Friday, April 24, 2015

women who work: marlene, of chocolate, cookies and candies

Marlene of Chocolate, Cookies and Candies is a person of firm opinions, and I thought it would be interesting to pick her brain on this topic, from the perspective of someone who currently doesn't report to an office every day, but gets scrutinised a lot nonetheless, being a blogger and someone who writes and photographs professionally.

The questions are slightly different from what I asked Maja, taking into account the fact that Marlene's her own boss.

1) Share one, two or three pictures of some typical work outfits that you wear for various work-related occasions and 2) Describe the elements of the outfit in your own words


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Photos courtesy of Marlene

Ever since I left the corporate world 7 years ago and started working for myself, my outfits have changed drastically. Back then, it was mostly pant suits - grey and black. These days, I work from home so my day to day work clothes can be ridiculously casual. I pretty much live in track pants and sweatshirts (am I allowed to reveal this online??). My only consolation is that I tend to get edgier and better made lounge wear from the likes of The Kooples, Isabel Marant √Čtoile and T by Alexander Wang. Hopefully, I don't look like I'm off to gym!

Most days, I'm at home tapping away. Other days, I could be somewhere else doing a photo shoot where comfort is key. It's hard to look glamorous when you have to squat, bend, run around and carry lots of heavy equipment. There will be occasions where I have to turn up to fashion events where I need to look a bit more spiffy. There isn't any strict dress code that I adhere to. Personally, I'm all about comfortable and fuss free clothes. I hate shopping. Online shopping is a lifesaver for me. I have a tiny closet no bigger than 3/4 of my arm span with a carefully edited selection of clothes. They're mostly in dark colors, namely, grey, black, military green and the odd burgundy. I get stressed just thinking what to wear so I tend to buy pieces that go with most of my clothes.

I have....perhaps....4 pairs of jeans and pants that I wear a lot. I tend to spend more on jackets which are my first love, next to handbags. As I get older, I prefer clothes that are edgier with interesting details. I have a small build so I tend to stick to mostly French brands because I don't have to spend extra on alterations. To me, Rick Owens is a genius at creating clothes that flatter the female silhouette. I have a Chanel jacket which I treasure. I purchased it secondhand at a pretty good price years ago. Isabel Marant does very wearable boho chic well but I wish she would continue to line her jackets and coats. They get ridiculously itchy especially if you're not wearing a long sleeved top underneath.

2) What's a common misconception people have about freelancers?

People think being a freelancer is fantastic because you're your own boss and working from home is a dream. Most of the time, they're right but it can get incredibly lonely as there's literally no one to bounce ideas off. I can spend days and weeks on my own until it's time to do the school run or the husband gets home. I now try to schedule meetings and network with various individuals so that I'm constantly inspired. Being your own boss is pretty scary at times because I'm a one woman band and the buck stops with me. I had to learn to self motivate which is easier said than done.

3) What's the biggest sartorial mistake someone can make when trying to make a good first impression in any kind of professional setting? 

In my previous role as a recruitment consultant, I've had to interview more than a hundred candidates. I've seen some pretty dire outfits including food stains on clothes, unzipped trousers, dirty nails, body odor, bad breath......to name a few. A lot of it is common sense really. If you're not meticulous with your personal hygiene and professional outfit, no potential employer would entrust any responsibilities to you. Once, I had to co-interview with a major client of mine and we both winced when a candidate came in. He was the perfect fit for the role but my client refused him on the basis of his sloppy appearance.So yes....first impression counts!

4) Please fill-in-the-blanks

My style in 5 words, or less: fuss free and comfortable

Uniforms are my lifesaver. I'm one of those who stick to what I like. Jeans, a simple top and a beautifully constructed jacket.

Jackets always makes me feel more professional, because they smarten up a simple outfit.

I would tell my younger self to take risks, make more mistakes and be fearless, because that's the only way to grow.

The idea of "dress for success" is understanding your personal style and being comfortable in your own skin.

