Friday, May 25, 2012

Fashion in Bucharest: an interview with Ada from Classiq

Romania is one of those countries everybody knows, all the while not really knowing anything about it. When  I was young, my family used to vacation in Transylvania. Yes, that was exactly as picturesque as it sounds (if your idea of picturesque includes travelling with 4 kids in a hot car for 24 hours straight). No, the people did not have fangs. It's been a while since I've last been there and I feel a travelling itch coming up. I'd especially love to see the parts of Romania still unfamiliar to me. Bucharest for example: I saw it once and mostly remember long avenues, hot markets and a neighbourhood in decay. I have a feeling there's a lot going on in Eastern-Europe, though: cities in the process of reinventing themselves are often a cradle for creativity. In order to find out, I rang the bell of the refined Ada from Classiq, one of my favorite blogs. Classiq is a great melange of style, design, movies and photography and occasionally guides us to hot spots in Bucharest. When in need of an instant inspiration boost, I'd definitely recommend it.

You've been living in Bucharest for a while now. What exactly draws you to it?

Although Bucharest is not my native city, I've been living here for almost 12 years and I've come to love it. It has so many beautiful parts I'm still discovering, amazing architecture, its cultural involvement, the possibilities of development in so many areas, the young people who decide to stay here and try to make a difference, their creativity and aesthetic sense.

What's the fashion scene like in your city? Do you have a lot of young designers? Is there something like a specific Romanian sense of style?

There are a few young designers that have been very well received at various fashion weeks in Europe. But I truly believe that talent, hard work and perseverance are equally important. I hate to see a young designer who shows great promise at his/her first or second collection and then gets lost on his/her way. The most difficult part is not reaching the top, but succeeding in staying there. And there is one other thing: I like seeing creativity in fashion, but I also like to see wearability. I often get the impression that the Romanian fashion designers focus more on the first part. I would like to see more collections of wearable pieces, classics regularly reinvented. This is something the Romanian fashion scene lacks.

I can't say that there is a specific Romanian sense of style. Romanians' style is very eclectic. There are women with impeccable style, simple, elegant, effortless, and every time I see one I regret I don't have more time to spare and take photos to publish on my blog. And there are the others, too fashion conscious, the ones who let themselves be driven by trends and not by what suits their personality and figure. Diversity is good, it helps you refine your taste, and everyone's style evolves in time, so it should, but I would like to see Romanians more confident in their own judgment and not be afraid to embrace simplicity more often.

Do you have any favourite shopping streets in Bucharest?

Unfortunately a thing Bucharest terribly lacks is a proper shopping street, the kind of street I would like to include a selection of my favourite brands, from local to international ones. Some of the fashion shops I love, along with my favourite bookstores (because there is no round of shopping without a visit to a bookshop), are scattered on different streets downtown Bucharest, from Unirii Square (Piaţa Unirii) to Romană Square (Piaţa Romană). The stores are usually centered in shopping malls, a concept I'm not very fond of, it deprives you of one of the pleasures of shopping, roaming the streets in search of that special something to add to your wardrobe or home.

What are your favourite Romanian stores or brands?

A few of my favourite Romanian brands for a complete look, from lingerie to accessories:

Sepala by Mihaela Glavan, one of the most appreciated Romanian designers. She creates fabulous, unique shoes, in beautiful colours and with architectural design, and bags.

Cristhelen B. by Musette: another one of my favourite Romanian (and not only) leather accessory brand. The design, quality and attention to detail are the elements that define the brand and which have won me over over the years. Shoes, bags, belts and gloves, their products are objects of desire.

Portobello: a charming atelier-boutique. Basic pieces, simple design, t-shirts, dresses, jackets, skirts, all made of natural fabrics like cotton, silk and wool. The essentials I always have trouble finding in good quality and at affordable prices. A fascinating fact about Portobello is that all the clothes are made in-store by a modiste, in the same space where they are merchandised. The products can also be adjusted to fit you perfectly. A unique experience, which makes you feel very special.

