Monthly Archives: December 2009

Killing in the name of your heels?

Killer heels have been on the catwalk, in fashion magazines, and walking down the street for several years now. They are strikingly high shoes with heels measuring 5ft and up and have been accused of causing infertility, being the epitome of our male dominated society and the most liberating item of a woman’s wardrobe.

Everyone has an opinion on these skyscrapers and hardly anyone can successfully walk in them. Although it has been proven your Manolos could damage your health, women are still tackling stilettos daily.

At 5foot 4inches I am quite a small person and enjoy the feeling of elevation a pair of high heels can offer. No matter how many pairs of heels I buy I still can’t find some that don’t start to rub, burn or cause complete agony by the end of an evening. Most catwalk models have to spend half their lives wearing back breakingly high shoes and risk the potential of broken or sprained ankles in the process.

In 1994 Naomi Campbell made a dramatic tumble on the catwalk wearing Vivienne Westwood 9inch heels. However this fall left her unharmed and successfully pushed her into the worldwide publicity eye.

Recently top models Abbey Lee Kershaw, Natasha Poly and Sasha Pivovarova refused to wear Alexander McQueen’s 12inch platforms, named the armadillos.

The shoe boots are ridiculously high and lobster claw shaped, but not everyone has shied away from them. Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness have both tottered boldly where others wouldn’t follow in these deathly boots.

It’s usual for designers to tell models what to do and for these three to stand up against the fashion mogul is quite rare. British shoe designer Emma Hope sympathised with the models and said it was like being made to walk on rulers, the opposite of what people want to look like.

If you feel like braving out of your UGGs and donning a pair of potentially ankle breaking heels here are some tips to make sure the outing is as pain-free as possible.

  • Make sure the shoes fit your properly and wear them around the house for at least an hour before stepping outside. This will give you an idea of where they might be likely to rub and bring a supply of plasters and gel pads for added comfort.
  • Straps provide support.
  • Wedges are a safe option for those unsure of heels. They will give you more support and the wedge will give you extra balance than balancing your weight on a tiny heel.
  • Avoid pointy shoes: the pressure of squeezing your toes into a tiny pointy end is too much and can lead to serious toe nail problems.
  • Feet need to be stretched so if you’re in heels all day, give your tootsies a break at night-time.
  • Finally if you’re fully prepared to head out in your totteringly high heels and you’re fully prepared – do not complain about them. No one likes to hear continual foot whinging and if you know you’re guilty of this, bring a pair of flats in your bag.

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San Francisco – Best City in the World

This is my entry for the Independent’s latest travel writing competition…

Walking around the nauseously steep hills of San Francisco you could be mistaken for thinking you had travelled back in time. The streets are paved with history, from bright art displays, notorious book shops, characteristically strange people, and delectable cafes and bars. Several very diverse neighbourhoods give it a distinctive community aura.

From Union Square’s regally, fine hotels and giant deluxe shops, walk towards the Mission’s bars and restaurants and prepare to taste the finest burritos this side of the Mexican border. A 10 minute antique tram ride will plunge you into the beautifully unique gay capital of the world, the Castro.

A trolley up Haight Street and you can almost hear the music of the 1960s, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix have lived on this infamous street. Although its hippie roots have almost been forgotten you can still enjoy the endless vintage stores and health food cafes that now inhabit these streets.

Golden Gate Park is a forest of secrets stretching out towards the Pacific Ocean, from gardens, lakes, memorials and animal parks the park provides a variety of environmental treats and surprises with every visit. In the middle of the deathly cold, shark infested waters of San Francisco Bay lies the iconic prison of Alcatraz. While waiting for the ferry try locally sourced and delicious clam chowder in a sour dough bread bowl – another one of the great eating pleasures of this city.

Above the water the Golden Gate Bridge, with its regal red paint, joins the city to the wine vineyards of Marin County. The bridge withstood the last major earthquake and is a symbol of the boldness and resilience of San Franciscans to endure anything thrown at them. Let your inner Kerouac out and enjoy this city of many historical treasures.