P.S: This Harper's Bazaar story about one woman who wears the same thing to work daily has been making the rounds, and Adweek interviewed her. Personally, I need some variety; I suppose to each their own! What say you all?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

women who work - maja, of maja huse

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Pictures contributed by Maja

I know I promised this last week, but the weekend vanished so quickly! Better than late than never?

Anyway, introducing the awesome Maja, of Maja Huse (whose latest post on feminism is a must-read). I identified a lot of with this post, because I too, work in a casual environment, and it's always interesting to see how people work out what's appropriate and presentable when there are no real rules.

I sent Maja three questions - two being actual questions and one being a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire, and while I do think I could have phrased my questions better, she did great answering them nonetheless.

I also really enjoyed the comments shared in the last "women who work" post and I invite everyone to email me replies to these three questions as well.

Well, without further ado...

1) Share one, two or three pictures of some typical work outfits that you wear for various work-related occasions, and 2) describe the elements of the outfit (in relation to work)

I work in telecom and my job title is graphic designer/web-coordinator/hardware-coordinator. Simply put I create graphics for web and print, I make sure they end up where they are supposed to end up, I help write and publish content for our company website and I help run our online store. This means that I spent 95% of my time in front of my Mac, either working with Adobe software, writing content, adjusting prices or answering questions from our call centre about the latest cellphone releases. I don’t spend a lot of time in meetings, but I do travel a little bit every now and then. We don’t have a dress code, but we work in an open office environment where both partners from other companies and representatives from our parent and sister companies stop by on a frequent basis, so it is most definitely a good idea to look presentable.

Outfit 1 was worn on a Monday. On Monday mornings we have the typical meeting where all the departments go over the previous week as well as our plans and goals for the upcoming week. There is no need to dress up for this meeting, but it is always held in a room that is freezing cold so the cardigan had to prove its worth. Speaking of, this cardigan was bought solely because it looked like something out of Cher Horowitz’s closet. It is ice blue and fluffy and people seem to want to stroke my arms when I wear it. The rest of the outfit is black - most of my outfits tend to have a base of either black or grey - and I always keep any jewellery and hardware silver-toned. This makes it so much easier to get dressed in the morning.

Outfit 2: This one was worn on an office day where I also attended a meeting with our advertising agency. The navy and white-striped sweater is one that I stole from my boyfriend, something that he still hasn’t noticed even though he has complimented me on the sweater several times. I cleaned out his closet for him as a surprise a few months ago and took the sweater as a trophy. It had been lingering in there unworn with the tags still on it for at least a year, so I was sure he wouldn’t mind. I love stripes. They never look out of place and they are always easy to wear.

Outfit 3 consists of a grey denim shirt, black high-waisted jeans, and my usual staple accessories as well as an evil eye bracelet that I bought in Greece this summer. I never wear jangly jewellery because I spend so much time typing. It would just make too much noise! The leather tote bag is from Diesel. I am a very recent tote bag convert and I finally see what all the fuss is about, although I can’t carry it on rainy days because of the unprotected opening.

If I had to point out any common elements in my outfits it would be dark base colours, simple stud earrings, shoes I can walk in (I always walk to work) and a need to be weather-appropriate. Bergen is one of the rainiest cities in Europe so I don’t buy suede shoes, and I hate to walk to work in heels so I usually wear flats. That said I do keep a few pairs of heels at the office in case of shoe emergencies, because if I have to walk to work in knee-high rubber boots then I am not going to wear those in the office if I can avoid it. Another important point about my outfits is that they would be suitable for any of my usual work scenarios, be it a long day by my desk, a meeting, or travel. They are also the same clothes that I wear on weekends or even on holiday. I don’t really dress any differently unless I am sick, going to the gym, or know that I am going to spend the entire day inside by myself (in which case I’m all about the sweatpants).

