Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

More is not always more – official

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2013 at 11:26 am


Since my post about being bewildered by the concept of eternal economic growth I really did try and read some of the books you suggested about it.

I even bought a couple of them and read most of a chapter.

I was immediately engaged by a notion new to me: through put. This is the official term for what I had tried to describe in my economically illiteracy as natural resources being made into stuff and then ending up in landfill. It was equally comforting and terrifying to learn that proper actual academics are worried about this too. So worried they have a term for it.

But then I really couldn’t read any more because I was just longing to get back to this simply marvellous biography of Beau Brummell…


I decided I just couldn’t devote that much of my life’s finite reading time to economics. So I was very glad yesterday when I came across a piece in the London Evening Standard by my one-time colleague Anthony Hilton.

Anthony is a big and real proper grown up economic commentator so to read him saying (in an article I could read on the train in a couple of minutes…) that being obsessed about economic growth is NOT the answer, was very interesting.

He also had a lot of interesting stuff to say about how that links in with Australia coming – yet again – top of the world’s rankings for Quality of Life. I thought you might like to read it.




I’m gonna pop some tags

In Second hand clothes, Upcycling, Vintage on May 22, 2013 at 11:29 am


My 12 year old friend Emmanuel Moline showed me and Pegs this video when we were in New York at Easter. I BLOODY LOVE IT.

It’s about shopping in thrift stores/op shops/charity shops, whatever you call them round your way, which has been a religion for me since my teens. This is upcycling made ice cool, by a dude called Macklemore (that’s him up top).

It’s got some crude language, so don’t play it if bad words bother you. (They don’t bother me, I’m a big fan of cussing done good…) But this morning we heard it on the radio in a cleaned up version, so you can download that if you’re bovvered.

Wherever you play it, listen up good because the words are hilarious – and the message is so so right.

That’s some cold assed honky.


In Childhood on May 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Cherry Blossoms

It’s cherry blossom time here in England and we’re now at that point where the new leaves are just coming in and pushing the delicate pink flowers away.

Every tree I see at that fragile stage makes me think of my daughter. At ten and three quarters, going up to big school in September, she’s at exactly that stage. The blossom is about to fall.

It’s almost unbearable.

Of course this is the poignancy at the very heart of parenthood. Every little shedding of another petal of innocence is a tiny heartbreak – but I’ve also discovered that the next stage it leads to is a new joy.

Much as I adored playing funny games with my daughter’s chubby little feet under the table at meal times, I now adore having a laugh with her and talking about all kinds of stuff, from music to school work and what’s in the news.

But I’m not delusional. I do know that the next change is the big one. The eye rolling has already begun. She’s told me ‘you know NOTHING about style’. She hates it when I dance (and I dance all the time…what else are you supposed to do while cooking dinner?). I’m not allowed to sing along to a favourite tune, if she’s singing to it, because – obviously – I’m crap.

And I have to patrol the front door with eye make up remover before she leaves the house.

So far, I find it funny – mostly – but I’m sure I won’t when it kicks up the next few notches. But rather than worrying about that in advance (although I have read How To Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk, in preparation), I’m relishing this last precious time of childhood, while she stills shower me and her dad daily with her unconditional cuddly love.

Just as the Japanese have picnics under the blossoming cherry trees, I’m celebrating my little girl, now still just in glorious childish bloom, made all the more precious by its inevitable departure.



We’re not here to sell clothes

In Fashion magazines on May 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm


A very nice person called Claire made a very good point on comments about my recent consumerism horror post – that it was a bit ironic to see those sentiments coming from a fashion writer…

I couldn’t agree more (and she said it nicely…) and it did cross my mind when I decided to venture into such radical territory that people might think it was an odd bunch of ideas to come from a clothes pusher.

Because that is what fashion writers and fashion magazines have become. Pushers for the false highs of consumerism. Must haves! New season essentials! Buy this now! What you need for this season!–shopping-fix

But I’m from a different generation. When I started working on magazines and going to fashion shows in the early 1980s it was all very different.

