Wednesday, 24 February 2010


A couple of years ago, I read my first Official Work Of Russian Literature. Crime and Punishment it was, by one Fyodor Dostoevsky. My misspent youth was wasted reading NME articles about Pop Will Eat Itself or the latest friggin' Adidas trainers the hip kids were wearing down the Portobello Road in The Face (Shoreditch wasn't cool back then kids). I had loads to catch up on if I was going to contribute to any bohemian intellectual dinner party conversation.

Evidently, the book was a pain-free experience. Indeed, I loved it. Maybe War and Peace wasn't that fabled nightmare summer reading assignment The Kids had always dreaded? Raskolnikov seemed like the ultimate anti hero with his manically existential wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over his dastardly murderous deeds. If redemption through suffering was the theme of Dostoevsky's work poor old Raskolnikov seemed to be in for one hell of a philosophical awakening.

In the summer of 2008, I met a 46 year-old flame-headed Westminster gentleman for a blind date in a (mercifully) dimly lit Covent Garden cellar bar. Apart from his abundant nasal hair, nonchalant yarns of policy-making trips to Brussels and polite enquiries into my art-buying practices...the main thing I recall of this curious man was his declaration that Anna Karenina was his favorite book. Not just Official Work of Russian Literature but All-Time Top of the Pops Bog Read.

My ginger Gilbert and George date never made it to round two but I did seek out Tolstoy on the advice of this cultured Svengali. Anna Karenina was even more impressive than Crime and Punishment primarily in the sense that its themes seemed more accessible, relevant and universal. Chaotic sexual passion, infidelity, the pressure of societal expectations and the idealisation of rural life were all passionately played out within the mise-en-scene of pre-Revolutionary Russia, so alien to my own experience and thus, utterly compelling. Anna however - like the classic film noir heroine - must be punished for her sins and meets her bloody end under the 3.49 to Petersburg (or something). Of course, had Tolstoy devised any less dramatic a finale Anna Karenina would not be considered the literary phenomenon it is today. Just once though, wouldn't it be cool if the non-conformist female, the woman of mad and monumental passion, the sexual prey to the patriarchal ruling class did not have to fall off the metaphorical cliff (or literally for Picnic at Hanging Rock's Miranda) in a blaze of tragic glory?
All images courtesy of Google

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


There is something so incredibly chic and refined about the Chanel brand aesthetic. It's signature monochrome minimalism and subtle use of pastel, feminine hues starkly contrasts the slutty trashiness of labels like Versace or D&G.
The mythical 'Chanelore' of Coco's rise to fame was encouraged by the woman herself who bullshitted about her formative years like a true hustler. Her closure of the house in 1939 and subsequent fall from grace after boffing Nazi Hans Gunther von Dincklage set the scene for her spectacular comeback in the 50s and many a Hollywood biopic since then.
The simple detailing of iconic Chanel pieces - the gold buttons featuring the double-C logo on a thick checked wool suit or the classic quilted & chained handbag - seemed to epitomise the chic, glamorous woman at the height of her success. A woman old enough to fork out for a wardrobe full of Chanel but not quite old enough for the rot to set in. The prettiest (and nicest!) girl in my high school's sole ambition was 'to buy a Chanel suit by the time I'm 25'. She also had the biggest tits so I'm guessing the breast reduction she later had must've meant she'd finally attained that goal of one of Karl's mid-90s classics hanging there in her closet. Buxom figures and Chanel suits are mutually exclusive darling! Those were halcyon days though...back when women actually had breast reductions.

Whether its vintage Chanel designed by the lady or the Largerfeld interpretation of the brand aesthetic - Chanel will always symbolise to me the quintessential minimalist Parisienne style.
All images courtesy of Google


 I've always been down with style over substance. When my weird Scottish high school art teacher Mr McLean (who let us listen to The Buzzcock's 'Orgasm Addict' in class) introduced me to Art Nouveau I fell in love with its exaggerated ornamental feminine forms. Paris Metro? Yes please. Beardsley and Mucha's gorgeous statuesque women? Too, too cool.

So I was initially unimpressed with the whole 'functional design' ethos of the Bauhaus movement that followed. It all sounded rather structured, overly strict, masculine and well...darkly, frighteningly German. Dumbo soon saw the error of my ways when I came to appreciate the huge impact Walter Gropius's vision had achieved during the short Weimar period. You know you're onto something once you get closed on account of your degenerative influence.
The Modernist Bauhaus influence on architecture, interiors, furniture and graphics made the centuries of ornamental craftsmanship preceding it seem hopelessly outdated. Clean, minimalist design harmonised an object's aesthetic with its function. Mass production linked the design of household products with the increasing industrialisation of the age. A new post-war era had arrived and didn't it look agonisingly hip.

I did the triple-threat Bauhaus pilgrammage to Berlin, Weimar and Dessau on my travels, visiting many of the original still-functioning buildings. It was a real privilege to see the remnants of a socially democratic vision of a well-designed environment made real. Next stop Israel for the post-WW2 chapter.
Images courtesy of Google