Damn. Sometimes I wish I still lived in London.
Topshop’s take on Chloé’s wedge boots are one of those times.
Until recently I was the kind of reader who always finished a book. There’s something I relish about reading a book that I find infuriating. It’s a delicious form of self-inflicted torture. The Wonder Spot by Melissa Banks was one such cringe-inducing eye-roller of a novel, which I managed to force feed myself whilst 30, 000 feet above the Atlantic. It was a book so vacuous and redundant in its existence that I literally squirmed in my seat.
Wetlands, the international bestseller by former German VJ and professed non-reader, Charlotte Roche, however, is one of the most unsatisfyingly bad books I’ve ever cracked open. Narrated from the hospital bed of 18-year-old perv, Helen Memel, the novel opens with a description of her haemorrhoids and quickly moves to the reason she’s in the hospital: a shaving accident and subsequent festering wound on her anus.
The gross-out factor here is high and that’s the point. The fact of the matter is Roche doesn’t have much to say beyond shocking statements about putting things into places they shouldn’t and popping them out again with the addition of several serendipitous orgasms.
Roche has stated that this is a feminist novel in which she’s reclaiming the female body (and its smells) from today’s shaved, plucked, waxed and overall sanitized ideal. But if she’d set out to write a feminist novel, why such ignorance on things like abortion and sexually transmitted disease? There’s also the issue of Helen’s self-image and that fact that she seems to embrace very little about herself beyond her sexual organs or the various types of pus her body creates.
Critics have called it everything from erotic to subversive to pornographic but the bottom line is it’s boring and badly written—this book makes a strong case for character regression—and no amount of tampon sniffing and anal probing can make it otherwise. In fact I was so bored by her continuous smegma tasting antics that I stopped at 130 pages. Sometimes there’s nothing to be gained beyond immediate impressions.
Spring is here, summer is on its way and my bike is just about ready for its first spin. With 300 km worth of bike lanes and another 60 km promised to be open by the end of the summer, Montreal is one of the friendliest biking cities in North America. Though the deadline for the new paths is likely optimistic (I’m guessing the real date will be closer to the end of October), it goes a long way to defining the kind of city Montreal’s become. Or at least the kind of residents it lures.
I’ve spent the last few summers zipping around town helmet-free but after seasons of tisk-tisking from fellow riders, I’ve decided to do the responsible thing and get a helmet, my only problem now, is finding one. Despite being one of the most stylish cities in Canada there’s a discrepancy when it comes to being a stylish cyclist. In a city known as the epicentre of emerging trends the kind of cycling gear on the market is anything but interesting.
I ride a vintage Raleigh cruiser that an old roommate found abandoned and covered in dust in the basement of an apartment block. It’s the kind of bike that doesn’t require a lot of work (I’ve only had to do a major tune up once), but it’s got a distinct look that demands a touch of nostalgia when it comes to accessories. A flashy, aero-dynamic helmet would look a little silly when I’m bombing along at six kilometres per hour—but so far, it’s the only kind I’ve been able to find. (Okay, okay, so I’ve found a couple of skateboarding style helmets as well but those too were emblazoned with stick on flowers or demons.)
As cycling culture takes over in major cities like Paris, London and New York (the New York Times featured Dutch bikes in a fashion spread last week) cycling blogs are popping up featuring stylish accessories for women. But why is a city so dedicated to two-wheel transportation so blind to its female riders? So this week I’m a hunt for functional, stylish headgear that’ll make me feel okay about the helmet head I’ll be sporting at the office for the rest of the summer.
I love a good book. A book with a great cover I love even more. Shallow as that sounds, it’s the truth. Covers are like clothes (they call it a dust jacket for a reason) it’s the first thing you notice. And just as clothes help to shape our immediate impressions of the person wearing them, so does a cover shape our immediate impressions of a book.
Had I not become a writer, I like to think I could’ve turned to designing things that contain writing (despite being incapable of drawing hands—even my life drawing subjects wore mittens, albeit nude mittens—and just about everything else, I was accepted to art school) things like books, magazines, health pamphlets.
Book Cover Archive, is a new site dedicated to book covers and the designers who make them. Clicking on any cover will take you to info about the author, publisher and designer. Some even have notes on the typeface (!) Run by two design dudes out of the States, the focus in strictly on new design and contemporary covers, few titles on the site were designed before 1995.
Flipping through the collection it’s funny to look at the similarities in the titles you’re drawn to. I found myself thinking of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book I was lukewarm about, looked a hell of a lot more interesting given a more updated cover (though, I’m guessing the contents are still original).
It is early December and one particularly unlucky Wal-Mart employee was recently killed by a stampede of eager shoppers on what turned out to be the blackest of Black Fridays. As the clock neared five a.m. the bargain-crazed throng broke through the sliding plated-glass doors trampling the unfortunate and unprepared, Jdimytai Damour, in their quest for half-off high-definition TV’s, camcorders, DVDs, mp3 players, pepper mills, bed linens, and Giddyup n’ go pony’s. And who can blame them?
Times are tough (or a at least tougher) for just about everyone. Even those still flash with disposable income are keeping things discreet, buying the $200 pair of sunglasses instead of those for $400, to “be a better person.” In fact just about the only people spending with the same wild abandon are students. Like the gaggle of young women at the recent Clothes Show Live in Birmingham, England who flippantly responded to The Guardian’s Hadley Freedman’s question about feeling the sting of the credit crunch with, “We’re students so it doesn’t really effect us.”
“Thrift,” the Sears Roebuck catalogue declared in 1930, “is the spirit of the day,” it’s a sentiment that was almost overly optimistic at the beginning of the Great Depression, but it’s a phrase that’s just as relevant to today’s consumer mentality as it was then. And nowhere is this spirit for thrift more obvious and seductive as in the style sections of newspapers and on the covers of fashion magazines. Headlines that mix thrift and style abound, in just about every publication, even those not usually known for their penny pinching.
