It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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Creative Process: How to make Moodlings and Wee Mice

For my birthday last year, my wee sister bought me a Wee Mouse. The miniature white and pink rodent, safely held in a tiny saucer and cup, encourages me to Keep Calm and Drink Tea. It’s the work of Kirsten, a lawyer turned polymer clay artist and Quernus Crafts entrepreneur who creates miniature animals. Sold on Etsy, Folksy and Art Fire, her work is often meaningful, ever inspired and always cute. 

Kirsten’s polymer clay career started almost by chance. More focused on academia than art at school, she discovered the material in 2000, “although not in a big way”. The turn around happened in 2001, when she created the 30 wedding favours gifted at her own wedding as well as the cake toppers. The animals she chose can still be found in the Quernus Craft stable, but the original cats, bears, squirrels, dogs and sheep have been joined by mice, elephants, snails, penguins and the Wee Highland Cow; the latter has enjoyed particular success in the American market. 

Animals are only half of the story. Last June, two years after setting up Quernus Crafts, Kirsten came up with a definitely non-animal creature, her answer to the public requirements of the small craft fairs: the Moodlings. Each Moodling is colourful, with a weird shape and a funny message. Kirsten spent a couple of weeks brainstorming all the short messages for them to hold – keeping a notebook next to her bed because she found herself waking up with ideas for them.

In 2010, shortly after leaving her 15-year law career to give herself time to explore her creativity, Kirsten launched the Wee Mice range, of the type I received on my birthday. Initially rather basic with a sweet tooth, they have become animals with a full range of movement, from ice skating to sewing, of food tastes, from cupcake to cheese, and of jobs, from pirate captain to postman.

Kirsten has also tackled some literary legends with her Wee Mice: the Winnie the Pooh Mice and the Prince Charming Mice. She describes “each mice as she makes it” as her favourite, but has a sweet spot for the Two Old Mice. “When they first appeared, I had such a lump in my throat. Hard to explain why, but they just touched me so much”, she says of the inch-high creatures. 

Each and every rodent is created from scratch. Each one is unique, even if they sometimes look similar. To conceive a mouse, Kirsten uses natural colours such as white, tan, grey and brown.

For her standard ranges, such as the Little Moustache Mice Kirsten explains the process as such: “I weigh up the required amount of clay I need and then I condition the clay, usually by rolling it out with an acrylic roller. Once I’ve sculpted the basic shape, I will roll out a thick sheet of clay and cut circles for the ears and paws. I use black onyx beads for the eyes, which gives them a real spark of live. I also keep a very careful watch for any dust or marks in the clay, using a combination of a scalpel blade and wet wipes to keep the clay as clean as possible.”

How long each mouse takes depends on the design – most of them have accessories, for instance balloons, cakes or moustaches, which also need to be made. Making one mouse takes about one hour, and then it needs to be cured, left to cool, finished off by sanding or varnishing. Some rodents, like the Freddie Mercury Mouse, take longer because of the details involved. 

As for my own Wee Mouse, it is safely sitting on my bedside table, by the lamp my sister bought for me, safeguarding my dreams and my cups of tea.

All photos courtesy of the QuernusCraft Flickr

Posted at 10:25am and tagged with: crafts, mouse, interview, creative,.

Just in time for the launch of her e-commerce website, Victoria Beckham is on the cover of ELLE UK explaining why she hasn’t had it any easier than any other fashion designer:

All these people [fellow fashion designers], they’ve not just been given anything. They’ve worked hard. And I’ve never been given anything either. But I have a good work ethic.

Beckham, the designer, gets the kind of publicity only Beckham, the pop singer, can bring. Although her singing career made it difficult for her to be taken seriously by the industry at the beginning, it has gotten her more mainstream magazine covers than all other British designers together. They might have had the odd Industrie or i-D cover, but Vogue, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, on both side of the Atlantic and across continents? Never.

I don’t doubt Beckham works hard, and I don’t think she gets enough credit for succeeding in her fashion ambitions, when many celebrities just lend their name to a license.

However, I believe she owes her designer peers, current and aspirational, the intellectual honesty of acknowledging how her time at the Spice Girls and her marriage to David Beckham have helped her.

Being a self-made woman is a more popular angle, but since her being part of the Spice Girls seems to have been on her own merits, rather than who she knew or how she was born, I can’t see what’s wrong with it.