3) Please fill in the blanks

My style in 5 words, or less: Classic grown-up rock-chic

Uniforms are luckily not something you have to deal with as a graphic designer! I do have a uniform of sorts though, because it is rare that I have to spend time thinking about what I want to wear in the morning. If you tried to take my skinny jeans away from me I would cry like a baby.

Blazers always make me feel more professional, because they instantly make you look pulled-together (if the fit is right, of course). I have three: a cool one, a formal one and a preppy one.

I always wear/carry my Filofax to feel "me", even though professionally I am supposed to be very digital. I need a bit of analogue in my life. When it comes to clothing there is nothing I wear that contradicts my job, as we don’t really have a dress code except the unspoken dress-like-you-have-your-shit-together rule that I’m sure applies to most offices. There is very little separation between my work wardrobe and my off-duty wardrobe, and I love that.

I would never wear anything too “cute” to work, because I’m one of only four women among the three or four departments that share the open office space that I work in. I’m also one of the youngest people working there, so I avoid anything that could look too junior. This doesn’t mean that I would dress any differently if my work situation was different - I don’t have a secret wish to wear bows and frills - but it is definitely something that I keep in the back of my mind when I shop.

People often think just because I know a lot about makeup and run a blog I should fit into the ditzy blogger stereotype. It surprises them when they find out I’m actually a semi-awkward nerd who has buried herself in Adobe software since she was 16 and who could debate the pros and cons of iPhone vs Android until you fall asleep from boredom. As I help run our website and online store I have to know about all things web in general and cellphones and gadgets in particular, but you can do all those things and still know how to do cat-eye liner.

I would tell my younger self to relax more because I have always had an enormous good girl syndrome. If I had learned to be okay with “good enough” at a younger age it would have made such a difference to my well-being. There is no point trying to be best at something if it is making you a high-strung ball of stress and anxiety.

The idea of "dress for success" is great advice, in my opinion. I’m a firm believer in “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have”. This doesn’t mean that you have to be decked out in designer clothing or wear a pantsuit to work every day, but look like you made an effort. Even though you work in an entry level job it is good to look pulled-together, because you never know when an opening could become available or if someone might be considering you for a promotion. Make it easy for them to visualise you in a client meeting if that’s where you want to be! When I first started working where I am now I answered phones in the call centre all day, and I’m not so sure they would have been as eager to promote me if I showed up to work in sweats five days a week.

So that's one down! Look out for the second post with Marlene of Chocolate, Cookies and Candies next month.

Friday, March 06, 2015

in the fitting room: uniqlo x idlf

I didn't know that a Uniqlo x Ines De La Fressange collection was happening, until I passed a Uniqlo outlet that had a cheery summery display near their entrance, featuring said collection.

I went in more out of curiosity than anything else - I've been told more than once the IDLF clothes are very "me" (probably because there's lots of navy and white) but actually, nothing from the previous collections grabbed have me, probably because I already had many of the same basics.

But flipping through the racks this time, I found myself wanting to try quite a few pieces, so much so that I decided it was worth doing a review of the collection. It has a rather different vibe from the first collection - more “weekend in the countryside” than "city", which I suppose is what I want right now.

I was particularly drawn to a series of cotton-linen shirts in stripes and checks, all cut in a cropped, boxy style with a schoolboy feel - very Margaret Howell.



My favourite was this one in a cotton double-gauze - the material is soft and tissue-like but not fragile. The inner layer makes a nice contrast when you turn up the cuffs and collar.

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I also liked the layering possibilities of these shirts – they're are cut almost like jackets and below I'm wearing a stand-collar one over my own sleeveless shirt. They also have cropped sleeves that hit somewhere between my elbows and wrists.

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I also rather liked the boat neck linen blouse I'm wearing above - perfect for the hot weather here and the cropped length (just below the belly button) feels fresh and the little eyelet trim is cute without being too girlish. It has a trim, tidy feel that I prefer over the longer, tunic-style shirts in the collection. It's also not too sheer.