I.D. Sarrieri: the most beautiful lingerie. A constant presence in the fashion capitals and fashion magazines worldwide, the brand creates luxurious and sophisticated lingerie, made of the finest fabrics and with exquisite finishing touches.

A huge thanks to Ada - I haven't got a clue when I'll get to see Bucharest again, but I'll make sure to bear this list in mind!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Shopping Itch

I haven't bought any clothes since january and boy am I dying to scratch a hard-core shopping itch. Ever since my mother uttered the magic formula 'clothing budget', I have been buying clothes on a monthly basis. Actually, shopping has become quite the habit, and - unfortunately - not always a healthy one. After recently reading an article on habit formation (scary stuff, by the way), I decided to try out one something the author mentioned: curbing a habit by identifying routines, cues and rewards. Because when I look at my wardrobe, I see plenty of clothes, and yet I feel like I really REALLY need some new ones. Why? So in an attempt to save some money, I made a list of five cues that made me want to go out and shop over the past weeks:

Ah, such a classic. I can't speak for you guys, but I found that when I feel this way, it usually means that I'm just not inspired enough to wear my old clothes in a new way. Salvation lies in searching the internet for inspiration considering remixing, searching the back of my closet for clothes I forgot even existed, getting in front of a big mirror and trying to come up with something new. A grown up version of playing dress-up with Barbie. Only I find it quite easy to stand without toppling over and my dream house isn't made of pink plastic.

When I want a new dress for some or other special occasion, all I secretly want is to spend a lot of money on something absolutely impractical never to be worn again afterwards. Preferably with dry-cleaning instructions. Because obviously a new dress means a new, magnificent me! When really, it would be a lot more resourceful to just wear an old dress and simply accessorize it in a cool, new way. Wouldn't it be cool if our heads could split open, Zeus/Athena-style, and have Anna dello Russo pop out of them, here to cater to our every accessorizing need?

Now this is when clothes literally start speaking directly to me. As in: "You should totally buy me right now without regards to budget or actual needs because tomorrow I'll be gone with the wind. Or, you know, another woman. Gone I tell you!" The best counter-attack to this illusion is making a mental list of all the items you bought on sale and never really wore afterwards. It's a lot easier to say no once you realise that there's still plenty of fish in the sea, even when this one gets away. Albeit not as effective as taking a good, hard look at your bank statements.

Chances are that when I'm thinking this, I a) forgot to take a good look in the mirror this morning or b) neglected the weather report and am consequently freezing/melting. I was feeling pretty good about an outfit recently, until I got to the bus station and realised my hemline was MUCH too high to be worn with flesh coloured hosiery and heels. You see, the mirror I used that morning doesn't even show my knees, which led me to drastically underestimate the effect of my bare legs. My uncomfortable feeling only increased when I had to walk by a construction crew on a break. By the time I realised I would have to spend a big chunk of my day in a neighbourhood with a lot of working girls on street corners (I'm not talking your regular nine-to-fivers here), I was seriously considering hopping into the nearest mall during my lunch break and buying a new dress altogether. Luckely, my genius friend Sarah suggested simply buying a pair of coloured stockings. Less costly, but I could have saved myself the effort just by looking in a full-length mirror before leaving the house. (And if you're wondering, yes, the whistles were downright deafening. First day of spring and all.)

Confession: I have plenty of clothes that fit me perfectly well. It's just that most of them are lying on the floor, waiting to be handwashed or taken to the dry cleaner's. The solution here is really nothing more than me getting off my lethargic ass. No more laundry slacking!

To conclude: I am definitely a victim of the 'new' mirage. When I want something new, I'm secretly hoping that this new item will suddenly uplift my closet or sense of style. Things will get even better, if only I had that dress / those shoes / that top. When all I really need is a head-to-toe mirror, time, inspiration and creativity. And a decent washing machine. So if you'll excuse me now - I've got some laundry to do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cliché Tuesday: Nude is not a bloody colour

I never thought about this before I read through the comments of an article considering skin colours in The Hunger Games, but I wonder: in Africa, does the term 'nude', when used for clothes, refer to darker skin shades?

