Sunday, April 28, 2013

THE SLOW FASHION MOVEMENT.



** This article was originally written for and published in Catalyst Magazine **

“Shoppers buy an unsustainable amount of sustainable products.”

 Quote by Environment Journalist, Greg Foyster

WORDS BY SIGRID (SIGGI) MCCARTHY.

Over time, we have seen the term 'sustainable' used more and more in advertising, in general conversation, and in public seminars. It has become another piece of the ‘greenwashing’ puzzle - a notion commonly associated with companies incorporating words into their terminology, such as ‘green’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’, in an effort to sell their products. The term sustainable is particularly problematic when linked to the fashion industry, as it can be used without having much substance or integrity behind it. It can also influence people to avoid dealing with the real issues - suggesting for example that one need only buy an organic product in order to be successfully sustainable. The Slow Fashion Movement acknowledges that there is more to sustainability than merely creating sustainable products in lieu of less-ethical alternatives.

The movement, which centres on the adage ‘quality over quantity’, was founded in 2007 by proclaimed researcher, author and consultant Kate Fletcher. ‘Slow fashion challenges consumerist fashion’s obsession with mass production and globalized style, and becomes a guardian of alternative ways of fashion provision and expression’, Fletcher says. She argues that when discussing sustainable fashion, people often fail to look at the bigger picture and evaluate the complete cycle. The movement highlights that our planet can no longer accommodate outrageous rates of consumption, and therefore encourages us to address the relationship we have with clothing. Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, encapsulated the essence of the movement when she said that it was, "...about reconnecting with our clothes, rather than viewing them as quick trends or throwaway items...It's about tapping into the pleasure of buying a well-made garment with a timeless design, being able to recognise quality, repairing and properly caring for your wardrobe."

The movement does not shun fashion or clothing; in fact various fashion designers have actually embraced it and are encouraging consumers to value clothing at a deeper level. Emerging Australian fashion designer, Yuge Yu of the label YUGE, comments ‘I find that making clothing with a very strong seasonality and trend driven direction has the potential to make the previous season redundant. Both designers and consumers can be more mindful of how the garment industry is progressing, by creating and purchasing pieces that are imbued with a sense of longevity.’

Much like the Slow Food Movement, the Slow Fashion Movement aims to slow rates of consumption down to a more sustainable pace. The movement addresses the whole consumption cycle and promotes the idea that fashion can, and should be long lasting. It plays on this notion that style is timeless and clothing ought to be trans-seasonal. In many ways, it is employing the values and mindsets seen throughout the early to mid 20th Century, when people were very conscious of preserving their garments and treating them with a certain level of respect. Nowadays, it seems people have somehow gotten so caught up in finding a bargain, that they have lost sight of what should be considered more important – i.e. the quality of a garment and the ethics of a supply chain. Bargain hungry consumers no longer have eyes for detail, nor do they value good craftsmanship or the longevity of a garment. They fall into a false economy and become slaves to fashion trends and disposable, short-lived items. This throwaway mentality is entrenched in our society’s psyche and is something that the Slow Movement is seeking to transform.

The ills of fast fashion are so grave that it casts a dark shadow over the beauty of a garment. The recent harrowing tragedy in Bangladesh - where over 1,000 clothing workers died in the collapse of a knowingly unsafe garment factory - should be reason enough for consumers to start thinking deeply about their consumption habits and where their purchases originate. It should not be acceptable for people to claim ignorance and to separate ethics from their wardrobes – after all, poor working conditions and negative environmental impacts are often well documented.

A simple way to begin incorporating the principles of the Slow Fashion Movement into your lifestyle is to start with your wardrobe. The idea of a curated wardrobe is to maximize the use of your clothing so as to avoid waste. For example, be mindful of having garments that can be worn together, in different ways, and that are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Instead of buying an item of clothing on impulse, stop to consider its purpose, its significance to your wardrobe and whether or not you really need it. An intelligent and well-curated wardrobe is one that consists of classic staple pieces that compliment each other and that are essentially trans-seasonal. The strong desire to continually purchase more should become increasingly redundant, as greater emphasis is placed on owning fewer, better quality garments.