For one thing, we couldn’t feature clothes from chain stores because the printing deadlines were too long and the shops just weren’t set up to provide samples in advance. Most of them didn’t even have proper press offices.

Now they all have oiled machines constantly supplying product to the magazines which have become little more than catalogues of what to go out and buy.

In my day fashion was more about ideas. Obviously the designers supplying samples to be photographed by Vogue were keen to promote their wares, but very few of the readers actually went out and bought specific items – it was more about giving hints about the kind of thing you might like to buy.

I was once sent on a mission to buy a lovely shirt a (wealthy) friend of my mum’s had seen in Harpers. I was living in London, they were in the provinces and the ideas was I’d pop over to South Molton Street and pick it up from Browns for her.

After the utter thrill of having a valid excuse to enter the high fashion emporium I revered above all others, I was bewildered to find they didn’t have any of the shirts left, not understanding that they would only ever have had about four of them in the first place.

The women who bought serious designer clothes back then had a personal relationship with the assistants in the shops they frequented and would shop at the beginning of each season. They were outfitting a life, not feeding an addiction.

The rest of us used fashion mags for inspiration. With Friday night approaching, the teenage me would sit down and analyse the latest issues of Vogue and Honey magazine (which I eventually worked on… oh joy), to choose which look I would then interpret using items from the dressing up box, the army surplus store, charity shops, my sewing machine etc.

If I wanted, for example, something resembling a pair of leggings, I would dye long johns, or go to a dance wear store. It was a creative process, not a breathless shopathon.

Later on when I started covering the serious fashion shows in Paris and Milan, as well as London, it was still always the ideas that interested me. The context of new trends in relation to current socioeconomic shifts and political events; within fashion history; and the artistic development of individual designers.

I didn’t go to look at a walking shopping list.

That’s still how I see fashion. I’m fascinated by it for those reasons most of all. Of course, I love clothes for themselves and choosing a few key pieces which will update my wardrobe when new styles come in each year is always great fun (it’s all about my necklace with fluoro details for this summer…), but it’s still the ideas – and how they can be interpreted for real life and real bodies – that interest me the most.

So I was very interested, on Monday, to see the following words on an invitation to a book launch from my old friend and colleague, stylist and fashion historian Iain R Webb: ‘We’re not here to sell clothes.’


The book (picture above taken by Mark Lewis) is about his days as fashion director of iconic Blitz magazine in the early 1980s (when I first met him) and it sounds very much like he is making the same point as I am here.

I’ll see him on Friday, at the launch, so I can ask him about it and report back.

Read more about the book and the associated events at London’s ICA here:

How to ‘up-cycle’ (by my brother)

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2013 at 9:44 am



My big brother Nick (above, pulling a stupid face, but it was better than the picture where he’s asleep and one of his sons has written ‘Muppet’ on his forehead in felt tip…), is a natural born up cycler.

In childhood his greatest joy was to cycle – on the bicycle he had turned into a ‘chopper’ with the addition of ape-hanger handle bars – to the scrap merchant at the end of the road and spend a few hours just looking at the junk. He just loved bits of old stuff.

He still does and now entertains himself weekends and evenings building things out of the ‘treasures’ he liberates from skips, charms from builders and buys on eBay.

He recently posted this guide to up-cycling on Facebook:


How to ‘up-cycle’ by Nick Alderson

1. Skips have amazing things in them. And the things have been chucked out.
2. Industrial estates have loads of skips.
3. If you see something that could be ‘useful’ try and find the owners of the skip and ask if you can have it.
4. Be polite but not over enthusiastic or they might want to sell it to you as they think it might be worth something.
5. If you have to shift stuff to get the item out of the skip. Put all the rubbish back in. Don’t leave a mess.
6. Thank them.
7. Take the stuff home.
8. Build.
9. Get told, ‘If you think that is staying there, forget it.’
10. Dismantle and shove in garage.
11. Do something else.

His current main project is making this:


What is it? Why, it’s a beer cooler in the style of the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course it is.