Isn't it strange that the fashion world uses the word 'nude' for a colour? Nude isn't a colour. It's a characteristic in itself completely unrelated to skin colour. (Although I do admit, I look totally nekkid when dressed in light beiges and creams and whatnot.) Not only is using nude as an adjective for clothes a paradox (it means 'no clothes', you fashion scallywags!), it is also - dare I say it? - kind of racist.
Nude in fashion

I'm not saying all fashion editors writing about nude being the new black or whatever are racists. But they are projecting a certain ideal by doing so. Let's turn it into mathematics.

Nude = white skin
Nude = fashionable
The aspirational skin colour of fashionable girls = ?

Nude worldwide

Just sayin'. I'm always the last one to find things out and I'm probably way behind on this, judging by the date of this excellent piece on the whole matter, but I still wanted to share my thoughts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

I sometimes forget, but long before I had wrapped my head around the brilliance of Emily Weiss, I had already found a personal fairy godmother when it came to matters of beauty. I'm talking about my fabulous friend (have I any other?) Kristien. My ever expanding perfume collection (bane of my boyfriend's existence - he lives in constant fear of the next addition) can be traced right back to a moment six years ago, when she gave me a bottle of scented body lotion from The Body Shop. I loved it so much I had to go buy the perfume as well - and lo and behold, an addiction was born.

She was also the one to introduce me to Kiehl's - I now own 4 of their products, not including samples and the facial cleanser + moisturizer that were confiscated by the evil security assistants at Bologna airport. I fought for my babies, I swear I did. I tried everything from persuasion ("I know you can't take over a 100 ml and the bottle says 125 ml, but LOOK, there's barely 50 ml left!") to puppy eyes to bitchfacing to fake crying. Turns out I'm not capable of that unless you give me a batch of onions and some outtakes from the avarage Britain's Got Talent audition. Group portrait of the surviving relatives:

I dressed them all in black little cloths for a month. Anyway, my following trip to Italy proved to be more auspicious, not in the least because it took me to Florence. Coincidentally, my sweet fairy godmother had recently once again given me a beautiful present. Wouldn't you agree the best presents in life are those you desperately wanted, only you didn't realize until you got them? In a stroke of genius, Kristien had gotten me soap. Not just any old soap. Manufactured by the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, this was, quite literally, the holy grail of all soaps. The Officina is attached to a church, the Santa Maria Novella, and is of the oldest pharmacies in the world. I'm not a particularly religious person, but if us Belgians entrust brewing the best beers in the world to monks, I don't see any reason for them not to excel in other more worldly matters such as beauty treatments.

collection of Kiehl's products

My friends, this is the soap to end all soaps. The first time I used it - I'm not exaggerating here - I was flabbergasted by how... incredibly... clean?... it made me feel. My skin was so thouroughly cleaned it didn't quite feel like my skin anymore. Back in the days, people who cursed were sometimes punished by forcing them to wash their mouths with soap. I'm pretty sure that whoever was forced to use this particular soap never dared utter more than an awkward whoopsidaisies afterwards. In fact, I bet that upon entering heaven, Saint-Peter will personally hand you a towel, your room number and a bar of this heavenly soap.

So of course, when we arrived in Florence on a glorious Sunday morning, I insisted we should pay a visit to the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Suffice to say it's quite amazing.

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Florence Italy

I was about to ask a sales assistant the price of their Aetas Salubris-range when my boyfriend, a little pale in the face, tried to rip the serum out of my hands and hissed it cost about 150 euros. I know a lost fight when I see one and I didn't even try to argue. Let me tell you something about L'Oréal: their advertising slogan does not work on men. Florence was enough of an experience to come to terms with my Aetas Salbruis-less life, though. How can anyone not be content with great wine, the best of company, and a view like this?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Integrity in the online universe

Happy intercalary everyone! (Apparently that's the official name of Leap Day. Who knew?) Long time no post. I don't have any excuses: haven't been especially busy, or even especially uninspired. Just seriously lazy. I have been called a slow gentle animal by some: don't know about the gentle, but the slow is definitely correct. I didn't feel like writing, and even read less blogs than usual. I did keep on following my personal favorites, though. There are some blogs I follow religiously: I never skip their posts and always look forward to updates. I think that gives me the right to consider myself a fanatic blog reader: I might not spend hours and hours reading what's out there, but I'm a very avid follower of a few carefully selected persona grata.