This movement, which is working towards what Kate Fletcher describes as a ‘sense of sanity within a system that has only become one speed’, will hopefully take hold as more people start appreciating the need for significant change. It is important that consumers start demanding more from their clothing, so that companies come to realise that cheap, low-quality fashion is no longer acceptable or in demand. Further, consumers need to know how to properly care for their garments so that their lifespans are increased and the population’s overall level of consumption is reduced. The time has come to slow things down.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

YUGE YU INTERVIEW.


A little while ago, I had the pleasure of working with a beautiful, young woman by the name of Yuge Yu. She recently launched her fashion label, YUGE, and kindly agreed to answer some questions regarding her creative lifestyle and debut collection. 

Previously working as a lawyer, you have made quite the change in terms of your career path. What influenced you to leave your profession, and to then design your first fashion collection?

There was never one definitive reason for moving away from practising law - a career that I loved and had worked so hard to excel in that at one point I was pretty convinced it was what I would do for the rest of my life.  At the time, I felt there were many things happening in my life that called for a change; forging inspiring new relationships, moving states, experiencing a terrible home burglary and of course, a growing desire to explore working within a more creative environment. It was on the back of this sense that I decided to move towards a paralleled yet alternative passion of mine in design and fashion.

It was my partner David who really encouraged me to explore this other side of me. The pieces of clothing that he always complimented me on were the ones I had made back when I was 18 or 19 years old, so from there, I started sketching designs - a few of which were loosely based on those pieces I’d made a decade ago.

You have a unique space in which to showcase your product here in Melbourne; could you tell us more about that?

The beautiful building on Chapel Street has always been a place where David and I have based ourselves for work, but a little bit like the elves and the shoemaker, we’ve always done so hidden from the public eye and have been able to rattle around in our own little world – actually we’re probably more like the Addams family in their spooky old house!

The space has gone through several transformations since it was built at the turn of the 19th century, originally the Prahran Arcade and it went on to house Turkish baths, the old Dan Murphy’s, and a host of artists’ studios.

For me to now be able to showcase my clothing from one of its enchanting ballrooms is extremely special and it's also a privilege to be able to put it out to the public in a way that I had always envisioned. It does though cast a great responsibility to ensure that my clothing, how it’s displayed, and the traffic through the space is also sensitive to the existing subtleties of the building. 

What have been the benefits of working within a creative community? Do you think that being surrounded by creative people, such as your partner and artist David Bromley, has helped you to develop as a designer?

I am surrounded by painters, designers, illustrators, photographers on a daily basis around the studio and I find that this mix of creative energy, which isn’t primarily based in fashion, has really helped me carve my own path. This path has a strong focus on building a unique identity and a product that in a sense is more about artistic expression rather than it being driven by seasonality and trends.

David, whilst he is the ultimate aesthete, is also such an inspiration and collaborator in all aspects of building my label - from design, to merchandising to business planning, production and liaising with stockists and suppliers. We brainstorm everything together, in each of our business and creative ventures. I find that without our daily talks, I can otherwise allow my lawyer trained mind to take over, which can be a bit too devil’s advocate, a lot less playful and definitely not as adventurous!

You tend to use natural fibres in your designs, and have also mentioned that you would like to make clothing that is transeasonal…

What are your thoughts on the need for a more sustainable garment industry - do you think that people should be more mindful of their consumption habits?

I think that I’m a real consumer; I love new products, gadgets, clothing, shoes... I love innovation and functionality and I love beautiful things and I think being spurred by these ideals in many ways makes me very mindful of what it is I choose to purchase.

I find that making clothing with a very strong seasonality and trend driven direction has the potential to make the previous season redundant. Both designers and consumers can be more mindful of how the garment industry is progressing, by creating and purchasing pieces that are imbued with a sense of longevity.