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The Devil Wears Fur

The snow has hit many UK towns, and despite the excitement of seeing Basingstoke on the news – I am freezing. It’s beautiful but deadly and as people slip along the icy roads they are wisely wrapped up to keep out the chill.

Even now the ice has almost melted away there is one layer some people refuse to shed – fur. It is becoming more and more popular to wear, once a completely taboo item, it can now be seen everywhere from glossy fashion magazines to ordinary people walking along the street.

New York, London and Milan fashion weeks this year were filled with animal skins of all descriptions – from fox to lemur; you can have your wild animal and wear it.

This year fur made appearances at Versace, Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier, while Karl Lagerfeld covered motorbike helmets with mink and chinchilla.

In 1994 supermodels appeared in an advertisement for Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Naomi Cambell, Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford and others claimed they would rather go naked than wear fur. This seems like a distant memory and Cambell now fronts the campaign for luxury fur designer, Dennis Basso.

Scarily it’s not just the high-end designers who are using skins in their clothes, both Nine West and Dune have produced rabbit fur-lined boots recently and even high street darling Zara has featured it.

I can’t deny I do love fur. It does look and feel good and seems to represents a class above other materials. However surely nothing can justify the disgusting and inhumane treatment of animals that goes on to produce such items.

I am not a huge animal rights activist. I am definitely not a vegetarian and I wear leather shoes and jackets. However leather is a by-product whereas animals are killed solely for their  fur and this is something I draw the line at.

Some fur producers do kill the animals humanely but there is no way of telling if your fur hat has been killed this way or slowly tortured and skinned alive.

Fur is popular again now and Keira Knightley, Lindsay Lohan, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and pretty much any other celebrity you can think of can be seen in mink or rabbit accessories with no fear of repercussions.

Real fur is fashionable and it doesn’t seem to have half as much impact than it did in the 1990s. Is it just not trendy to care about it anymore? Now celebrities are wearing it are we more concerned with looking good in fur then where it has come from? Or are people just too ignorant to want to know how their fur coat was made? Does anyone really care anymore?

Karl Lagerfeld, said this year: “In a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish.”

Several years ago at a Condѐ Nast Christmas party, anti-fur protesters surrounded the building and Anna Wintour responded by sending down a plate of roast beef. Clearly Wintour has no desire to stop endorsing fur products and why should she – everyone is wearing it, it’s everywhere in fashion and Vogue is a fashion magazine.

But some designers still refuse to produce it.  Stella McCartney successfully uses viable alternatives in her clothes – why can’t this be a norm with all designers?

And not every celeb  insight is wearing fur. Eva Mendes has spoken out against wearing it and recently Twilight’s Christian Serrato posed for peta stating she would rather be naked than wear animal skins.

However good fur feels when you know that some fur farms keep up to four foxes in cages measuring two and a half feet square, and most are normally strangled or beaten to death before being skinned – can anything really feel that good?

On most farms, animals can be gassed, electrocuted or poisoned after having their necks broken.  If people can vigilantly oppose fox-hunting – this slow torturous sport occupied by many of the upper classes throughout the country – why don’t people stand up and demand real fur to be removed from our shops?

It’s easy enough to forget how your mink wrap suffered and the fashion industry is all too fond of labeling their fur items as ‘ethically sourced’. The truth is there is no way you can prove how your fur coat was produced.

Fake fur looks and feels just as good. If the UK can start a Jamie Oliver style campaign against battery hens why can’t it wake up and stop the produce and selling of real fur items? Do people have bigger and more important issues to worry about now? Or do we prefer not to know how these products are produced and can therefore pretend we’re not to blame? Have too many people now bought into the idea of fur as a fashionable accessory after seeing it on world-wide fashion shows and as a normal item on celebrities?

Ignorance is not an excuse – however good a fur coat looks, an animal has still had to suffer unimaginable torture for it to end up on the hanger. That is something we need to stop ignoring.

