the military cannot be applied to commercial companies. With military procurement, the state is the consumer and thus the issue of design is political, making it open to discussion from interest groups and control from legislation (Weber, 1997; 236). With commercial production, design remains an economic issue, viewed in terms of managerial preference and profit calculus. Thus, commercial cockpit design lags significantly behind the military in addressing problems in accommodating women’s bodies.

But it shouldn’t be assumed that fashion houses are immune to pressure. Prada, Versace and Armani all agreed to stop using stick-thin models when faced with criticism from the Italian Government and general public following the two models’ deaths in 2006. And design innovation can be financially rewarding as well. Todashi Shoji has built his career on designing for all ages, ethnicities and figures. His numerous dresses designed for voluptuous actress Octavia Spencer’s red carpet appearances, including the stunning sparkling number she wore to receive her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2012, are always at the top of best dressed lists.

If we want to combat the idolisation of unhealthy body types, limiting what can be said on social media is only going to achieve so much. Instead, as with combating bias against female bodies in military technology, we need to go to the heart of the problem, and that means compelling innovation in design. 


Weber, R N (1997) 'Manufacturing Gender in Commercial and Military Cockpit Design' in Science, Technology & Human Values, Vol 22/2

If you want to read more about gender and military technology...

Golstein, J F (2001) War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa

Richman-Loo, N and Weber, R (1996) 'Gender and Weapons Design' in It's Our Military Too! WOmen and the US Military, ed. Judith Hicks Stein

Smart, T L (1998) 'Fast Women: Or why women who fly high performance aircraft are fast but not loose', in Australian Military Medicine, Vol 7

Monday, 6 May 2013

May Day

It's May Day Bank Holiday weekend and I've been having a pretty marvellous time eating, shopping and generally making merry...

The statue above the door to Selfridges, designed by British sculptor Gilbert Bayes.

Wonderful mango and kiwi cheesecake at Allans Patisserie off Duke Street.

Great Gatsby themed birthday party. Some of the outfits were amazing! I felt suitably humbled ('20s fashion is not my friend).

At first I felt a bit embarrassed stopping in busy streets to take pictures of London landmarks. But actually it was nice to be a tourist in my home city - there are so many beautiful places and buildings in London that I don't really notice any more because I see them all the time. Sometimes it's good to stop and take a good look at what's around you.

The recipe for the blondies came from the Gu Chocolate Cookbook, a birthday present from a wonderful friend. I'm not going to lie; they tasted amazing.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Bits and Bobs

Here are some interesting things I've read this week...

- The winners of the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards have been announced. Check out the winners for the various categories here. I think my favourite is Ilya Pitalev's in the Professional Current Affairs category (photo 8) - I like the juxtaposition between the discordant gaggle of school girls and the soldier standing ramrod straight.

- An interesting article looking at our differing perceptions of acts of terrorism vs. shootings.

- Want to be reminded of how awesome people can be? Check out this map of people expressing thanks for random acts of kindness in London.

- Hate terrorism but love trees? Read about the people planting trees in the Sahel to fight terrorism.

- To keep up with online competition, shops are turning to ever more sophisticated methods of collecting information on our shopping habits. The whole thing feels awfully Orwellian. Then again, is it so bad for shops to gauge customer tastes and preferences if they can then provide more desirable products or a better shopping experience?

- Here’s a discussion of a longitudinal psychology study looking at the factors contributing to personal happiness and lifelong wellbeing. It is probably one of the most fascinating articles I have read in a really long time. Some of the conclusions seem self-evident e.g. strong social relationships, more than wealth or intelligence, correlate to personal wellbeing. Other conclusions are a bit more surprising e.g. physical activity in college years is a greater predictor of mental health than physical health in later life. The article ends, of course, with a discussion of whether happiness is something that can be judged scientifically or medically. Beautifully summed in this quote: 
“Their lives were too human for science, too beautiful for numbers, too sad for diagnosis and too immortal for bound journals.” 
It’s a long article but definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Shunning Sweet-tooth Shame

I baked Brownies... they were glorious. I had originally meant to take them into work so I could spread good-will and happiness to my co-workers - that did not happen.

I'm a big fan of food and I have an irrepressible sweet-tooth. I have absolutely no concept of 'too rich' or 'too sweet' and can gladly gorge myself on the most intense, sickly sweet food. Unfortunately, while I am perfectly content to partake of any and all chocolatey, gooey culinary masterpieces, insidious forces have decided that this unabashed pleasure has to stop.

It is now apparently mandatory for all recipes for sweet food to be accompanied with words like 'sinful', 'indulgent' or 'wicked'. The worst of these is 'naughty', insinuating that enjoying sweet food makes one deserving of being scolded like a petulant child. These words immediately invoke shame, urging us to believe that under no circumstances should we actually enjoy that double-chocolate, salted-caramel brownie. 

I realise that obesity levels are rising alarmingly all over the world but the inclusion of these shaming words in recipes doesn't promote a healthy lifestlye; it just encourages an adversarial relationship with food.

Well I refuse to be shamed. If I want to bake a tray of brownies intended for my co-workers then eat them all in one night while watching Law & Order, that's my prerogative.

The recipe for these beauties came from my friend Elly's wonderful blog. I didn't have cocoa nibs or pecans to hand so I used candied orange peel to decorate instead. I will definitely be making these dense, chocolatey wonders again.