Do you believe there is more room for new labels in this competitive market?

I absolutely do, otherwise I wouldn’t be here!

I used to tutor a lot at university and one of my introductions to my students was always that they should look around in class and see that there are hundreds, if not thousands of other students in the same year as them, graduating around the same time as them, all pursuing and seeking out to carve a path. Now was the time to start thinking about how they could set themselves apart. 

I’m not sure if it stuck with anyone, but certainly I think knowing in the back of your mind that just studying, just working, just creating without considering what is already out there can stifle creativity and that the opposite, being aware of your competition can reap great insights into what is missing out there.

What have been the challenges surrounding the launch of your label, ‘Yuge’.

It’s been a real rollercoaster ride launching my label, with challenges at almost every stage of the process! Quite honestly though, overcoming the challenges has been what’s made the entire transition into a new industry so fulfilling.

Production was quite the undertaking and I found that in launching my label, it soon took a large component of time and energy away from designing and managing the brand. Being pregnant throughout the entire process didn’t make things any easier either!! It was however one of the most rewarding experiences to finally receive my pieces in multiples, to see them hung beautifully and to have others wear them, enjoy them and make the pieces their own.

How does commercial viability affect your creativity?

I’m actually very pragmatic with the financial side of my business and am well aware of the constraints that commerciality has on the extent that I can create.

Ultimately though, commercial success was never a determining factor in the underlying ethos of my label and so I set about working on a small scale, very much at home on the sewing machine. By doing so, I had greater freedom to experiment, play with fabrics, cuts and by the time it came to undertaking production, I had a clear focus in mind as to what I would put out and portray to the public.

It’s put me in good stead moving forward, as I’ve learnt how to really manage and balance the line between creating something that is unique with the mechanics of then producing them for a wider market.

Finally, what is your vision for the label, ‘Yuge’? How will it be available to the public going forward?

In developing the label, I’ve moved towards a more bespoke direction in ongoing designs - particularly with the artists’ studio environment in which I work, where I’m surrounded by the hand-hewn, hand-embellished and one of a kind.

It has always been my desire to create clothing that will become a standout and a staple piece to be personalised by the wearer.

Beyond my current stockists, looking ahead, I’m really excited about my new website www.yugeyu.com, which will have beautiful galleries of images and an online shop outlet. Watch this space.

THREADSLIKE INTERVIEW.




NOTE: All images are by Dan Roberts from ThreadsLike

The other night outside LMFF's National Graduate Showcase, I was photographed by local street style photographer, Dan Roberts. (That's me wearing the mustard coloured trench coat - a second-hand gem from Savers.)

He was then kind enough to answer a few questions for Colour Me Red...

Who is the person behind "ThreadsLike"? 

Dino Dan. Admittedly this is a fairly recent name of which the origins can be put down to a notorious night during LMFF with the lovely ladies from StyleHunter, and Style Melbourne. Seems to be sticking though, so I’ll roll with it.

How did "ThreadsLike" come about?

ThreadsLike was in the making a long time before it actually took charge of a domain name and became something that I was prepared to show to the world. I was in Tokyo a few years back and I guess you could say I had a ‘moment’. Foreign smells, flashing lights from every direction, steam billowing from vents, black suits ducking into flash cars, heels, overcoats, wintery boots and mysterious faces. Something in this sensory overload that is Tokyo made me view cities in a whole new light. It gave me more perspective and respect for the streets and the people that walk them.  

I’d been working for a large New Zealand womenswear designer for a number of years in Auckland before I moved to Melbourne, but as soon as I landed here I knew it was time to start working on my own street style blog.

Photography has always been a part of my life. My sister gave me my first camera when I was pretty young, and since then I’ve tried to always have a camera at my side.

So I guess these things came together, had a little party and ThreadsLike was born!

Many photographers like to capture street style, but I feel that yours has quite a unique point of view. Tell us what you look for on the street. 

