Saturday, 29 April 2017

Heathcliff as a band and Cathy as a fan: Alistair James AW17

Funnily enough, in spite of my fondness for Austen and period dramas, it was only in recent years that I finally interacted with any of the Bronte clan. Considering their moody and dark romance, it really is a wonder but I guess the taste was a little more Austen during my childhood and both have a tendency to be given rather dusty press that can put off younger readers.

Nevertheless, my introduction came with the release of Fukuraga's 2011 "Jane Eyre", starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I remember insisting that my then boyfriend and his parents chose it among our options for something to watch one lazy evening and quickly became utterly absorbed and very bad company. However, it was "Wuthering Heights" that made me really fall in at the deep end.

I don't know why, really. Heathcliff is kind of everything I despise in a man and, yet... And, yet, in every adaptation and the original text he is utterly charismatic and I cannot help but be drawn to him and the gothic tale of passion, hatred, disaster, grief and pain that centres around his and Cathy's cursed love story.

So, during the brief moment I had to dash around the Designer Showrooms at LFW this season (only an hour), in my chaotic haze, my attention was immediately captured by a collection described as "'Wuthering Heights; if Heathcliff was a band and Cathy were an obsessive fan". I was sold immediately and the garments I was able to peruse there and then were right up my alley; gothy babydoll dresses, lots of black lace, elevated band tees. Upon nerding with one of the designers over the concept, I took a business card and some photographs as a reminder and went on my merry way.

I was feeling a lot of designers in the moment that day but that Bronte collection stuck in my head. So, I trawled through the photos and business cards and managed to find the name, weeks later, when the whirling around my brain refused to stop; Alistair James.

Alistair James is a two-man show; eponymously named after, and the brainchild of, Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise. The pair are a bit of dream team with Walsh being a womenswear designer who was worked with Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen and Wise a textiles designer who has worked at many labels, including Alexander McQueen.

Their AW17 collection takes inspiration from the Brontes, who lived a short distance from Walsh's home by the moors and was designed while staying there. Alistair James' girl this season is a "playful dreamer" and "lovesick consumed by her infatuation [sic]". With customised prints of abstract ladies frolicking in a winter garden and "Heathcliff" print, featuring lustful figures and lingering eyes, the collection is presented in tones of black, white, dusty blue and vibrant reds and pinks and includes a recurring silhouette inspired by Charlotte's "Thackerey" dress. Perhaps the most iconic element, however, are the Heathcliff slogan sweaters that are embroidered with phrases from the novel and give a nod to Heathcliff as a band.

Moody, sensual and cool, the collection is wearable and pretty with just enough theatricality and nods to the writers to keep fans of the works and fans of the aesthetic alike rather happy, indeed.

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(Images courtesy of Alistair James)

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Monday, 24 April 2017

Beauty isn't policing your body under a reign of terror

Adolescence affects us all differently and we all react differently accordingly. For me, it was not a case of not wanting to grow up but, rather, that the sudden and drastic changes in my body made me feel attacked, as if I was robbed of a great sense of self and given this utterly new strange form to inhabit. A form that was no longer naturally and childishly slender but curved and cumbersome with bits that got in the way of climbing things and running freely and being freely. It embarrassed me and made me super aware of myself. I was always quick to rid myself of any signs of these changes, of this new, foreign me, that I could.

Hair - or body hair, to be exact - was the easiest to shed and, despite being warned against it by all the women I knew, I began to remove the soft blonde hairs that covered my arms and legs very early on. In turn, darker, coarser hairs took their place and I was quickly stuck in an endless cycle. It seems exhausting and downright ridiculous to the adult me now but, for almost a decade, I shaved my limbs daily and with an almost religious fervour.

Today, with newly changed sheets and warmer weather lying in wait, I shaved my legs and nicked my ankle badly in the process, something that is not uncommon for little clumsy ol' me. But, as my policing of my body hair is no longer a frantic beast, it had been a while - especially since I had done such a thoroughly good job of it. It stung and rushed with blood that, I knew, would not stop for some time. I stared at the reddening water at my feet and the throbbing wound on my leg and a rush of memories washed over me. Memories of a thousand other nicks, of bleeding through multiple bandages and all over everything, of being embarrassed by the whole thing and lying about how I acquired the cuts, of carefully navigating them a day or two later to repeat my routine...How did I ever have so much time or energy to waste on such painful frivolity?