Click here and pledge to stop the fur trade

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The September Issue


Most people have heard of Anna Wintour and unless you live under a rock in the middle of nowhere you’ve heard of Vogue. Nearly every major city in the world has its own version of the fashion magazine, from Seoul to Singapore.

Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue, is known for her steely manor and cold demur and in R.J Cutler’s film The September Issue we get a rare look behind the iron fist and under the skin of the magazine head-quarters in New York.  

Around 13 million women in America will read the September issue of the magazine and it is the biggest in the Vogue year. September is like January in the fashion world and this is a time of year for change. To help breach this change, the magazine produces its bulkiest edition, packed with photo shoots and advertising. The issue takes about 10 weeks to produce and a lot of style fuelled stress and heart ache.

Although many famous designers including Oscar De la Renta, Patrick DeMarchelier and John Galliano pop up in the film, the real star of this show is Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director. She is more approachable and friendly than Wintour and appears surprisingly down to earth.

At one point in the documentary Coddington includes the camera man in one of her shoots. Wintour immediately checks that his stomach is photoshopped and as soon as she leaves the room Coddington vetoes this decision, making the point that not everyone in the world is perfect. It’s enough to have pages full of beautiful models – can’t one person in the magazine who is clearly not a model look normal?

Coddington, originally from North Wales, started out in the fashion industry as a model in the 1960s. After a spell with British Vogue she moved to America and has worked with US Vogue for the past 20 years. The two women have worked together for a long time and share a strange love/hate relationship. Throughout the movie these tensions are evident but after working for so long together they can be brutally honest and Coddington seems tough enough to take it.  

It’s pleasing to see that these two highly successful women are English. At the beginning of the documentary, Wintour says, in her strange southern English meets east coast American accent: “There’s something about fashion which frightens some people,” before holding the gaze of the viewer for just long enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

The film shows the reality behind the likes of the glamourised The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty. It is an interesting look into office politics and confirmation that every office in the world has an all important boss and many servants running around conducting menial tasks out of sight. At one point in the film a lowly assistant is sharply told “excuse me”, as the editor wishes to get past her to look at a photo spread. The young woman looks as if she’s just been slapped in the face while Wintour carries on regardless.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Coddington as she spends hours and hours shooting gloriously devised photo scenes only for them to be vetoed after a nod from Wintour, in place of a celebrity special Sienna Millar shoot. Although Coddington seems momentarily to fume with anger, it’s not long before she admits Wintour was first to use celebrities on the cover and this decision has been very successful in our celebrity obsessed world.

The issue features Miller in Rome and it’s interesting to see even the perfectly beautiful actress is photoshopped for the front cover and made to wear a wig because her hair wasn’t (according to Wintour), “looking its best.”

Real fur, size zero, pro-plus size and all other potentially controversial subjects are left out of the film and wouldn’t really fit in with the style of the documentary. It’s about looking past her trademark bob and glasses and into how the magazine prepared for the September issue.

Although Wintour appears harsh – how else can you become editor of the most powerful fashion magazine in the world?

In some slightly human moments, Wintour sits with her daughter who flatly refuses to enter the fashion world, preferring law school instead. Wintour’s father was the editor of the Evening Standard and her brother is the political editor of the Guardian – when asked what her family thinks of her career, a slip of emotion seeps though the steely exterior and she says, “they find it amusing.”

The film is a rare and interesting look behind the gloss and glamour of one of the world’s most influential magazines and gives a brief insight into how it’s run and the work behind this issue.

The woman behind the magazine has a cold exterior but behind the glasses she is a normal woman with a family. This is an excellent film for anyone interested in looking underneath the beautiful surfaces of the fashion world.


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A late Christmas present…

Everyone loves presents and here is a special Boxing Day treat…

As a long time SATC devotee I was totally against the first movie but watched it and fell in love. I can only hope from this brief splattering of lovely dresses the second will be as good.

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Too Fat? Too thin – who cares?

Copenhagen is the subject that should be on everyone’s minds. The world is dying – global warming is the single biggest issue to affect us and still world leaders can’t commit to doing anything about it. Instead of getting up and demanding action – most people don’t seem that bothered.