You’re right, there are a lot of ‘streetstyle’ blogs out there these days. It’s grown so much in the last few years that you can even sub-categorize under the one umbrella now.

I don’t look for specific fashion when I head out shooting, I’m looking for something that is more than just ‘good’ fashion. I would probably quite simply call it, style. I try to find cohesion between subject, fashion and environment. I think these three things are needed to really capture a great street style image. Style is something that can only happen when someone is totally comfortable with what they are wearing, and that’s something I’m a firm believer in. Style only occurs when the outfit matches the person’s mood or personality.

That’s what I try to capture in my photographs - the personality of whoever it is that I’m framing up. Like any photographer, I look to tell a story in my photographs. I think street style has a lot more to offer than just a static head to toe, two-dimensional image of some clothes that someone’s wearing.

How does Melbourne's street style compare to other major cities overseas? What makes us quintessentially 'Melbourne'?

I think the greatest thing about Melbourne streets is the diversity that you can find. Melbourne’s arts and culture is really strong and there are a lot of young students studying at the many Arts institutions around Melbourne. This contributes to people’s creative, experimental and fresh outlook into what they’re wearing. It has more of an impact on designers and fashionistas than some may think.

There’s always so much going on in this bustling city (I can hardly keep up), which gets people out and about on the streets. A creative, diverse culture helps to build and maintain a fascinating street culture. And street culture is an integral part of getting the mould right for a great city.

The vintage scene in this city is really relevant too. There are so many great little vintage boutiques dotted around, and they're definitely worth sifting through to find those gems. There's no doubt that vintage finds its way into so many Melbournians' wardrobes - I love hearing about how someone has thrown designer wears together with a bit of vintage to give it that ‘one of a kind’ look.

I love seeing the people in your photographs standing in familiar streets of Melbourne. Do you have any favourite areas of the city to scope out stylish subjects? 

I wouldn’t say I have a particular favourite place to shoot, because what I love is the diversity that this city throws up. Northside of the city is quite experimental, and Southside has a more refined look. It’s important to look at different approaches to fashion, and different burrows have different ideas/looks that can be equally interesting.

The city centre is probably where I spend the most hours on the street. There are places like the GPO building in town that has a natural romanticism, which makes for really beautiful backdrops in photographs. Collins Street consistently has really nice light throughout the day, and I explore laneways as much as possible. I still find myself discovering new hidden oases down streets I’ve walked a million times.

I’ve definitely come to learn that it doesn’t matter where you are, you could walk around a corner in a seemingly dead part of the city and run straight into a beautiful frame.

There has been much criticism regarding the authenticity of street style photography recently, particularly that which documents international fashion weeks. How do you feel about the evolution of street style photography? Do you feel it has been tainted by commercialisation and over-saturation?

As long as the photographer can still convey a feeling, capture a style that is worthy viewing and essentially still tell that story within their photograph, then I think there is definitely still relevance. I just think that street style is still finding its feet after a huge growth period. It’s at that awkward teenage stage where your body grows really quickly and you suddenly find yourself clumsy; you knock things around and generally can’t put one foot in front of the other… It’s just going to take a little while to find that coordination again and to catch up with ourselves.

If you find a street style photographer that you like, I think the beauty of following their content is seeing how it changes and being a part of that person’s evolution and journey. I personally think that we are at a stage where street style photography is more interesting than it has ever been. People have been forced to push themselves creatively, and the good street style photographers are coming up with some incredibly beautiful and provocative images.

It’s just part of the evolution within the industry and seeing how designers will react to this new phenomenon is part of the intrigue. I’ve already heard of designers paring back/simplifying collections in response to the flashy shows that are happening on the streets outside. I think if something is so big it has the power to influence designers, then there is definitely relevance. As a flow on effect, the style on the street will reversibly be influenced by the designers, so it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

I do think that there are a lot of publications that have jumped onto the street style scene and have totally missed the point. But that’s with any industry, and at the end of the day it’s up to the reader to choose what they consider to be good content and what they think is worth supporting.