Of course, I don't believe in judging how others deal with their own bodies and it's not as if I am against hair removal or ready to embrace a life completely free of hair removal myself nowadays. In saying this I'm also no longer willing to be embarrassed by something completely natural, to waste endless additional hours in the shower removing hair, to actually bleed for some ideal of beauty.

Looking down at that blood made me realise just how far I had come. In fact, I have these realisations often. Realisations of the fact that I'm closer to the woman I'd like to be. And, while I will forever want to be liked and approved of, the approval and opinions of others bother me less and less. Cliché as it may be: life is simply too short.

So, yeah, sometimes my penchant for ankle-grazing trousers will reveal the fact that it's been a while between shaves but now it bothers me less that the dude across from me on the bus or the girl next to me might notice. I can't say I'm completely over it. I'll still wonder if they see it but I won't stress out about it and I'm not going back to daily shaving in case strangers spot an errant hair.

In the time that this blog went from a fashion blog to a fashion, beauty & other stuff blog and I went from barely washing my face (I kid - mostly) to full skincare regimes and relatively advanced knowledge of (if infrequent use of) cosmetics, I grew to focus on the beauty industry a lot more. I've worked with lots of brands and tried all sorts of products. I've gone through brief periods of overly intense scrutiny of self. I've grown up and let go of some (some) of my body and appearance hang-ups. And I've come to realise that there is no beauty in policing your body under a reign of terror.

It's perfectly fine to take care of yourself, to want to look good, to want to present and groom yourself well but "beauty" should never cross the line into obsession and there should always be breathing room. Humans are hairy, sweaty, porous creatures that have bumps and lumps and will never, ever be perfect - no matter how close to it some people make it seem. The sooner you embrace your humanity and imperfections, the sooner you'll have more time, headspace and peace.

Right?


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Monday, 3 April 2017

Wide-Eyed And Travel: 36 Hours In Cork

I am surrounded by great people, by people I love dearly and have a fantastic gang of friends and family. Much as I enjoy being in the midst of these groups of wonderful human beings, I am also a big fan of one-on-one quality time. Hard as it can be, I try my best to make sure and set aside time with my favourite people - no easy feat when I have so many. Cara - my college best friend, former housemate and wifey - and I had been talking about going away together, just us two, for ages. And finally, last weekend, we made it happen with 36 hours in Cork.

Despite the bus strikes and wildly increased train fares, we managed to make it down to Cork at just after eleven on the Saturday and, luckily, were able to check into the lovely Montenotte Hotel early. After dropping off our bags, showering and changing (neither of us expected it to be quite so hot), I was drying my hair when I got a text from our bus company saying that, because of the strikes and intimidation from drivers from other services, our bus back the next day was cancelled. Thankfully, we were able to resolve this relatively quickly and find an alternative service home but that twenty minute window of stress wasn't fun. Great way to kick off a weekend of relaxation! But we were determined not to let the whole mess ruin our entire weekend.

We hopped along to the English Market to browse the market itself and to grab lunch as I was getting hangry and that's really not a good look on me. Situated in the stunning historic market, upstairs above the central fountain and stalls, is the Farmgate Café, The Farmgate is over thirty years old and has two locations - one in Midleton and one in Cork City - and serves traditional, seasonal, regional and centuries old food. It is one of Cork's culinary constants and did not disappoint. After all the running around, travelling and panicking, I cannot overstate just how good it was to be digging into perfectly cooked hake and vegetables and sipping on an Aperol Spritz (with a little umbrella that they added and made us giggle!) on a balcony overlooking the sunny English Market.

Refuelled and happy, we wandered the market before heading on to the Crawford Art Gallery. One of my favourite galleries in the country, it is housed in the stunning former Custom House and became the local design school in the 19th century and then the art college shortly thereafter. Now it is a public art gallery and, currently, it has several excellent exhibitions on - it is easy to get lost for hours in the place. After leaving and strolling about in the sun and having a goo around some of the shops, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and then drinks on their incredible terrace as the setting sun painted the Cork skyline in vivid blush tones. Though we had only just dolled ourselves up for dinner, we promptly changed into our pajamas and popped into the in-house cinema for a movie.