I'm wearing the large size in all the pictures above. For the record, I am a UK 12/US 6-8/EUR 40, and it should be said that I am broad-shouldered, broad-hipped, narrow-waisted. Also, I'm about 1.79m tall.

I wasn't optimistic about the trousers - I tried the cotton chinos last year and they were very narrowly cut and were the least flattering things I'd ever seen on myself. But I saw a navy pair in a beautiful cotton-linen herringbone, tapered and cropped, and I thought it was worth a second chance. And I ended up loving them. They're perhaps lower rise than what is currently fashionable but they sit high enough to look respectable (just below my belly button and covers my hipbones) and fit my non-supermodel hips and thighs superbly. I didn't get a good picture unfortunately, so you'll have to take my word for it.

The quality is also impressive - I challenge anyone to find a better made pair of trousers from a mass-market brand. These had a wonderfully constructed and solid waistband, and although they are unlined, the material is substantial and doesn’t at all look like the flimsy crap out there in the same price range (these are S$49.90). They also passed the crumple test (me clutching a handful of fabric in my fist). Given it’s the same price as the blouses and shirts, I think this is actually the best deal of the collection, in terms of workmanship. I also thought it was better made than the other trousers in the collection. According to Uniqlo's somewhat confusing sizing for bottoms, I take the 67cm waist in these, which is the largest available size for this style.

The cherry on the icing is the matching herringbone jacket. It doesn’t look like much on the hanger and I wasn’t sure what made me it try it on. But after I did, I didn't want to take it off. I usually prefer longer jackets and have always found cropped styles ridiculous on me, but this one worked. It's the opposite of a sharply tailored look - it’s more of a sport coat perhaps and has that schoolboy feel. But it has just enough structure to look polished and I thought the quality was great – cute striped lining on the sleeves, an inner breast pocket, everything was nicely finished. It's partially lined at the important places - sleeves, shoulders - so that it slips on and hangs nicely but still works for the warm weather here.

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At S$99.90 it was the most expensive thing in the collection, and although it took serious willpower for me to put it back on the racks, I did anyway, suspecting it will end up on the sales rack (jackets often do in Singapore). I'm wearing a large in the picture and it fit well - no pulling and I could move with ease.

There were other unlined blazers in the collection that felt more like shirts which I am not to keen on.

I tried this retro Italian housewife tea dress more as a lark than anything else. I suppose if I wanted to dress up as a WWII-era nurse, I would come back for this dress, which also comes in black. It has a generous full skirt which make it fun to swish around in and the linen material is weighty and more substantial than the linen skirts in this collection. I thought it was quite nicely cut - the shoulders, waist, lapels all sat nicely - but perhaps it's more suited for a tall person. I’m wearing a large here.



I actually really wanted this dress when I saw it, but felt in two minds once I tried it on. I like the vintage nightgown feel - and it is comfortable as pajamas - but I don’t really like things cut high on the waist. After dithering around a bit, I decided to pass, but I'm still thinking about it. I'm wearing a medium here - this one runs on the large side.



There were also these nice striped cotton-linen midi-length skirts but alas, I looked frumpy in them. If I were a more straight-hipped person I would have a field day - this is the stuff that evokes long drives in the Tuscan countryside, or strolls in some pretty European town with honey-hued walls, cobble-stone streets and bougainvillaea spilling out of balconies.



I bypassed all the floral print items because they looked cheap and the material used for them certainly felt so. There was a cute navy short sleeve knit with red piping but it wasn't very well-made - it felt cheap and sagged too much. In fact I would give all the knits a miss, including the cotton Breton pieces - they didn't stand out for me. As for the hoodies and sweatshirts, I couldn't tell what made them different from the usual Uniqlo offerings. I would also pass on the silk blouses - they felt cheap. The oxford shirts from last year are still around - they're nice, so now's the chance to grab them if you missed it the first time.