His plan, one hot summer Sunday afternoon, is it to fill it with beer, lace it with dry ice, and have it carried on to a crowded Bournemouth beach by a team of native bearers (various nieces and nephews…) and open it, to the amazement of passers by.

I’m hoping it will be more successful than his idea for an anti-car theft deterrent, which was a pool of fake sick he made out of plastic and would then leave on his car seat…

Too much stuff

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm



Consumerism has to end. By which I mean all of us constantly buying new stuff, to stimulate perpetual growth, as the basis for buoying up economies – as the American public were so famously urged to do by President Bush after 9.11.

It can’t go on. Surely. We have to find another model.

This thought struck me very strongly in a shop called The Emporium at Disneyworld, Florida, where I was a couple of weeks ago.

It was Saturday night and we’d decided to head to ‘Downtown Disney’ – a kind of Disney capital city within the nation state of Disneyworld – for dinner. Me and my beloved pal, Karen and our two tween kids.

Downtown Disney is basically a theme park of consumerism. It consists of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops – all of them entirely Disney, whether they be an Irish pub, a Mississippi steamboat restaurant, a candy store, an ice cream parlour, or the Christmas store.


The Emporium was the department store, selling all the Disney merchandise across all the ranges from the obvious stuffed toys, to jewellery, homewares, gift food, make up, luggage, clothing… I could go on.

Among all the merch, was a roiling mass of temporarily insane people, wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth as they scoped the endless shelves of tempting trinkets, in a state of extreme excitement, adrenalin pumping on a consumer high – anxious lest they miss out on some essential cute item to take home, or purchase as a ‘gift’.

To me, it was Dante’s inferno, although I did examine the offer in detailed fascination at quite how many ways the Disney icons can be exploited in fundamentally useless objects.

Then I started to imagine how it would all subsequently look in the Illinois homes, Kentucky trailers and New York apartments where it would end up. Where, after an initial coo of excitement it would gather dust and eventually be thrown away.


Is this really what we are exploiting the earth’s resources for? I found myself thinking, feeling quite ill at the prospect. Images from the amazing 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi flashed into my head.

If you haven’t seen it – I urge you to (the trailer is at the bottom). It’s astonishingly moving to watch and hear (the music is by Philip Glass), but way beyond that is the message – even more pertinent today than it was thirty years ago.

The title is a word from the language of the Hopi Indians of the American South West, meaning ‘life out of balance’ and the film is a breathtaking – and heartbreaking – visual essay of time lapse photography, contrasting the beauty of the natural world, with man’s impact upon it.

Watching the crazed consumers in the Downtown Disney Emporium, desperate to snap up their Piglet Pillow Pets, Goofie Picnic Cups, Mickey Mouse Rollerbags, Sleeping Beauty Necklaces etc etc etc, I remembered the moment in the film when it cuts from a beautiful untouched landscape to a heavy digger, clearing the ground for mining.

All that destruction and pollution for rubbish like this. The water tables of central Asia destroyed to grow cheap cotton, the factory cities of China belching out pollution – for a Minnie Mouse oven glove and tea towel set.

Now, I could write what I properly understand about economic theory on the back of a Donald Duck coaster – I’m fairly well across Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, but then it gets a bit hazy – but it seems to me that the concept of constant perpetual growth being necessary to keep things on an even keel is fundamentally flawed.

We simply cannot sustain ever increasing production indefinitely. It’s common sense. We’re creating mountains of trash using the resources mined out of real mountains. I have this image of the world collapsing like a balloon, empty on the inside.


There has to be another way and I believe it’s going to start from the ground up. Not from elevated ideas, but because our houses are getting full up – see my previous posts on clutter clearing.

Since I’ve started doing that, using valuable time and energy to clear out stuff I have mindlessly consumed, so I have room to live more comfortably, the urge to bring more stuff in, has left me.

I know it’s not just me, or even a tiny minority of hippie types who forage hedgerows for food. Talking to my friends there seems to be an increasing understanding that – just like any other addiction – non-stop shopping creates too many problems in our lives to justify that transient pleasure hit.

So what is the alternative to constant ‘growth’ as the basis of economies? Can anyone tell me what to read?

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