Wholesome as our weekend was, we were both asleep by midnight and up before nine to go for a swim, steam and sauna. Once we'd packed up and left our bags at the (almost overly friendly) hotel reception, we went back down the town to pick up coffee for a friend and a pick-me-up for us in the famous Cork Coffee Roasters. Then we had a very tasty brunch in the cute and quirky little Brick Lane - who were incredibly helpful and kind about making the menu as gluten and dairy free as possible for Cara.

The rest of the day was spent on the stunning campus of UCC, exploring the beautiful architectural gem that is the Glucksman Gallery, drawing and colouring in the educational section (though it is, admittedly, aimed at kids), and walking along the riverside. We then found time to squeeze in some cake and tea at Quay Co-op before hopping on the bus back home.

The Montenotte is a beautifully decorated gem with amazing facilities and exceptionally helpful staff. One could easily spend the whole weekend there without stepping a foot outside the building; going to the cinema, hanging out at the pool, enjoying drinks on the terrace and eating in the restaurant. But, with Cork unfolded and lovely right before your eyes, exploring her architectural wealth, historical and cultural heritage and multitude of cool eateries and foodie havens is a must. We would, without a doubt, come back to check off the endless list of things we couldn't fit in this time around. In the mean time, I have to convince Cara not to leave me for the city, so enamoured is she by the place...

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Monday, 27 March 2017

Skinfull Affairs - Affordable, Vegan, Cruelty Free Beauty In Dublin

Well, this has been a long time coming. Shit's been rather real lately and I just couldn't bring myself to sit down at the computer and blog once I got home every day. Apologies for the hiatus but it was kind of needed. I am sad that I didn't share today's post any sooner, though, as I'm stoked about the content. See, near the start of this year, a new shop and salon opened up in Dublin's city centre that I was dying to try out and I finally got around to it a couple of weeks back.

Skinfull Affairs, on Exchequer Street (right next to the standalone Ladurée store) is a store and beauty parlour that sells products and offers treatments that are cruelty free, natural and, in many cases, vegan. There are few places of this kind in the city and none that I can think of offer both beauty treatments and products. There are also few places to get ethical beauty treatments in Dublin that don't cost an arm and a leg. As ethical beauty is something that is really important to me, you can imagine how intrigued I was, once I heard about the store.

So, one evening after work, I finally wandered in for a goo. First of all, I was super into the aesthetic of the store from the neon logo sign to the metal details and the green and neutral colour scheme to the wood and marble effect furniture. Housed in the sleek and funky interior, however, was the main event: the treasure trove of cruelty free beauty and treatment. You can get everything in the store from natural sex products to basic skincare, henna tattooes to manicures with seven free polishes (nail polishes minus seven of the most harmful chemicals often found in the stuff), threading and tinting to facial treatments and massage.

Once I'd had my wander and a nose, I decided to make an appointment and came back the next week to try one of their facials. I went for their basic facial which costs an extremely competitive and affordable €25, which is then redeemable against product on the day (*Edit: The cost of the facial is no longer redeemable against product. Though I was told the offer may return at some stage. I suggest asking when you book an appointment.).

When I arrived, I filled out the standard forms and had a lengthy discussion with the facialist about my concerns and skin type. I got a refreshing lack of bullshit and good advice, if not delivered a little bluntly at times, and once we went over my routine, we realised I had somehow skipped over exfoliation. I'm constantly trialling new products and, admittedly, rarely buy much of my skincare, so sometimes things fall through the cracks. We picked out an exfoliating product from the in-house Yonka line called Gommage 305 (I'll probably review it separately some time) that cost €36.50 so, in the end, I only that amount for the facial and product - a serious steal.

