Archive for the ‘STYLE’ Category
Does everyone have a formative experience with a brand that they can pinpoint as the moment their love of fashion began? A serious Stussy habit, perhaps, or an unhealthy obsession with Fila? Proust had his madeleines, I had my Naf Naf pencil case.
Naf Naf was my gateway drug into designer (and more specifically French) fashion. Compared to normal high street brands, it wasn’t cheap or easily available, so it had that exclusive air that made me crave it even more.*
My Naf Naf obsession was probably the first time I consciously allied myself with a particular brand. It represented a breakaway from parental control over what I wore. Not that I’m dissing my mum’s taste, far from it – I would happily wear the Laura Ashley dungarees and corduroy pinafore dresses that she put me in as a child today. Left to my own devices, my childish taste was decidedly questionable – a cherished turquoise velour tracksuit and neon pink shell suit spring to mind… *shudders*
The star piece in my Naf Naf collection was a red and white polka dotted oversized tee with the logo embroidered in multicoloured letters across the chest. Other highlights as I progressed through my teenage years included an embroidered black satin cheongsam dress and a beautiful leather satchel that transformed my school uniform with its preppy, Left Bank chic.
The Naf Naf store on Oxford Street was almost too much for 14 year old me to cope with – like staring directly at the sun. I was used to unearthing small pockets of it in unlikely places – a few notebooks in a French hypermarche, a rail of t-shirts in a Cornish surf shop.
But the one Naf Naf piece that still makes my heart beat a little faster, both because it was so beautiful and because of the memories it so powerfully evokes, is The One That Got Away. It was a miniature backpack (before they became a ‘thing’ in the early ’90s) that I saw in the window of a boutique in the village of Castelnaudary in the south of France. I was 13, on holiday with my family and had amassed a healthy collection of Naf Naf stickers, erasers and keyrings along the way. But this gorgeous, embroidered backpack inspired an acquisitive desire in me, the likes of which I’d never experienced before
I whined, pleaded and sulked, but it was too expensive to justify buying, even with a year’s worth of pocket money. Then on the last day of the holiday my parents relented and we went back to the shop to buy it. The shop was closed, and I returned to England, heartbroken. I still occasionally type ‘Naf Naf backpack’ into eBay in the vague hope of finding this lost love, but I don’t think I’d really want it now – it’s too late. “Let it go, let it gooooo…”
The funny thing is, I didn’t know anything about the history of the brand when I first encountered it, I just instinctively loved it. Similarly, I have no idea what Naf Naf is like these days and don’t really have any desire to find out. The brand represents a very specific period in my life and I don’t want to mess with that. It’s a bit like the bands you were into in that very small window in your early/mid teens – they brand you to the core, even though objectively as an adult you might realise the music really wasn’t that great (sorry, Shed Seven).
Through Naf Naf I first learned how intoxicating the thrill of the chase can be, that feeling of triumph when you hunt down a rare (to a twelve year old) ‘piece’, and how the fashion label you ally yourself with can help you understand, define and shape your identity – the person you present to the world.
These days Naf Naf has been supplanted by APC and Carven in my wardrobe – that appreciation of cooler-than-cool French design that was ignited by a pencil case never died. I still wear the polka dot t-shirt from time to time though.
*Dishonourable mention must go to the puny British upstart ‘Naf Co.’ Ugh, so anaemic, so try-hard… Pity the hapless parent who naively presented their obnoxo-tween with a Naf Co. cagoule they sourced godknowswhere, only to have their colossal error pointed out to them in disgust. The repellent garment would then only be resentfully worn, with an air of long-suffering martyrdom, on family holidays where there was minimal risk of being seen by anyone cool.
If Into The Gloss ever asked me to do a Top Shelf (ask me! ask me!) it would be repetitive but cool. That’s because these days you will only find products by three brands in my bathroom: Korres, Kiehl’s and Aesop – thoughtful companies that I admire because they use decent ingredients, appeal to the senses (nice smells, feel good on the skin etc) and have chic packaging. Yes, this matters.
I line up the Aesop bottles on the windowsill so the light shines through the sturdy brown apothecary glass, casting a comforting glow on the tiles. If it wasn’t for their ‘Resurrection’ handwash sitting by the sink, washing my hands would be a tedious chore. I am a firm believer in everyday luxuries.
So I was more than a little thrilled to be invited on a trip to visit the new Aesop store, out in lovely, leafy Richmond. And when I saw our transportation for the day – a jazzy little forest green 1938 bus which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Miss Marple film – I was speechless* with delight.
Off we went on our merry way on our Venga bus and my travelling companions couldn’t have been a more delightful bunch: there was my old xoJane buddy Olivia Singer, now doing amazing things for the likes of Into The Gloss, and the ridiculously talented make-up artist Emma Day who prettifies people for Miu Miu and Chanel and all the lovely faces you can think of, and dapper interiors editor Talib Chaudry, who tried to nick my bag (not really).
This wondrous pile of glossy green tubes is the new Resolute Hydrating Body Balm which in typical Aesop style doesn’t smell like your average sickly-flowery-soapy moisturiser. Instead essential oils of crushed Coriander Seeds, Black Peppercorns and Patchouli blend to make a scent that’s intriguing, complex and grown-up- quite masculine, very clean and bracing and slightly medicinal, like something you could imagine Brother Cadfael mashing up in his pestle and mortar. Yes at £25 for 120ml it’s not exactly a budget option, but a little goes a long way – this stuff sinks in like sexy, scented butter – and you really do get what you pay for.
The new Richmond store occupies a Georgian town house in the village and has scrubbed floorboards, a lovely old fireplace, panelled walls painted in a soft greenish-grey shade and a massive, cool sink in the middle of the floor. Here I am posing more woodenly than the woodwork in front of one of the windows. The store feels light, bright, fresh and welcoming – as if it’s always been there.
If you’re interested in skincare and/or architecture and aren’t already following Aesop on Instagram (@aesopskincare) do so immediately. Their stores are miniature masterpieces of craftsmanship, designed by interesting architects using beautiful materials to create spaces that manage to be both perfectly appropriate for the setting while also reflecting the Aesop ethos. Hey, maybe the Aesop ethos is fitting in with one’s surroundings, chameleon-like, while still being recognisable. It’s no mean feat and not something many brands pull off.
Oh and a final note: there is something endearing about the way outside every Aesop store you’ll find a couple of bottles of hand cream which are there to be pumped by any passerby. That’s a very cool, generous, clever gesture.
*A lie. I am never speechless.
I was really excited to be asked to work with Kathryn Ferguson on her new film, Rear Guard, which just went live on ShowStudio last week. It is a response to the most recent crop of depressingly predictable ‘sexy’ (hollow laugh) music videos which have come out this year. In her film, which sits within ShowStudio’s ‘Punk’ section, Kathryn takes the tired old tropes that we’ve become so used to seeing – scantily clad women dancing in slow motion – and subverts the scene to make her point.
I love working with Kathryn because she has opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them in an industry where often it’s just so much easier to keep quiet – for fear of losing out on work, or being ridiculed and bullied on social media – you can be attacked for being ‘a prude’ or for ‘getting feminism wrong’. The people I really respect are the ones who have the courage to speak up and actually create work that tries to change the status quo, rather than just whining about it on Twitter.
I also worked with Kathryn on her last film, Four-tell, which was made to celebrate International Women’s Day and featured Zaha Hadid, Bella Freud, Sharmadean Reid and Caryn Franklin and you can read all about that here.