American Vogue tried to woo Christmas shoppers with the promise of “Exceptional gifts from $5-$500,” on their January cover, flanked by Jennifer Aniston in an understated designer dress. (A quick peek at the list, however, revealed that the majority of the suggestions tipped towards the higher end of the budget, making it all the less affordable and exceptional.) And they’re not alone, even publications dedicated to promoting luxury items and lifestyles are toning it down.
With the new sense of thrift comes a revamped way of looking at secondhand and consignment stores and there’s been a push within the style pages to express both the practical (it’s cheaper) and ethical (it’s environmental) sides of shopping at these types of stores. As consumers we’re not only being asked to change how we shop, but where we shop.
A recent New York Times article discussed Goodwill’s growing popularity and their new advertising slant, which focuses on the idea that not only are you shopping, but you’re also being altruistic. This marriage of consumption and selflessness is then taken a step further to include the current perceived cool of used and vintage clothing. It’s now a triple threat; you’re allowing yourself to indulge in that great tradition of shopping, helping people in need and tapping into the great unknown, otherwise known as coolness all in one single trip to your local charity shop.
The Goodwill in Washington, D.C. is one of the most proactive in the U.S., with an up-to-date style blog, helmed by their very own Goodwill fashionista, the aim is to keep readers on trend while giving back to the local community. They even have they’re very own customized eBay store where many of the pieces the fashionista writes about eventually turn up on the auction block. It’s thrifting without leaving your house.
And, at least for Goodwill, the push for thrift as cool, seems to be working. Even before the September crash, the company was reporting a seven percent rise in profits over last year and more recent numbers report an average increase of 10 percent for Goodwill’s across the U.S. and Canada between the months of October and November. Not bad when you consider the rest of the retail industry has continued to see profits slide and prices slashed, the latest November numbers pointed to a drop of 1.8 percent.
Charity shops aren’t the only ones garnering attention and making a profit. High-end consignment and vintage stores are also reporting increases not only in sales but also in stock. An article in the L.A. Times published in early October reported on the trend of increased sales at two prominent secondhand L.A. boutiques, The Way We Wore and Decadestwo. The article made passing mention of the fact that much of the newer stock at Decadestwo, a consignment store, were the cast-offs of closest-cleaning celebrities and “social stars,” who, much like the rest of us, were shedding unwanted clutter in the hopes that even the littlest profit would help to ease the current economic hangover.
There’s little doubt the fresh celeb goods (coupled with the tightening of belts) had something to do with the rise in profits or at the very least the traffic experienced at Decadestwo, who reported an impressive 45 percent increase in porfits over the earnings from the previous summer. Meanwhile The Way We Wore, which specializes in vintage designer and couture, named stylist and vintage-aficionado Rachel Zoe and clients wanting to “go green” as reasons behind their increase in sales of 22 percent. The differences between the L.A. boutiques and your run-of-the-mill Goodwills, however, are obvious and striking. Not only are they selling two different kinds of secondhand to different types of clients, the discrepancies in savings is also staggering. You might score a great pair of heels in D.C. for five bucks, but even with 70 percent discount most of the designer goods they carry on consignment at those L.A. boutiques are still likely to break the bank. A pair of Jimmy Choos at Decadestwo will set you back $1,400.
Although these success stories seem to suggest that secondhand—be it vintage or thrift—is on the rise, the reality is that the majority of consumers aren’t changing where they shop and it could be argued that Goodwill’s increased profits are not from new clientele but the reliance of steady clients turning to the organization more often in these times of need. Despite the best efforts of style writers, Sarah Palin (consignment stores were good enough for the Governor, until they weren’t and the GOP spent a reported $150, 000 outfitting her) and organizations like Goodwill all of which have been adamant about easing the stigma of secondhand clothes, people are still shopping in the same way, but they’re demanding lower prices and companies are giving it to them.
This year’s been unprecedented in the amount of pre-Christmas sales, and according to accounting firm Ernest and Young, there’s been an 11 percent increase in the amount of promotions at stores throughout the U.K., some stores even slashing prices by as much as 70 percent by mid-November. Stock might not be flying off the shelves, but the public is still buying.
As bleak as all this looks the figures tell a slightly different story, Black Friday profits actually increased this year and preliminary results had the single day profits at $10.6 billion up three percent from 10.3 billion in 2007. Both of those profits, however, pale in comparison to the numbers from 2006, when the single blow-out day brought in $19 billion in sales. Consumers are being more frugal with their money, but they’re also becoming smarter and getting retailers to bend to their demands of lower prices, without losing their integrity.
The push to wear secondhand and consignment-store clothes isn’t really working, though these stores are making a profit and seeing more of a boost in sales, luxury goods and even regular middle-brow shops are still selling, albeit at a cut rate price. Most, it seems, are willing to go without before going secondhand. But there is a new awareness and in many cases a new consumer consciousness about secondhand retailers that perhaps wasn’t there before, if nothing else consumers have been reminded that these stores exist.
Like any social phenomenon this new financial situation has given birth to an entirely new language, just as this summers soaring gas prices lead to the popularity of the staycation, unsteady markets have lead to a new breed of shoppers.
There’s the bargain fasionista, the rescessionista the Oxford-approved frugalista and the fasionrexic, a term coined after a study in the U.K. discovered that 32 percent of women would choose shopping over food, a preference once associated simply with being a particular kind of woman, now has a catchy, new handle.
If this recession has created nothing else, it has at the very least helped to breed a whole new class of consumers to market to.