Monday, March 24, 2008

Ethics women

Following a move to a somewhat smaller flat I have become unusually conscious of the amount of waste which most of us generate: not least the number of clothes I have which I rarely, or even never, wear. Living just across the border from mainland China it's hard to forget that the most wasteful practices and environmentally unsound processes are taking place every day, churning out cheap fashion for high street stores - and we are breathing in the results.

There seems to have been a dramatic increase in the number of ethical fashion websites - perhaps they are still treading a queasy line between excess and abstinence, after all do you really need another t-shirt, even if it is fair trade and organic? And what are the implications of having a fair trade dress shipped across the Atlantic? But if you're going to buy something from here, then at least you are thinking about it.

Here are some of the best.


Sadly the one area where ethical fashion often seems to fall down is shoes. But Tecasan, who feature Natalie Portman modelling a lovely pair of cherry-red heels on their website, seem somehow to have crafted vegan shoes that look just like leather - not like cornish pasties, but like real, desirable shoes you'd want to wear.

Poppy pewter faux-calf shoe, above.


Nice selection if a little dull. The Edun range is available here (much as I hate to promote anything to do with Bono, this is his wife's ethical line, the t-shirts are really very nice, and they are the only ethical clothes Lane Crawford stock, so the star power must be worth something).

People Tree, Garbo jacket, above.

Fashion Conscience

Attractive bamboo knickers and interesting dresses (although in some cases frustratingly poorly photographed, for example the sequinned kimono dress: what happened to see before you buy?). Best for jewellery ("organic, vintage, recycled and any materials that can be legitimately deemed certifiably sustainable": nouveau vintage dragonfly cuff, above)

Friday, March 21, 2008

They seek him there

The Sartorialist was a fashion insider in New York who now takes photographs of people he sees on the street (as a result he has received quite astonishing accolades: his eye is acute, his vision perceptive). He commented that it was all too easy to take pictures of people looking bad in their clothes. He could have been talking about Hong Kong, where what you could call neo-infantilism all too often seems to govern the way women dress, with lace frills, Hello Kitty, naive jewellery, and unintentionally funny garbled t-shirt slogans often featuring heavily - see for example:






all of which irony-free statements I have seen on the streets of Hong Kong. Far harder, though, to find people who look good in their clothes.

His photographs are wonderful; the choices are sometimes interesting, occasionally perplexing, but always thoughtful and often accompanied by succint observations. He's currently featuring amazing pictures from a recent trip to New Delhi. Definitely worth a look.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm a marionette

It's all too easy to mock Victoria Beckham, and this photo from the Marc Jacobs ad campaign, to be seen on an uncomfortably large scale on a building near you, tells you all you need to know: Marc Jacobs (presumably) thinks he's being ironic engaging VB for this ad campaign, and VB thinks she's being ironic doing it (apparently she "trusts Marc's vision", so happily at least one person does), and Juergen Teller is... being paid to take photographs, and so on and so on, fashion eats itself ad nauseam... The clear sighted view, however, is simply that these adverts are a joke. Not ironic: just a joke.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Putting on the Ritz

In a typical story of Hong Kong extravagance and wastefulness, the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, which opened in 1993, has closed and is relocating to Kowloon where the new hotel will open in 2010. The "old" building will be demolished and a sky-high new development put up in its place. So far, so depressing. But what is truly amazing, especially in the wake of the Edison Chen sex photos scandal, is that prudish Hong Kong has countenanced the erection (sorry) of a full height advert covering the whole of the south face of the old building and featuring statuesque actor Djimon Hounsou wearing nothing but a pair of white Calvin Kleins.

I was walking innocently along to a lunch meeting when I bumped in to a client who was walking the same way. Just as I said hello we both clocked the advert and were struck dumb with astonishment. "That's a very big ... advertisement", I said, and we both laughed and averted our eyes.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Leaving New York

A friend who saw my pictures of Minnesota and New York, below, said they looked cold and lonely. It's certainly cold, and I think my vision is probably lonely (although as the inimitable Roddy Frame said , "they call us lonely when we're really just alone"). I've enjoyed many things about this trip. I liked Washington, if only for the novelty of the board games in my hotel (AKA rooming house, a shabby, glorified B&B presided over by a perpetually delighted Eastern European man with a shock of black hair and a disconcerting squint), with the White House just down the road, the sharp contrast of bitter cold and blazing sunshine, and the (black, middle aged, highly educated) taxi driver telling us he'd probably vote for McCain; Minnesota was an experience, from the ice storm at the airport which nearly prevented us landing, vertical shards of white dashing past the plane windows on either side as I said to myself they do this all the time, they do this all the time, and the question I always ask myself when I travel somewhere new (especially somewhere as monumentally undistinguished as St Paul), how do people end up here?; I've enjoyed getting to know New York, walking down Madison Avenue thinking about Kirsty McColl's song of the same name, buying Kiehl's products in Bloomingdales, passing the Empire State which is currently in a state of renovation, following the Pilates session on the TV in my hotel room and feeling silly lying on the carpet trying to connect my legs to the earth, and visiting the jawdroppingly enormous New York HQ of UK law firm Clifford Chance (the largest law firm in the world, both by number of lawyers and revenue) for a happily coincidental meeting arranged by one of my Hong Kong clients, who hadn't realised I was in New York, the night before.