If anything, I’d be more interested in reading that story than yet another famous face setting the record straight on how wrong the public perception of her is.


Posted at 5:34am and tagged with: celebrity, ELLE, magazine, interview,.

The season is at hand when swaying on its stem
Every flower exhales perfume like a censer
Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;
Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!

wrote French poet Charles Baudelaire in 1857 (1). What would a Chanel wardrobe based on these verses look like? Between 1937 and 1960, Coco Chanel worked on a Baudelaire-inspired collection and a Baudelaire-inspired fragrance, as part of her activities within the Société Baudelaire, a group aiming to perpetuate the work and aesthetics of the poet. Neither project materialised since Chanel decided not to run for the honorary presidency of the Société Baudelaire in 1960, upon learning Charles de Gaulle was about to throw his hat in the race.

A little known episode of the Chanel legend, her Baudelairian heritage is now the subject of an entire website ran by the Société Baudelaire and Isée St John Knowles, its president and a curator and theatre director. Containing never seen before material pertaining to Chanel during the Second World War, including a September 1944 interview with Punch editor Malcolm Muggeridge, the website was launched to refute Hal Vaughan’s accusations of collaboration and anti-Semitism.

"What prompted my decision to publish was the uncritical fawning by Chanel’s executioners as they impeached her for treason and anti-Semitism – two crimes of which, on the evidence, we cannot find her guilty,” explains Knowles (2).

Yet the Société Baudelaire doesn’t expect this publication to drastically change the scholarship on her character, arguing that “the media are intent on tarring her with the brush of guilt”.

Biographers have accused Chanel, with various levels of objectivity, of turning a blind eye on German activities in Paris, of leading a peace mission and of taking advantage of the Reich anti-Semite laws to take back ownership of Chanel Parfums. The Muggeridge interview is a rare occurrence of the designer discussing her role during the War, yet it’s not a mind changer. Her explanation is very prosaic: “I was on neither side, of course. I stood up for myself as I always have done. Nobody has ever told Coco Chanel what to think.”

This “self-determined, lone outsider scornful of the world decision-makers” attitude during the war is what makes Chanel the epitome of the Baudelairian dandy, defined by his behaviour rather than his wardrobe, à la Oscar Wilde. Knowles explains Chanel’s “ideals were not circumscribed by attire but encompassed a whole philosophy of life”.

A philosophy which has survived in the Chanel fashion house through Karl Lagerfeld, described by Knowles as “immensely gifted as a couturier who has retained his autonomy, unaffected by the creations of fellow-couturiers including Chanel”.

(1) Harmonie du Soir, Evening Harmony, William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

(2) Exclusive interview with Isée St John Knowles, 17 July. With thanks to Arthur Tegetmeier at Clicky Media for facilitating

Photo from

Posted at 4:49pm and tagged with: Chanel, Interview, History, Baudelaire,.

"I was having champagne with my friends and thought it would be wonderful to have shoes that can easily match any outfit" explains Paris-based Céline Lagabrielle of the inception of her new ballerina shoes brand, Avant-Minuit. She imagined a pair of chic, colourful and elegant flats with an array of interchangeable bows allowing her to change the look and feel of her footwear ad infinitum.

A few months on, and her tipsy idea has become a fully-fledged brand with a trading website, an iPad app and enough buzz on the French fashion blog community to make jealous many established brands. A marketing and communication expert by trade, she’d long wanted to infuse her skills into an enterprise of her own making and is overseeing every detail of the launch.

Lagabrielle was adamant the ballerina flats had to look good with or without the bows, which meant a lot of trials and errors in finding the perfect eyelet to attach them on the shoes. The result, about to be patented, is a stud-looking attachment system.

Everything in the flats is about perfection, from the materials selected to their make, in a factory in Chôlet, a historical shoe-making city, in Western France. Lagabrielle believes producing in France “is riding the tide of history”, and could be made an example of bt the French Presidential candidates who lauded the “made in France label”. Yet, finding a French shoe factory wasn’t easy. In the end, Lagabrielle had to rely on the Syndicat français de la chaussure to find a workshop, but was presented with few options.

Fabrication and design solved, Lagabrielle started focusing on the communication plan for the brand. A Facebook fan page was launched in November 2011 to tease and gather interest, followed by a blog written by French blogger Marie Haumont of Besnob. An iPad app was released in April. The app is the playful character to the site more serious, trading spirit: you can have fun with bows and colours whereas the site, available since the beginning of May, is geared towards digital commerce. Lagabrielle is targeting the luxury online shopper, offering free online returns, even though she is hoping to open a store in Paris in the next few months and to expand to international wholesale, especially in emerging markets.

