High is the new low

June 16, 2009

high-waisted vintage skirtSpurned since the 1950s, it re-emerged in earnest two seasons ago courtesy of Valentino’s Spring Paris collection, only to be steadfastly ignored by even the hottest high street trend-setters.

But this season it has spread like wild fire, onto the cat-walks and into Topshop, showing no sign of abating in it’s quest to re-introduce a style fashion has neglected for more than 50 years: the high waist.

Like it or loathe it, the waist is back with a vengeance. And after having all but disappeared from the scene in the ‘60s, every shop on the high street is choc-a-bloc with a glorious array of waist-cinching ultra-feminine skirts and trousers.

The timing of the reintroduction should be seen as part of a bigger picture. Last week’s International Women’s Day provided us with the chance to pause and reflect on gender equality – and nothing reflects society in a more visual way than what we wear.

Rejected for its house-wifely connotations, women, who were competing for the first time with men for jobs and social status, moved in the 1960s to a more androgynous style of clothing which emphasised flatter chests and slimmer hips, heralding the beginning of heroin-chic on our catwalks.

This was taken a step further in the ‘80s to Thatcher-esque shoulder pads, equipping women, visually at least, with a formidable demeanour to compete with their male counterparts.

So what has sparked a return to celebrating a style that harks back to the days when a woman’s most pressing task in life was to have dinner on the table by seven? Have old quarrels been forgotten? It is a sign of the times that women are secure enough to start flaunting this part of their anatomy again?

Perhaps because it oozes tailored-chic, the high waist flatters almost every body shape. But for those whose waists are more curvy than chiselled, there are a vast array of styles to suit everyone –no wardrobe should go without.

True to form, Topshop has produced its range with a nonchalant funky vibe, playing on the ‘50s theme, yet using bright colours and modern patterns to update this style.

Its floral prints are particularly flamboyant and mirror the cool attitude exuded by Versace’s glowering models, who stomped down the catwalk dressed in mini high-waisted silk shorts from the spring/summer 2009 collection.high-waisted skirt

Cheap and cheerful, Primark have a vast array of bargain buys for the fashion conscious. Their stripy A-line mini-skirts (£9) are a particular favourite, and add flair to a summer wardrobe.

But care should be exercised when approaching high-waisted shorts and trousers. These styles tend to accentuate even the faintest of curves, so be wary: this style is not for everyone. Wide-leg jeans and trousers are more forgiving and give the illusion of legs that go on and on.

It has taken a while for fashion to re-embrace womanly curves. Perhaps it’s just been too long since they were seen last, but whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that a cinched waist will instantly achieve a kind of vampish appeal men just can’t compete with. Or resist.

vagNerve-endings, wet-dreams and pubic hair; true to form, television series Gavin and Stacey stars Margaret John and Joanna Page, and broadcaster Sian Lloyd don’t beat around the bush. Pun intended.
Based on author Eve Ensler’s vagina interviews, conducted with women from all over the world, Vagina Monologues is part Sex and the City, part hearth-side gossip. At times it will have you crying with laughter; at others with heart-wrenching sadness.
Although superficially the play explored a woman’s relationship with her genitals, the three actresses highlighted some of the issues which have historically plagued women world-wide.
Inevitably many of the women interviewed shared the same fears, insecurities and secret pleasures, and the performance relied on these themes for its depth and humour – it is a monumental landmark in understanding and celebrating female sexuality without the burn-your-bra form of feminism which alienates so many.
Although dated (the play was written in the 90s and features a Bosnian rape victim), Vagina Monologues is essentially geared towards the middle-aged and older generations and the performance sometimes felt forced, with over-zealous shock statements slapped in for good measure.
On the other hand, this only highlighted the shift in attitudes towards women and their bodies over the last 40 years, making many of the monologues all the more poignant.

The Vagina Monologues is a mass female visit to the therapist, and aims to put to bed unhealthy, but ingrained, attitudes towards women and their sexuality. But while the topics are still relevant, it is high time they were re-addressed and re-vamped.