Most papers and magazines make mention of the issues but nearly every magazine, and most tabloid papers, instead are filled with pictures of celebrities. Beyoncé has cellulite, Jennifer Anniston is too thin, Keira Knightly needs a burger – this kind of drivel is everywhere and these publications are flying off the shelves. 

Our nation appears obsessed with weight and tabloids hound celebrities to lose weight or gain pounds on a day-to-day basis.

It’s nearly Christmas time and the mounds of mince pies, Yule logs and all things festive, sweet and bad for you are piling up. In the lead up to Christmas there is a never-ending supply of sugar filled goods around in most offices.

As it’s only once a year everyone forgets their strict dietary regimes and puts off the scales until the New Year resolutions set in, and why not – we might as well enjoy the festive season as it does only come around once a year.

Our obsession with weight has once again riled its inquisitive head and the pro-size debate has emerged with more force than ever in the January ‘Size’ issue of V Magazine. Following pro-size publications in both the US Glamour and the German Brigitte another magazine is following suit.

Crystal Renn, a plus-size top model, and other slightly curvier than your average models will be appearing in the January issue, which is aimed at all shapes and sizes.

In a month when most of us are desperately trying to lose extra Christmas pounds, it will be a refreshing change to see real women in the magazine instead of the impossibly thin waifs that usually fill the pages of most mainstream mags.

And guess who will be photographing these normal sized women – famous photographers including Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber and you guessed it Karl “no one wants to see curvy women” Lagerfeld. It seems the fashion don has joined the bandwagon and no longer thinks curvy women should stay out of the catwalk – a Christmas miracle? or an excellent publicity stunt?

V Magazine’s editor-in-chief , Stephen Gan, said: “Big, little, pint-size, plus-size – every body is beautiful. And this issue is out to prove it.”

The fashion industry and its critics are forever obsessing over the weight of celebrities and models alike, and by creating this special issue the magazine is highlighting the fact that these women are different from the average model.

Fashion and celebrity blog Jezebel said:  “The flip side of highlighting one kind of model in a ‘special’ issue is that they’re actually being segregated, placed in a ghetto, away from the other ‘real’ models.”

However much this is true I still think it’s a good move towards making the fashion industry more acceptable and allows much of the female population to feel a bit better when glancing through the latest edition of their favourite fashion magazine.

Glamour‘s and Brigitte‘s plans do seem to be more long-term than V’s one off edition. Brigitte is to replace size zero models with normal women  from next year, and Glamour has stated  it would be “committing to picturing a wide range of body types in our pages.”

The plus size models in V’s January edition are an average UK size 12-14 and as the UK average female size is a 16 –  it’s hardly representative of our nation.

But the fashion industry, which stringently clings on to it’s size 0 models, is beginning to change – it is a tiny step but we can hope, while writing our new years resolutions, that in  2011 models will include more normal sized women.

Maybe in the new year we will stop talking about weight and start worrying about the future of the world…however, if this year’s headlines are anything to go by it’s unlikely we  will get bored of this compulsive obsession – the issue will rage on well into 2011.

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Do you have the Abercrombie and Fitch look?

Go into any Abercrombie and Fitch store and the immaculately looking shop assistants that float by might make you think you were wondering around the streets of Hollywood. Everything about them is perfect and when the chiselled male employees walk around shirtless you can, again, forget you’re actually in a clothes store.

The brand is famous and the clothes are ludicrously expensive –  the ultimate in preppy American glossiness that fills our TV screens, from Gossip Girl to One Tree Hill. They’re all wearing it and the company prides itself on its image of perfect white teeth and tans.

The company’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, is a super polished gentleman in his mid-60s, who while explaining the A&F brand once said: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.”

It’s the cool kids who are wearing A&E and the brand represents a uniform for upper-class college kids. A hoody might set you back £60 but the company needs to charge prices like this so they can afford to pay off all the lawsuits they seem to fall into.

In 2005 they had to pay $50m of a class action lawsuit brought by ethnic minorities claiming the company only hired white employees.