And I skipped the jeans because I was lazy to try them but they feel more substantial to the touch than Uniqlo's own jeans. Yes, doing a review post is tiring - I went to the store twice in two days (granted it's on my way to yoga). Never have I worked this hard for a post.

Overall, it's 50-50. The aforementioned cotton-linen shirts, and the cotton-linen herringbone jacket and trousers stood out for me, in terms of quality and thoughtful design. The dresses and the midi skirts, on the right body type, are nice buys too - they stand out in the sense that there isn't quite anything like that design-wise in this price bracket, and look nice for the summer.

But there's also items in the collection that are either duds (the cheap-feeling florals, the knits) or mediocre (the sporty jersey pieces). Also, a lot of it is linen which rumples easily and this might bother some.

Despite the shortcomings, the collection exceeded my expectations where “high-low” partnerships are concerned, but due to my own prejudice my benchmark for these things are pretty low in the first place. And I've never paid close attention to such collaborations so I’m not the best person to charge.

In the end, I bought the double-layered gauze shirt and the navy trousers. I felt the boxy shirts were the most interesting design-wise - they're unlike anything you see in stores at the moment. The trousers, apart from being great quality, actually fit me well, and I think such things shouldn't be passed on too easily. I was tempted to buy another one of the cropped shirts in striped linen, but held back since I have lots of shirts. And of course, I'm still thinking about the blazer. Perhaps it's time for my first pantsuit...

*I'm writing like the Uniqlo x IDLF fall collection didn't happen, because I never actually took a good look at the pieces when they were in stores, so can’t make any comparison where those are concerned.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

women who work

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“But a successful work uniform does much more than save time and brain space. It tells the world what kind of work you do, how seriously you take it, and — here’s the complicated part — what kind of woman you are…Your work uniform signals your ambition, authority, experience, age. It conveys if not actual competence, then your feelings about your competence as well as your desire (or not) to blend in.” – Lisa Miller, The Cut

Well, that’s the essay I should have written about three months ago. I had been trying to start a series of blog posts centered around the work uniform, and even contacted some other bloggers for contributions, but was too busy with, well, work, to actually develop this into a proper project.

On my blog, you can find examples of my work outfits in the early years of my career. I will not link to them because it embarrasses me, some of the things I thought was okay for work Рthere was a time where I thought a loose tank top tucked into a flippy grey mélange skirt from American Apparel was okay for press conferences.

How I wished someone gave me some career advice about dressing – no, nothing happened (to my knowledge at least; for all you know I could have been running a media conglomerate by now if I had dressed better) as a result of my cavalier attitude to work wear. I have the fortune of working in an office with no clearly enforced standards of office attire. But there are downsides. I don’t want to be told exactly what to wear but I wished someone had taken me aside early on and asked me to think about the professional impression I left on others with my dressing.

Was there anything offensive about that little flippy American Apparel skirt? No, but I looked exactly like what I was – a fresh graduate that hadn’t quite understood how to go from “student” to “super awesome and professional adult”. I didn’t understand that it didn't  matter whether I thought my outfit was appropriate – it was also about what other people, whom I was meeting for the first time, sometimes under antagonistic circumstances, thought. Once you enter that sphere of working for someone else, you have to look past your ego, and learn to dress for the gaze of others. This is especially important as a journalist, because, your subject, not you, is the story.

And yet, you want to signal your individuality, because that’s also part of winning people over. People respect independence of thought, which can be signalled through dress. And you want to be true to yourself, because that way you carry yourself with more confidence. The challenge of dressing for work is to nail that perfect balance of utility, individuality, and, as The Cut put it, the "public-facing self".