Hair: what to do with it?

Here come the girls…

February 4, 2009

 

dsc02421The Buffalo Bar on Windsor Place is one of the funkiest places to go in Cardiff most nights of the week.

Last Thursday they hosted ‘Buffalo Boutique’, a retro clothes sale, when the whole upstairs dance floor was transformed into a boudoir complete with dimmed lights and a feast of vintage clothes, hand-made accessories and nicknacks. 

The best stand was probably Kitty’s Corsets, a beautiful collection of corsets, fabulous Edwardian-style lace umbrellas and, oddly, a weird and wonderful array of nipple tassels. Kitty designed and made everything herself, and she was there selling her wares, setting the scene nicely by wearing a deliciously sexual black and red corset over her dress, voluptuous breasts barely contained.

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Girls swarmed in their dozens, polite, but barely concealing their frantic scrabble for the occasional gem lying among the hats, shoes, jumpers and dresses. The earrings were a particular favourite – and cheap to boot – most pairs were just £2.

Buffalo regularly hold events like this so watch out for the next one on their website. At only £3 a ticket the evening was certainly good value, particularly for a girls’ night out. 

For the boyfriends and male company waiting (maybe not so) patiently downstairs, there was a vast array of special beers and good music. Boys beware: the atmosphere on ‘the boys floor’ was uncannily reminiscent of outside a Topshop changing room!

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dsc02487Any act which begins: “Ladies, gentlemen and people from Splott”, is sure to get a Cardiff audience riled up and ready to go.

Essex lad Russell Kane‘s intelligent performance consisted of pulling the carpet from underneath traditional family relationships, and humorously examining his theory of flaws; an analysis of the British psycology, it’s threshold of affection and love of all things broken or worn. 

Although a little unsure of how to approach the Welsh/English divide, Kane battled through his obvious discomfort to comically evaluate his fixation with his father. Obviously the guy is a very troubled soul, but incredibly entertaining nonetheless, and it is always thoroughly enjoyable to see the flaws of our fellow men and women being reenacted onstage.

Click here for tour dates.

Googlemap key: Red: pubs closed in 07/08 (compiled by British Beer and Pub Association). Blue and Purple: Local pubs in operation (purple indicates multimedia).

As you wonder through the streets and suburbs of Cardiff, though there are numerous bars and clubs jostling for attention with their bright signs and funky beats, it is only after searching that you will find a lonely and forlorn traditional local pub, squeezed between fast-food outlets and yet another Wetherspoons.The Rummer Tavern

Despite falling steadily in number, paint cracking and décor worn, they stand resolutely among them almost as a relic from another time, serving as a reminder of the days when they held the city together.

Figures released by the British Beer and Pub Association last year revealed 27 pubs per week closed throughout the UK in 2008, with Wales particularly affected. And despite being the commercial hub and lifeline of the Welsh economy, Cardiff has not escaped the head-count.

November’s pre-budget rise of 6% on alcohol duty added to the existing pressure on the pub trade. But will this mean last orders for local pubs already struggling to survive after the smoking ban in 2007?

High prices have driven punters to drink in their homes, where they can avoid crippling alcohol prices and enjoy a cigarette with their beverage.

But although a range of factors – from a crackdown on drink driving to, dare I say it, the credit crunch – have contributed to the problems these establishments are facing, as modern life has changed, so have the drinking habits of Cardiff’s young.The Pen and Wig

Rhys Williams is 22 and lives in Cardiff Bay. He said: “I don’t really have a local. We just go into town. There’s a few clubs and bars I normally go when I’m out, but if I just wanted a beer or something I’d probably go round to my mates house.”

Grangetown, a traditional working-class community in Cardiff, was once an area where local watering holes flourished, providing labourers from the nearby docks with a much-needed pint after a hard-days work.

But the closure of local pubs, like the Lord Winston in Grangetown, indicates the changing traditions and local pastimes of the city.