                                  Like these remarkable ladies.

The reason I keep reading these blogs is because a) I simply like them and b) I trust them. I trust their judgement; I trust they are highly intelligent people; I trust they are sincere. There are some blogs out there I like - the style, the visuals, sometimes the glamour - but have a hard time trusting. The reason? I feel like they're commercialising just a little too brashly.

Over the past years, pr departments have realised blogs have enormous marketing opportunity and acted accordingly. Bloggers took notice, too: IFB for instance responded with the IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto. Power to the people! Big bad brands should not be making money from bloggers' networks and expertise without giving something back. Right? Right. I don't think anyone would disagree. It's only fair bloggers should be paid for the added value they provide to brands.

However. Is that really what blogs should do? Provide added value to brands? Function as a cunning marketing tool? Everyone is free to disagree, but to me, something's gone awry. I read blogs because they are written by independent, freethinking people with a unique point of view. I don't read them to be bombarded with affiliate programs and commercials. I don't mind advertising in sidebars that much. They're usually subtle and non-obtrusive. I wish I could say I didn't mind plain old commercials disguised as a blog post, but I do. No matter how smart you write them, they're annoying and disappointing. They're still pretty innocent, though. At least you know what they're about. What I do mind is the sneaky kind of content that makes me wonder who exactly provided the subject.

Take for instance event reports. Tricky shizzle, this. I can't count how many times I saw blogs hyping pictures of hip and happenin' soirées, merrily posing with blogger friends and downing macaroons by the kg. I love a party as much as the next person, but to be honest, I'd think twice before I would go. These parties are courting you to write about them. It's free advertising, basically. I'm not one to turn down fizzy pink drinks and fancy patisserie - but honestly, I would feel like I'm being played. It's all good fun, but in the end, someone is just using you to attract attention.

Also, the the ubiquitous C/O-items. Short for "courtesy of", this means that a certain piece of clothing was a donation from the company producing it. I don't think there's a soul in the world who would object to getting things for free. I'd love to get free clothes on a regular basis, believe me. But these companies aren't handing out five loaves of bread and two fish. This isn't about philantropy - it's not even necessarily about them getting their name out there. It's about companies using a blogger's authenticity to brand themselves in a certain way.

Necklace: Médecine Douce (Available at Le Bon Marché or / Top: American Vintage. Courtesy of my credit card.

By using blogs as a marketing tool, brands are not only gaining notoriety, they're sponging off the blogs' integrity and authenticity. And you know what? I don't even care that much about it. I truly don't. As long as you're conscious of how the brand is using you, and what you might gain from that. But it should be a matter of careful consideration. Because when you're taking money or other compensation from companies, you aren't just selling ad space. You're selling integrity. Your integrity. (By this I don't mean you'll lose your personal integrity. Just that you're hiring it out. That probably sounded a little whorish, didn't it? Oops.) Blogging is such a personal occupation that I find the mixing up of marketing and blogging difficult to digest. Where do you draw the line between representing yourself and representing others? Ultimately, the question boils down to this: are you blogging as a person - or as a highly personalised brand?

I realise I'm probably not voicing a popular concern, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Paris vintage shops

Paris! I didn't take as many pictures as I anticipated, but I do have some recommendations for you. First up: vintage shops. Paris is the very best city for vintage. You'll find everything: cheap piles of clothes, mid range vintage, consignment stores selling recent second hand from the more costly French brands, vintage paradises stocked with mignon hats and purses and a few high end am-I-allowed-to-touch-this? shops. I want to tell you about three stores in particular.

The first was Chez Mamie in the Rue de Rochechouart. The website is for two seperate shops: Mamie and Mamie Blue, located right next to one another.