In 2002 when they released the ‘ironically’ named t-shirt slogan, ‘Two Wongs can make it White’ more criticism was voiced against the supposedly upstanding American company.

Again the company fell into trouble this year when they hired law student Riam Dean, 22, as a shop assistant in their London store. They obviously didn’t think her look was appropriate to the shop floor and forced her to work in the store cupboard.

Miss Dean has a prosthetic limb and when the managers found out they pushed her out of sight and she sued them for disability discrimination.

She was awarded £7,800 compensation for injury to her feelings, £1,077 for loss of earnings, and £136 damages.

A&F’s look policy states employees “should represent A&F with natural, classic American style consistent with the company’s brand” and “look great while exhibiting individuality”. Individuality – surely a prosthetic limb is the ultimate in individuality?

Marketing is huge to A&F and their sister store Holister, but the company is continually linked to race controversy. If you’re buying from A&F you are in turn paying off their lawsuits.

The price they charge for their ultra washed, slightly cooler than Gap, jeans is so high to allow the company to buy their way out of court.

Do you really need a look to be a shop assistant? Fashion is a ridiculous business, but the reason it is so lucrative is because it is selling an image and A&F are extending this into their shops.

A&F have their own standards but so do all fashion shops. Miss Dean is an example of unfair, disability discrimination and what some might hope is a wake up call to this fashion giant. But they have survived lawsuits before and if people still keep buying into the unrealistic A&F image, it is unlikely their policy will change.


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A high-spirited Christmas

Everyone enjoys a drink at Christmas but when your last mulled wine leads to a stay in hospital or a black eye, who is to blame? Was it the pub’s fault for selling you cheap drinks, did the council make an error licensing said pub, or are the emergency services not policing the streets well enough? Cardiff has a well-known reputation for alcohol fuelled revelling but is it really any worse than other cites in the UK and can it cope with the mass influx of high-spirited people over the festive season?

Cheap drinks on offer in a club on St Mary Street

Nearly every article written about the capital refers to high levels of  alcohol consumption and last summer it hit the headlines described as being in danger of becoming the binge drinking capital of the UK.

Dr Tony Jewell, Wales’s Chief Medical Officer, released his annual health report on Wednesday.

A Wordle picture of Dr Jewell’s report, the words in the largest text are words he has used the most.

Dr Jewell said: “About 45,000 hospital admissions and 1,000 deaths every year in Wales can be described as alcohol-attributable.” Christmas is a time when people tend to drink more, but these figures suggest underlying alcohol problems in Wales are bleak.

The plan proposed to tackle this is to introduce more education schemes, starting at  secondary school level. When someone is admitted to hospital they will also be given advice on alcohol to try and change their drinking habits.

Jenny Wilmott,MP, believes the real problem is a lack of overall government funding.

She said: “Ultimately, we need to tackle the growing levels of alcoholism across the whole country, not just in Cardiff, and this includes substantially increasing the level of funding for alcohol treatment programmes and centres.”

A major issue is supermarkets charging low alcohol prices. Recently both Tescos and Sainsburys stores, in St Mary Street, were denied an alcohol licence. The licensing committee refused these because they felt it would only fuel the drunken antics of the public in this area.

St Mary Street has been designated a saturation zone because of its high number of problems with alcohol related crime and disorder. This means the licensing committee will automatically deny licenses in the area to bars and clubs, and the police have greater controls to confiscate alcohol.

Councillor Ed Bridges, head of the licensing committee, talks about his thoughts on Cardiff and his role within the committee.

The police ask people they find intoxicated which bars and clubs they have been to and if a club is named repeatedly for encouraging binge drinking steps are put in place to remove its license.

A Designated Public Place Order Act was introduced in October which gives police more power to take alcohol away from those who are being violent or anti-social.

The council and the emergency services work closely together and Councillor Simon Wakefield believes it is best to leave the policing to the police because they know the beat and the reality on the ground better.

Police Inspector Tony Bishop believes Cardiff is not any worse than other UK cities and it has gained a bad reputation because it has an international stadium and several busy streets in such a compact area.