The treatment room for the threading and quicker facials is on the ground floor at the back of the shop and doesn't have a door so I had some reservations about being in such an open and bright space but the lights were turned down and my chair was flattened out and it was easy enough to get relaxed and tune out the street noises in the distance. For longer treatments (more complex, targeted facials, microdermabrasion, massages etc) there is a more private room downstairs. But the upstairs room is perfect for such a quick facial and pick-me-up during the week. You get plenty relaxed with the aromatherapy elements of Yonka's products and the elements of massage involved in the facial and when you're done (in around twenty minutes) you can get up, pay and float out the door for a good night's sleep.

Even when I have a good experience somewhere, I tend to be a bit of a commitment phobe but I was so impressed by Skinfull Affair's venue, customer care, service and price that I made a follow-up appointment on the spot and plan to head back next month! If you care about ethical beauty, like Instagram worthy locations or are in need of a quick and affordable pick-me-up for your skin, this spot is bound to please.

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Saturday, 11 March 2017

How Buffy Changed My Life - The Moral Support to Survive my Teens and the Beginning of a Blog

If you mention Buffy around my family, my father will, invariably, groan. This is because I spent my latter teenage years watching and rewatching the show (and researching smutty Spuffy fanfic) instead of studying for my Leaving Cert. Buffy was an escape in a time when I was angsty and felt terribly misunderstood and oppressed by smalltown Ireland.

While I am being self-deprecating as an adult that has long since checked their privilege and gained much-needed perspective, I cannot deny that little emo (punk, actually, but the angst was, indeed, a little more emo) Colette had her trying moments. Teenaged wasn't a good look on me. Education felt stifling and unchallenging, the boys in my class often seemed to have a personal vendetta against me, I was an awkward lump that desperately wished I was pretty and it regularly seemed as if none of my peers cared about the same things as me.

I remember first watching Buffy as a young child when it originally aired and being so terrified by that hospital episode that I couldn't watch it again for years. At twelve, I rediscovered it and my new guy best friend and I shared a serious crush on the titular character. By sixteen, I was reading the scripts, watching the episodes over and over, and was seeking out novel-length fanfictions set in alternate universes, tracing Spike's life from his origins as a mild-mannered Victorian poet to the swaggering punk that Buffy fell in love with. Distraction has been long since the tool by which I survive the swirl of my thoughts when they become overly intense and no world - fictional or otherwise - was ever so distracting as the Buffyverse.

More than comfort and distraction, however, BTVS was a safe space. It was a distant place of adventure and fantasy but was also somewhere that the familiar things that I thought about and ideas I was struggling to navigate as I grew up, were tackled with grace, humour and humanity. And, of course, I had female characters that were complex, flawed, wonderful and in control of their own agency to look up to - characters that really haven't appeared that often in the two decades since - in spite of supposed progress. I always attribute the cementing of my feminism to Buffy and, in this regard, the show has changed my life unlike any other single work of art ever has.

Though I didn't think it possible, the show changed my life once again in 2012. It was my third year of college and I happened to finish my exams weeks before my friends because of the particular modules I had chosen. As they studied, I sat alongside them in the library whining. They told me to enjoy the sunny weather but this was before I knew how to go out and enjoy the wider world on my own. So, I sat. I pouted. I read. I read about things I'd never read about before. And I ended up reading academic texts about Buffy. And reading blogs. Lots of blogs. Fashion blogs. I thought, "I can do this too", so I did. I thought, "Why has no one discussed the banging style in Buffy?", so I did it myself. And, with a post on the style in BTVS, Wide-Eyed and Blind was born.

Buffy has taken me from the birth of ideas and ideals that would define the woman I became to a choice born of boredom that has introduced me to friends I would never have otherwise met, made me pursue the career I would have otherwise been too scared to try for, helped me become a fashion editor before the age of thirty, allowed me to sit front row at fashion week and taught me to be alone, be strong and brave enough to swallow my fears long enough to explore the world.

I, honestly, cannot tell you where I would be had BTVS not been in my life. Probably not where I am today. Probably a little more lost and a little less comforted. I actually don't know how to express my gratitude to the show and all involved in its production, something that is difficult for a writer to admit to, but I am grateful, in a vast, intense way.

Happy 20th birthday, Buffy. Thank you for everything you have given me, the lessons you have taught me, the nights you kept me company and the style inspo that you have imparted. I am genuinely a better person because of you.

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Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?


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