The launch Avant-minuit collection contains ten versions of the ballerina flat in canvas and velours leather, all leather-lined. A Parisian born and bred, Lagabrielle has named the pairs according to iconic Paris location: the bright boxwood and geranium Jardin du Luxembourg, the muted black and beige Triangle d’Or, the ingenue pink and greystone Souris de l’Opéra and the boho denim and earth Toiles de Montmartre. Each pair comes with a matching grosgrain bow, which the customer can build on by buying new colours separately. Shoes currently retail from €230 to €280, bows from €20, with a view to introducing even more luxury fabrics such as crocodile next season.

All photos courtesy of Céline Lagabrielle and Avant-Minuit

Posted at 5:55am and tagged with: footwear, france, brand, interview,.

I am not a big fan of Q&As, a format more and more common in publications, online and offline. The journalist did the interview, transcribed it word for word and filed it straight away.

In terms of time-spent vs column-inches filled, Q&As are gold. The research required is limited compared with traditional, interview-based features. Of course, you can’t get away with knowing nothing about your topic: it would show through the questions. Yet, even if the interviewee says something unexpected, you don’t analyse it: the reader should do that himself. No need to add background or refer to prior events. The interviewee either does so in his answers, or the reader will have to do without the knowledge. Q&As are popular with PRs because the interviewee has total control over the message he delivers (sometimes for the worse).

Q&As are good for an industry losing money. Anyone, even the lowest intern, can transcribe an interview. Writing skills are optional. Since the exercise requires little time, the journalist will be able to produce more copy, a good thing for an industry which has lost count of its own job cuts.

The format also fits our faltering attention span. The reader can select the interesting questions and skip the rest. He can also make up his own mind on what the interviewee said, assuming he has the necessary background knowledge.

Q&As seem more authentic. If the interviewee is a total idiot, it will show. It’s conversation-like, engages the reader easily. It is particularly useful when a feature is made of one celebrity interviewing another, as is the case in the latest Paris Vogue with Pedro Almodovar and Jeanne Moreau, and in the latest Interview with Carey Mulligan and Susan Sarandon.

Yet, the format is out-of-date. Nowadays, magazines can film interviews and upload them on their website. Readers can watch them from the comfort of their own house, or on-the-go thanks to augmented reality. Having the exact same thing in print and online is redundant. I expect a unique, well-researched and well-thought-through angle from magazine articles I paid for, not something I could get of any free gossip blog.

Typewriter picture Flickr user Emdot; Carey picture from

Posted at 8:10pm and tagged with: magazine writing, interview, Vogue,.

I don’t have an opinion on the whole Terry Richardson controversy, at least none based on anything beyond hearsay and pictures I’ve seen. His photos are often sexually charged, and often use rather young girls, but so do many other photographers (not that one excuses the other).

A picture by Richardson illustrates a Camilla Johnson-Hill interview of Jimmy Choo businesswoman Tamara Mellon in the March issue of Interview. In recent years, the Jimmy Choo adverts have become sexier and sexier, sometimes rather dark and daring. Many of them, including the advert for the recent collaboration with H&M, were photographed by Richardson himself.

The Mellon picture could be turned into a Jimmy Choo advert. Shoes feature prominently in it, as does a handbag. The leopard-print carpet, half-smoked cigarettes, Blackberry and iPhone seem not only to refer to Mellon’s busy glamour and professional life, but also to the brand spirit Jimmy Choo sells. Some advertising control agency (if such a thing exists) might have a problem however with the fact that Mellon has her legs spread on the picture with a meowing cat (or kitten) covering her sex.

The issue features an interview with Joan Jett and a double-page spread “PinUP” photographed by Victor Demarchelier (yes, son of that other Demarchelier), styled by Sarah Ellison and descrbed as follows:

Vintage-inspired underpinnings in sheers and nudes create a new kind of naughty femininity, evoking painterly John Currin-esque poses ad a playful sexuality. Girls just want to have fun.

In other words, Mellon’s picture is a rather fitting rebus for this issue.


Mlle. L.

Posted at 6:20am and tagged with: Interview, magazines, Photograph, Brand communication,.