I figured it out, after a while. I embraced the liberties of my workplace, but I looked for ways to polish things up. I can still wear jeans, t-shirts, sneakers. But I made sure I had back-ups – a blazer to throw on for important events, for example. I gave up sneakers (well, most days I do) and embraced the oxford because they dressed up a pair of jeans well. I found shirts that worked for me - ones I could leave them untucked for comfort, and tuck in when I need to smarten up. I found a good alternative to the t-shirt – slightly structured, boxy short-sleeve tops in stiff materials that were comfortable as t-shirts for days spent outdoors, but less sloppy than t-shirts. I even found dresses that were neither casual t-shirty things nor power-woman tailored sheaths – shirt-dresses or similarly cut shifts, slightly loose on the body. A couple pairs of well-cut black trousers – loosely tapered, cropped – to take me through days where denim is really a no-go. I don’t wear make-up, but I realised well-groomed brows made me look less sleepy.

I learnt to maximise versatility and comfort, and show respect for the myriad of circumstances I encounter in my work. But I also learnt to make the casual edge work for me. People remember me, because in a room full of suits, I could wear a slightly oversized shirt with sleeves pushed up, and leopard-print loafers. My collection of jeans, dating back to my university days, have never gone out of rotation – even the ripped ones, or the slouchy boyfriend ones. I just had to wear it with the right items for the right occasion.

The Cut essay touched on a dimension I hadn’t given much thought about – sexuality. I've always thought, if you draw a lot of attention to your body in the way you dress, people will talk about it, and it's up to you as an adult to decide how you want to deal with it. Maybe you have the confidence to live with the chatter, or are so powerful that it has no detrimental impact on your career. Maybe your office genuinely doesn't care. Whichever option we choose, it's a statement.

So what do my work outfits say about me (apart from the fact that my clothes seem to rumple a lot)? But they're practical. Sober. I think they respect most of the professional situations I find myself. They're also consistent, which I find useful - it's nice to have a signature look at work so that people remember you (like Jenna Lyons and her glasses). What do you guys think?

I didn't want to make this just about me, so I approached some other bloggers to chip in. For a start, Maja of Maja Huse and Marlene of Chocolate, Cookies and Candies will share their thoughts on dressing professionally, and hopefully, I can add more to this list as and when.

Look out for the first feature next week. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you guys have to say about this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

good buy, checked x3

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One of the things I was particularly thrilled to find in the sales are these Dieppa Restrepo Calis in a lovely, classic burgundy. I seem to specialise in landing these shoes during sales - my first and second pairs were sale finds too in 2013, and I find them to be pretty value, given the quality.

I was giving my old ones a good clean a couple weeks back, and realised that lining them them up side by side gives a good idea of how these shoes hold up to frequent wear.

I don't take especially good care of my shoes and it shows - the tan pair, the oldest pair, has obvious discolouration, probably from the times I carelessly cleaned them with a wet wipe. After I started applying leather conditioner regularly - once every few months - they started to look much better, but the damage is done and it's undeniably lost some of its richness.

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Nonetheless, I think they're holding up well. Don't be put off by the peeling edge on the sole of the tan pair - that's the Vibram sole I had added to the shoes when I first bought them. Vibram soles are essential since it rains here a lot, and apart from protecting the leather soles it also saves me from slipping. Not terribly impressed that one side is peeling though - going to need to have a word with my cobbler about that.

The thickness of the leather soles has largely remained, and there's no sign of the shoe coming apart anywhere else yet. The leather darkens when rain gets on it but it's so far dried without leaving visible watermarks.

The white pair was always going to be high maintenance, but I think I'm doing all right. Like my first pair, it always looks better after I've given it a good clean and condition (sadly, all of twice a year). There's no visible discolouration. The heel cap is a little worn in one corner, so I may replace it soon - the first time I'll be doing so for this pair.

Clearly, they wrinkle quite a bit, so if you're looking for that glossy, immaculate, shell-like finish, these are not for you. But they have kept their shape pretty well and I don't keep them stuffed or use shoe trees. The discolouration of the tan pair made me hesitate a bit about choosing a pair in a rich colour like burgundy - how do I know it won't happen? But my feeling is that had I taken better care of the tan pair, it might have aged better, colour-wise. After conditioning them regularly (twice in six months), I thought they were looking better. I don't polish my shoes though - too much work!