What other street style photographers do you admire / reference? 

The first street style photographer that I heard of and started seriously following was Scott Schuman, of The Sartorialist. Again, I can thank my inspirational sister for this introduction. I think Schuman is incredibly good at telling a story through his photographs, and he catches the essence of his subject like very few others can.

Fairly recently, I’ve also been following a lot of what Tommy Ton is shooting. He brings a whole different aesthetic to the street style scene. I really like Ton’s attention to detail and the way he frames photographs is definitely an inspiration that I reference when I’m out on the street.

I am definitely a perfectionist, and therefore I’m really critical of my own work. I look at what I consider to be the best content in the world because it’s how I keep pushing myself to be the best I can be.

Where to from here? Any upcoming projects?

L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival was a great week and I met a lot of incredible people - some of whom have shown interest in collaborating in the future, which is really exciting. Next up though is Sydney for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia. It’ll be great to see Sydney from my street style perspective. 

It’s always refreshing and inspirational going to new places, so I’m really looking forward to getting on that plane! I’ll skip back over to Auckland for New Zealand Fashion Week later in the year too.

I’ve been trying to work out a plan for taking ThreadsLike more international in the future, so hopefully you’ll start seeing some frames from interesting cities around the world in the mix too. Watch this space…

Aside from that, I’ll be back out on the streets of Melbourne tomorrow, hunting out those stylish birds and bears!

Monday, April 1, 2013

THE EVOLUTION OF STREET STYLE.



WORDS by SIGRID (SIGGI) MCCARTHY.

Personal style can be a very powerful and satisfying form of expression. It can convey one’s love of certain eras, highlight their unique point of view, and ultimately arm them with the necessary strength to get through a particularly bleak day. As visual beings, our eyes are drawn to vibrant colour and most of us appreciate a pleasant distraction from the monotony seen down our city streets.

To be stylish, one does not necessarily have to be good looking in the traditional sense. Having a sense of style is more about wearing a garment a certain way; a way that makes it your own. It is about pairing unexpected items together and making them work. It can be simple, outlandish, or confronting – as long as it says something about you.

Lately, I have found myself feeling a little ambivalent about the nature of street style. On the one hand, I adore perusing blogs that capture the beauty from the streets (my favourites being those run by photographers Vanessa Jackman, Scott Schuman and Maya Villiger), but on the other hand, I can’t help but see right through its ever-growing falsity. It is becoming more and more obvious that street style has moved away from a celebration of creativity and more towards ‘Street Style’ with a capital S - a way for people to be seen.

For many years, certain people have captured passers-by and documented the evolution of Street Style. Bill Cunningham, a street photography veteran, has taken candid photographs for The New York Times since the late 1970s. The notion of Street Style has been around for a long time, but in the past few years it has exploded into a sort of sport that only devoted fashion followers play. We can thank (or blame) the rise of online bloggers and of self-proclaimed photographers for changing the very nature of Street Style. What was once a unique way to capture the development of a city’s culture has now become oversaturated and commercialised – an inauthentic representation of the streets.

Unfortunately, Street Style has become about more than just dressing for mere pleasure; it has become the main reason for people dressing in a particular way. People in the fashion game want to be noticed and more so, they want to be validated by others. With this in mind, the evolution of Street Style is perhaps inevitable. Being photographed by a Street Style photographer means others admire your outfit, and arguably the extension of this is that you yourself are in fact admired too.

As a society, we have become obsessed by the lives of others – how they live, what they eat, the way they dress and who they are with. Street Style photography is just a small fragment of a bigger issue; the issue being that we are now preoccupied by the lives of others, and also by the need to be seen and photographed.  