Yasir Tufail, 27, has lived in Grangetown all his life. He said: “Loads of pubs are closing down because the drinking culture’s changed, people drink at home.”

He added: “We [Muslims] are always told not to drink even though we do. So we don’t really go to the pubs. Pub people play football because of the drinking culture. We do boxing instead”.

Rita Feresey, who has worked at The Grange for 36 years, said although there are still some regulars at the pub, most of the young now go to the city centre, and feels sorely the loss of community spirit which local pubs brought to the area.

But The Golden Cross, a listed building and one of the few gay bars in Cardiff, has managed to hold on to its customers, and say business is still booming despite the smoking ban.

Manager Richard Anderson said: “in theory it’s a gay bar so that’s why we get in a lot of the local gay population, the same as the Kings Cross up the road.”

“Because we’ve got such a loyal clientel, this place will always stay open. There’s not many gay bars in Cardiff, they’ve got to have some place to go.”

Pubs have played an important role in British life over the centuries. So much so that Wales without its public houses is hard to imagine.

But the face of Cardiff is continually changing. The Vulcun on Adam Street, built in 1853, is one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff and is due to be pulled down this year to make way for St David’s 2 car park. (Click here for Save The Vulcan facebook group).

Brian Smart, who works at The Vulcan said: “they should have developed the area and left the pub. That would have been the best plan. But they [the council] don’t see it that way.”

Many a pub in Butetown has struggled to keep its head above water since the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay, so I spoke to Tina Paulakis, owner of the Albion in Penarth and South Glamorgan Brains winner of CAMRA (Campaign for real Ale) in 2008, to find out how she managed to reinvent her pub.

(Click here)

Communities drastically divided by these redevelopments have left local pubs, and the traditions they bring with them, to be cleared out along with the rubble.

The Missing Link?

December 28, 2008

In terms of blogging, Jeff Jarvis sagely advocates doing what you do best and linking to the rest.

With information overload on the net, why not link to sites with better material or technology, and stick either to the things you know inside out, or have exclusive knowledge about?

A point reiterated whole-heartedly by sports writer Rick Waghorn, the brains behind myfootballwritter.com, a programme based on football, but facilitating his wider vision; to enable local journalism to flourish.

While his ideas are potentially intriguing, in practise his concept does not seem to be catching on, and Waghorn has already had to abandon two fledgling projects.

In fairness to him, the current economic climate can’t be helping much, and in theory both Jarvis and Waghorn are barking up the right tree.

But the problem with this attitude is it regurgitates content. If, as Waghorn promotes, big news organisations like the BBC trade better quality interviews with stories they haven’t the manpower to cover from local media, it follows that invariably you will keep seeing the same material – interviews, footage – on different sites.

And without a healthy sense of competition within the media, we could be moving back into the very era of journalism we are currently trying to detach ourselves from; the monopolisation of the media by a chosen few.

Robert Peston is a prime example. Widely known as the journalist of the financial crisis, Peston boasts unrivalled contacts, exhaustive knowledge and credible insight. Millions link to his blog – why say it when someone else can say it better?

Consequently he enjoys a fearsome presence in financial journalism. And although it would be unfair and untrue to accuse Robert Peston of single-handedly causing a recession, with God-like stature he stated: there will be a crisis. And it was so.

It is difficult to compete with such a fountain of knowledge. And whilst changes in the media industry which encourage journalists to specialise are in so many ways a good thing, as Nick Davies maintains in his book, Flat Earth News, this can also contribute to churnalism. If we are not careful, Davies argues, the free-for-all edge will be taken out of journalism, and thus, its integrity.

The web offers journalists the opportunity to tap into an enormous wealth of content and this is changing the way they collect information. Additionally there is a growing thirst for specialist journalists from readers whose expectations have risen because of the in-depth information already available on the internet. 

Using the example of Peston, those without his array of contacts can gain a useful insight into the finacial market by linking to his blog. But a balance must be struck so this technology can be used in a creative and thoughtful way.

Tights, glorious tights!