The thing I don't like about travel is the fact of it. The weariness, waking at 4am with thoughts running round my head as insistent as a headache. Not knowing where I am, what time it is, and whether I should eat. When I've been in meetings I have had no trouble at all. Outside of that temporary adrenaline rush, though, it's been like walking around with several sheets of bubble wrap tightly wound around my head.

What I have positively disliked is the fact that the clothes in every shop I go into seem to be "Made In China". Having just moved house I have an unusually powerful distaste for buying anything, but I feel particularly averse to the idea of buying anything made in China; to China it shall not return, at least not in my luggage. Viewed in this perspective, even the most technically desirable dresses are nothing more than landfill futures.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sunburst and snowblind

The view from the somewhat dirty window of the Holiday Inn SoHo, Lafayette Street, Manhattan, New York, March 3, 2008

Flying out of St Paul airport, you could see for miles and the whole country seemed perfectly flat and white with snow as far as the eye could see. I don't think I've ever seen so much snow covering such an expanse of land. Today in New York the sun was shining and the sky was a perfect blue, though it was bitterly cold (as I walked along Broadway I thought of "You promised me Broadway was waiting for me" and "The wind blows right through you, it's no place for the old" from Fairytale of New York). I met an old friend from Hong Kong in an Asian cafe called Rice, on the corner of Lexington and 28th Street. She's been in New York for two years and says it's a tough, and toughening, place to work, and people will step on each other to get ahead; but much better than Hong Kong for a single woman looking for a relationship (in Hong Kong, this attractive, intelligent woman had begun to wonder if there was something wrong with her).

In the afternoon I had a facial and a massage at a spa called Eden. Both therapists were Chinese, one from Hunan and one from Fuzhou; the latter, Sandra, was about the same age as me, had an 11 year old daughter (it's amazing what you can find out from someone who's wrapping a hot towel around your chin) spoke Cantonese as well as Mandarin and was delighted with my few hamfisted phrases. I lay on the massage table listening to, apparently, the music which wafts from the speakers of every spa I've ever been to worldwide (the CD is, I think, Now That's What I Call Inoffensive Tinkling 55) and thinking about the circumstances which led a Scottish-born Hong Kong resident and two Chinese born New York residents to a spa on Broadway on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Mississippi God Damn

The Mississippi, from the Crowne Plaza St Paul Riverfront, February 29, 2008.
Minnesota feels like it typifies the US in so many ways: a land of giants and giant spaces, where everyone dresses down and looks down. Jeans to the office? Sure! Dirty snow in huge drifts. Huge cars, huge roads.The worst hot chocolate I've ever tasted from the vending machine in the office kitchen. Kids in the hotel hallways, here for some wrestling competition, with nothing better to do than stand by the lifts staring. At every restaurant we're served huge, somewhat tasteless portions, larded with butter. So much food... US flags everywhere and bumper stickers saying "Support [or Pray for] our troops". Everyone is friendly, up to a point. Public as well as private spaces are massive and bland. Only the sunshine relieves the atmosphere. The TV adverts are all for drugs. The CNN newsreader says "Communist China".

St Paul is not a city you could walk around. Without a car you'd be nothing. Everyone drives to work. They drive between buildings on the office "campus". We drove to lunch and back. It's second nature to be driving a car: how will Americans ever give that up? The entire infrastructure is predicated upon driving.

My taxi driver has a black beret and John Lennon blue specs and is playing freeform jazz on the car stereo. He barks at me "I'm going to Lexington because it's quicker". I say "OK". He asks me if the reason I have a crease in the middle of my brow - just there, and he points in the mirror - "is because it's frustrating dealing with the Chinese". Straight faced, he says the people in Hong Kong eat rats.

The Mall of America is near the airport, but I can't quite bring myself to go there. 40 million people visited in 2006 and it's the most visited shopping mall in the world. All very good reasons for me to avoid it completely.

But sitting at the desk in my hotel room, watching the sun go down over the Mississippi, with clouds of smoke puffing in the cold, I have to admit it's beautiful.