The first, Mamie, is a three floor treasury. You'll find some amazing things here, but overall, we found the prices were much too steep. 100+ euros for a tiny purses with ripped sewing on the inside? Pass. The couple keeping shop looked amazing, dressed up in full rodeo mode, but weren't very sympathetic. Maybe it was us, maybe they were hungry, we'll never know. In any case, if you like rummaging and don't mind paying for what you find, you'll have a lot of fun here.

Next to Mamie is Mamie Blue. I thought it more conveniently arranged, better priced and overall more pleasant. The hat selection was particularly nice, as was the man behind the counter. He reminded me of a dandy shoemaker, all buoyant and tongue in cheeck.

I'm a little sad I couldn't get a clear shot out of that last one. On the photo is the shopkeeper and a baffling old lady, trying on all kinds of hats and accessories. She almost made a scene when she no longer found the ostrich purse she had intended to buy - turned out one of my friends had been admiring it and put it somewhere else. What's the fun in old ladies if you can't fool them once in a while, right? But seriously, if I were a rich senior citizen, this is exactly how I would spend my days. Advanced Style-ing the shit out of Paris!

Now, the last shop, Boutique Odetta at 76 rue des Tournelles, was in a different league. First of all, this is a kind of vintage concept store. A tiny vintage concept store. It sells vintage furniture, clothes, accessories and a new line of leather goods. The selection is wonderful (special edition Chanel purses, labels à la Dries Van Noten on the racks) and beautifully curated. Sadly, all of this comes with a hefty price tag attached. Also, the owner scared the bejesus out of me. I was afraid to touch anything, let alone ask if I could take pictures. I didn't even dare take pictures outside, which explains the weird angle in the following photograph. But don't let that scare you: I'm just a big fat wuss. I recommend taking a look at the excellent website before you go, that way you get an overview of what they have in stock.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cliché Thursday: Fur leftovers

Fur is a pretty heavy issue. If your upbringing was anything like mine, you were taught that buying fur is not okay. While I have thought about vintage fur coats and whether it's okay to buy one, it never even crossed my mind to consider buying a new fur coat. And not just because they're expensive - it's just one of those lines I was taught not to cross as a kid, morally almost on par with issues like racism and environmental waste. Principles learned at a young age are the ones that stick the longest.

But somehow, fur is becoming okay again. Undeniably, most designers feel just fine sending glamourous fur items down the catwalk. You could of course argue that catwalks aren't necessarily representative of what people actually wear. After all, most of us can't afford to be decked out in fox, mink or sable (although we did spot a hell of a lot of fur coats in Paris). We can, however, afford fur trimmings and accessories. Fur on the hoods of coats, boots, gloves, sleeves, ... And what's the harm? After all, these small bits and scraps are castoffs of animals that were already dead. It would almost seem wasteful to throw them away - why shouldn't they be used? They're leftovers from the core industry of fur: coats and hats.

Except they're not. Fur trimmings aren't by-products. As the trade in coats declined, the fur industry turned to trim. Animals are now raised for the trim market specifically. For instance, as much as 90% percent of farm-bred foxes in the USA are killed to provide fur trim. According to FICA, the Fur Information Council of America, in 2010 the fur market accounted for $1.3 billion in trade. In the USA alone. Fur trim retail is estimated to be worth $500 million annually. Peanuts?

The problem with fur trim is that it is rarely labeled. Don't assume you're buying faux fur just because you're not paying big bucks - fur trimmings really don't come that expensive. And even when it is labeled as fur, and you have no objection to it, be very cautious: Asian cat and dog fur is known to be sometimes sold as rabbit fur. I'd suggest to thread carefully, and if you're in doubt, ask the brand for more information!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Paris Winter Wonderland

Our Paris trip in a few words: pancakes, Musée d'Orsay, taking pictures of tourists (I kindly left those out), weird encounters with vulgar tour guides and hostel personnel straight out of Little Britain, endless walks, Centre Pompidou, bad cocktails, great éclairs, the best of company (shout out to my dear London boys!), battling the cold and shopping. SO much shopping. An elaborate report is on its way, but for now: pictures. Quite the heavy post, sorry about that!