I've replaced the heel cap on the tan ones once, and I'm due to replace the ones on the white one soon - I've been told to be careful about that; once the wooden part gets worn it's pretty pointless replacing the cap after, diminishing the lifespan of the shoes.

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Miss Sophie recently posted about the diminishing returns we get from brands as they grow in popularity - I hope this isn't the case with Dieppa Restrepos. They've become my staple, the grown-up version of the sneakers that used to rule my life. Are these the best-made options out there? There are doubtless better shoes, but then those options are also more expensive. My Margaret Howell oxfords roundly beats the Dieppas in terms of workmanship and quality of materials, but then MH shoes start at about GBP300 (I could afford mine only because I was at a sample sale). Dieppas are half the price, and less, if you, as I do, wait for the right pair to show up at the sales. They suit my wide feet and I never had to break them in - I go sockless and haven't gotten a single blister. I like how they're more casual and laidback than a classic oxford shoe but they're still elegant and more substantial than say, a pair of jazz shoes.

I'm also a big believer of never depending on a single pair of shoes. The most well-made pair of shoes are unlikely to last long if they're worn every day, year in year out, and rotating shoes is a good way of extending the lifespan of a beloved pair of shoes.

In terms of care and maintenance, I can't profess to be an expert. I bought the Ecco leather cleaner and conditioner at a department store because I have store credit, and so far they work pretty well.

For leather shoes like the Dieppas, I spray the shoe cleaner into some kind of cloth that doesn't scratch - old ones for cleaning spectacles, or ones used to polish shoee, and just wipe the shoes. I rub the grubbier bits a little harder and so far haven't experienced any discolouration - I clean a bit at time, let it dry out, and check if I've done any damage, to be safe. When I'm done I wipe all over with a clean dry cloth, let it air a bit, and then I apply the conditioner - again, I do a small section at a time, and I don't use too much on the cloth at a time. The best is not to press too hard at one point for too long - some shoes darken a bit overall, and I want it to look as even as possible.

I'm always impressed how good the shoes look when I make the effort - the leather really glows after conditioning, even the shabbier, scuffed up bit.

Suede, unfortunately, is more of a pain - I have a suede brush and eraser but I can't seem to get the dirty spots off. I'm definitely thinking twice before I get any suede shoes in future - certainly it has to be in a pair that looks good even when dirty.

I particularly like nubuck - they're soft and they looks pretty good dirty and stained! I like that matte quality they have, in contrast to the polished look of other leathers. I follow the same cleaning process described above for my nubuck boots, and the only difference is that nubuck darkens more when I apply the conditioner.

What are your go-to shoes?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

perfumed, part II

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After close to five years, I'm close to finishing my bottle of Vintage Gardenia by Jo Malone. The bottle looks a little forlorn on my dresser. The scent brings always a rush of memories and a number of other things, all of them pleasant - balmy nights, rich damp earth, a flutter of ivory silk, the sweet scent of flowers crushed on the pavement.

But I've also moved on, sort of. Last year, for a change of scenery, I bought Le Labo's Rose 31*. Vintage Gardenia - which really smells more like something else, closer to a Tuberose scent - was always a little sweet for me on some days, and it's also disappointing how quickly the scent wears off.

I smelt Rose 31 ages ago and loved it, but was reluctant to buy a new perfume when I was barely halfway through another. I take ages to get through perfume - I bought Vintage Gardenia in 2010, and it's a mere 30ml - and limit myself to one bottle at any given time. But last year, looking at the Le Labo counter and figuring I had nothing better to spend a 10% voucher on, I decided to get it. At least I was down less than 1/4 of Vintage Gardenia left, I reasoned.

Rose 31 is immensely popular and I won't go on at length about the technical points except one thing: it doesn't smell like a classic rose fragrance, despite the name. This was the thing I learnt about Le Labo perfumes - they don't always smell like their names, because what's named for is just one of many ingredients used. The eponymous ingredient is the one used in the highest concentration, but it isn't necessarily what dominates your nose when you take a whiff.