Rosalind Jana was the Vogue UK Talent Contest Winner in 2011 and is the person behind the insightful fashion blog ‘Clothes, Cameras and Coffee.’ She recently made an interesting observation that resonated with me and reinforced my thoughts on the evolution of Street Style. “What you wear can tell a story, convey personality (or obscure it), provide an antidote to routine and make life a touch more joyous…but there has been a general shift from Street Style as a celebration of creativity to a further form of (often covert) advertising.” Says Rosalind.

I argue that there are currently two kinds of Street Style – style that is captured on the street and not during fashion week, and style that is captured during fashion week and that is focused around the runway locations. The latter is arguably a fabricated version of Street Style, as it is built around the notion that people dress to be photographed and ‘on show’. Fashion week, whether it is in London, Paris, New York or Milan, attracts global attention and people actually dress for the occasion.

People admiring the photographs that stem from these events have forgotten, or do not fully understand that the subjects being captured are generally not in the streets, nor caught unaware by a random photographer. They are usually industry-based individuals, or industry groupies hungry for exposure, photographed outside fashion venues by what are essentially fashion paparazzi. Simply put, they are men and women parading down a makeshift outdoor runway.

Head fashion reporter and editor for the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes, recently wrote an article for the NY Times discussing what she refers to as the ‘Circus of Fashion’:

“We were once described as “black crows” - us fashion folk gathered outside an abandoned, crumbling downtown building in a uniform of Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto. “Whose funeral is it?” passers-by would whisper with a mix of hushed caring and ghoulish inquiry, as we lined up for the hip, underground presentations back in the 1990s. Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They pose and preen, in their multipatterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers.” Says Menkes.

What she is saying is evident every season - people flock to the fashion capitals of the world during fashion week and the Internet is then inundated with Street Style photographs of those eager for exposure. What’s interesting to note however is that many of the stylish people we see on these blogs are professional models and/or very wealthy individuals with exclusive access to high fashion. They are not your average man or woman who just happens to have good style. Essentially, we are given a very a narrow take on street style and we are usually only exposed to a certain demographic. The models being photographed are more often than not still made up in their dramatic show make-up and hairstyles, and this merely enhances a photograph (and of course the model’s overall stylishness). These beautiful creatures walking through their natural habitat utterly seduce Street Style photographers.

One of the most celebrated women in the industry at the moment, and arguably the leader of the Russian Fashion Pack, is the stunning and unique Ulyana Sergeenko. This Russian photographer, designer, stylist and occasional fashion model is known for her eccentric and old-world dress sense, and she is a favourite amongst Street Style photographers. Her friends (who make up the Russian Fashion Pack mentioned earlier) - Miroslava Duma, Vika Gazinskaya, Elena Perminova and Natalia Vodianova – often wear her designs when attending fashion shows, and so she is essentially getting her clothing/name out there by hosting a fashion show outside of legitimate events. Vika Gazinskaya, also an emerging fashion designer, sees the Street Style phenomenon as an opportunity to promote young designers. “I always say, in all the interviews, it’s a great opportunity for the young designers who have no budget for advertising.”

The commercialisation of Street Style has received much critical attention within the industry, and there are varying thoughts on the issue. Recently, the man behind ‘The Sartorialist’, Scott Schuman, was asked how he felt about brands giving people clothes to wear in hopes they will end up on a Street Style blog like his.

He responded by saying, “I don’t really care where these people get their clothes from, it doesn’t matter to me, it isn’t going to matter 100 years from now. A good shot is a good shot…But you can tell who are the people going over the top to create a shot [or] to be shot. There’s something about that, that, to me anyway, doesn’t create a good shot. There’s something very calculated about it.”

This calculation that Schuman mentions is very common within the Street Style community – many photographers get their subjects to pose for the perfect shot and this in itself removes any authenticity that may have existed.

The evolution of Street Style is no doubt a fascinating one, and it is difficult to predict how far it will go in the future. Perhaps the streets will soon be filled with outlandish peacocks and the sound of camera shutters will become as common as the sound of the birds themselves.  
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