Insp Bishop discusses why Cardiff is such a unique city


During Christmas and the New Year the Millennium Stadium is used as a temporary hospital for minor injuries while the more serious are sent to University Hospital of Wales, Heath, Cardiff.

The Street Pastor team spend most of their weekends dealing with people who have had too much to drink. Ruth Samways, a member of the team said: “We are in direct contact with the emergency services and are able to administer basic first aid, hand out flip flops to replace high heels, or sit with people who are lost, distressed or disorientated – due to too alcohol intoxication. This frees up the police and ambulance crews to deal with the most severe cases.”

St Mary Street

Cardiff is a thriving city and it seems everyone, from students, Cardiff natives and visitors from the rest of Wales and England love to party here. It is easy and cheap to travel to the Welsh capital and when you’re here – the night entertainment is compacted in a very succinct area making it easy for the media to portray the city as a zoo at night.

The truth is the council and emergency services work closely to stop areas like St Mary Street being over-run with clubs and bars and they are well-equipped to deal with arrival of people over the festive season.

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North Korea and Sweden – a fashion partnership?

Apparently not.

The Swedish department store, PUB, was due to start selling the NoKo brand jeans, made in North Korea, last week but pulled the line after receiving huge opposition for trading with the isolated, hermit state.

The company claims the decision not to sell the £131 jeans was to avoid controversy and the designers defended their decision to trade with North Korea  stating their intentions were to increase contact with the isolated state.

It seems in fact the designers found a cheap way to manufacture the jeans and sell them with a huge mark up – with no consideration towards the oppressed workers in the communist state.

One of Noko’s designers told the BBC: “It’s a country that sometimes treats its citizens terribly, but we think our project is a way … to influence things”.

The naive, young designers clearly had no idea how much impact this decision would have and have little or no knowledge about political relations with the state.

Another entrepreneur responsible for the NoKo project, Kalle Tollmar, said it was a real shame, and some fashion insiders have called the move to drop the line cowardly.

Rene Stephansen, the store’s director, said they had not been told the label would be sold in-store, and pulled the line when they became aware of its North Korean ties via extensive media coverage.

The shop manager also suggested maybe Noko should remove the ‘made in China’ labels from their products.

One of the three young Swedish entrepreneurs who helped created the brand said when he heard the jeans were removed from the store he thought it was a joke and their intention was to use fashion to shake up the isolated links between North Korea and the western world.

The jeans, which are only available in black as blue denim is associated with American capitalism, were to go on sale with a price tag approximately equal to a North Korean’s salary for over two years.

The jeans are still available on the website but I doubt anyone with a shred of conscience would consider buying them – then again the fashion world is intrinsically linked with oppression and controversy so will anyone take any notice?

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Sony Bravia San Francisco Bouncy Balls – advert of the decade?

San Francisco is light, airy, peaceful, eccentric, musical and at the forefront of several major technology brands, most famously Apple. But what I really love about it is the comfort and honesty of this famous city that brings together all generations and classes of society – from a homeless man sleeping in Golden Gate park to George Lucas strolling along Ocean Beach.

The city, with its nauseatingly steep hills, was perfect to host Sony’s Bravia colour tv advert in 2005. The sight of 170,000 multi-coloured bouncy balls falling down the streets is captivating.

The advert ends with the line ‘Colour – like no other’ and is successful because it is real. There is no CGI and Sony focusses not on the technology of the TV but of the experience a viewer has – the emphasis is on colour and the plenitude of colours filling the screen over a background of the city captures the fun, exciting and weird nature of the city.

Using Jose Gonzalez in the background lulls us into a relaxed state of calm. The simple soft vocals and classical guitar create a lovely, soothing antidote to the fast paced images.

A distinct move away from CGI, this advert deserves to be number one because of the effective juxtaposition of Jose’s comforting vocals with the originality and quirkiness of watching thousands of multi-coloured bouncy balls in the streets of such a lovely city.

And if you want to know how it was made look no further…


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