Like Vintage Gardenia, there's a floral headiness about Rose 31, but there's also an incense-like quality. There also a sharpness that cuts right through, and an earthiness I always look for in my perfumes. I can't identify any of the ingredients by smelling it, but I can tell you it makes me think of black velvet, red wine, grass after rain, my mother. It also lasts - I like that moment when I pull off my shirt at the end of the day and catch a whiff of its last, dying notes.

*It was only recently that I discovered that Le Labo was purchased by Estee Lauder in November. Estee Lauder has also purchased Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and Rodin olio lusso. What I hate about niche brands being bought by conglomerates is that they're not longer quite free of the animal-testing taint even if they continue not to test on animals (because Estee Lauder does). I love this perfume, but I certainly will think twice about a repurchase when my current bottle runs low.

Friday, January 16, 2015

notes for january, book edition

Recently, I finished the fifth of six books I picked up before Christmas, because there was a great deal for members at Kinokuniya, and I finally had time to read. Because this was an unusually good haul - in the sense that I loved most of the books I completed - I thought they were worth a quick and dirty "review".

1)
I can't believe I'd never read "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand until now - I loved every last word and found myself holding my breath during the chapters on the races. I'm pretty inspired to give "Unbroken" a go. The last time I enjoyed a non-fiction account such as this one so much was "The Orchid Thief", which was THE book that made me want to be a journalist. Both books have the kind of depth that comes from really doing your homework and delving into the lives of these people and their circumstances. They also strike that awesome balance between empathy and cold-eyed clarity - you feel deeply for all involved, but you also see them for who they are.

2)
I read "Monuments Men" by Robert M Edsel right after I finished "Seabiscuit", and I suppose because both are books describing the lives of real people, I couldn't help comparing them although the subjects differ. Without a doubt, Laura Hillenbrand is a much better storyteller - the people she wrote about came to life for me, as did the times they lived in and the issues of the day. "Monuments Men" is a great story but it just wasn't told as well.

3)
I bought "The Blazing World" without opening it and reading a single word - it's a rule for me usually, to read the first few pages of a book before I buy it, to decide if it's the book for me. But I love Siri Hustvedt's work that much. The novel begin with a premise that begs for resolution, but the way the tale unfolds left me thinking it didn't matter in the end. The story is told through a jumble of diary entries, recollections of different people, "magazine" articles and reviews, and there are references to philosophy and art, all meticulously foot-noted. This should have been discordant, but everything plays off everything else so deftly that you find yourself completely absorbed, as if you are a scholar, delving into the mysterious life of a woman long dead, trying to make sense of it all. And as always, her writing is clean and beautiful - it never fails to hit me right in the heart.

4)
"Justice" by Michael Sandel was recommended to me - I admit, these days, I read for easy pleasures and moral philosophy didn't immediately excite me. As it turns out, "Justice" is testament to the power of good writing - there is no way I could have absorbed the general premises of Rawls, Dworkin, Aristotle, Kant, Locke and other no-first-name-needed, oft-cited superstars of philosophy otherwise. In about 200 pages. It's quite something, to explain all this and their relevance to contemporary political and social issues, and explain it so well that I've started thinking about issues I come across through their lens.

5)
 I was pretty excited when I bought  "Travelling to Infinity" by Jane Hawking, but after I finished, I felt exhausted, and not in a good way. Yes, their marriage was every bit as complicated as one imagined and Stephen Hawking appears to be...no picnic. But while she painstakingly described her feelings and her experiences, I wished there was a bit more reflection, a little more explanation on why she chose the life she chose. It felt like there were feelings that she had yet to confront.

6)
I have one book left, "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross. Haven't started, but I can't imagine disliking a book that comes with a recommended playlist.

Which books have you read lately? Share!