December 7, 2008

For the lithe-limbed, choices are endless.

Swirls, tartan, shocking pink, paisley –  you name it, you can probably find it – Mod Cloth and their peacock feather tights are a particular favourite of mine.

But if your legs are shapely rather than gazelle-like, even a hint of colour adds pounds.

I have coaxed myself into the changing rooms many a time, in the hope that funky tights will not do my (unfortunately short) legs an injustice…to no avail.

Each time I once again promise myself faithfully to black leg-wear; a colour with which you simply cannot go wrong. Not only are they fantastically slimming, but they make even the most crutch-skimming of clothes socially acceptable.

Dependable they may be, but with so many wierd and wonderful tights in the shops this season, you cannot help but feel a little out of the loop.

The answer: Chanel!

Chanel have up-ed the anti with their two-toned tights. Epitomising cool, classic chic, they are perfect for office-to-party wear, but most importantly, they give your legs a wonderfully polished, chiselled look, thanks to the leg-lengthening strip at the back.

Attributed to MissLovely

Vogue’s Jessica Bumpus advocates Chanel’s sheer variation (see here) which, darker above the knee than they are below, are equally desirable – and add a surprising amount of length to legs too.

For a more affordable variation on a winter necessity, River Island do 40s-style tights; neutral with an iconic black line running up the back. Accessorize have the same in black.

For tights-enthusiasts, Csakura has a great blog on Fasity (see it here).

Get a (second) life

November 20, 2008

Imagine this scenario: You enter a room to find your partner engrossed in the computer. Nothing strange about that.

But suppose your partner was preoccupied with placating a furious online boyfriend, or heavy petting their cyber girlfriend…

Or even enjoying fellatio after paying virtual money for a two-dimensional hooker?

You may or may not think this is a big deal. But Amy Pollard divorced her husband over it.

Amy and David Pollard met five years ago in a chat room, and their legal marriage, although short, nonetheless survived their online marriage.

Both have an avatar, a Second Life character through which the ex-couple exist in cyberspace. These tend to look like the Brad Pitts or Angelina Jolies of this world, however acne ridden their creator may be.

Ironically Second Life offers people what they are trying to escape from in their first lives. Homes, families, finances, pets, albeit more glamorous ones.

But mostly it’s about trying to hook up with a cyberspace hottie.second-life_1

Stephen Lunn in his article Don’t be a virtual ass, rush out this second and get a life in The Australian, takes the view that sometimes people should just stand up, walk to the closest door, proceed through it and get themselves the hell outside.

But according to Philip Linden of Second Life, it enables people to ” Re-define what personal identity means, when expressed in a world where anybody can be anything, can do anything, and can create virtually anything.”

Second Life has generated huge interest in terms of its capacity to offer a low-budget platform where conferences or meetings can be run on limited funds. And Reuters even have their own Second Life reporter, Eric Reuters. In real life he is Eric Krangel, a technology journalist based in New York City.

But Communities Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Shane Richmond, said in an Online Lecture at Cardiff University: “Personally I can’t see it replacing the Internet, which gives a lot of information in a short space of time. If I have to walk or fly to read my email, it doesn’t really grab me.”

Despite scepticism from people like Mr. Richmond, we have left the era where the media industry can force ideas (however good) down the metaphorical throats of their audience.

Alex Davies explores a valid point in her blog about how the future of Online Journalism will be dictated by people, not technology – so if people want to interact on Second Life rather than traditional news sites, they will. Particularly since Second Life prides itself on being driven by user generated content.

But whether or not Second Life is destined to become bigger than say, Google, it brings to the forefront some interesting and relevant issues. And cases like the Pollards’ divorce enter into unchartered territory.

So how does the ordinary person navigate around already slippery relationship rules on the Internet? How would they react if their partner too were having an online “virtual” relationship? Would they see it as a pardonable offence, banishable behaviour, or just a bit of fun? And has the Internet changed our definition of infidelity?

Sex sells in Second Life, as it does in real life, and it’s no secret that cybersex is among the entertainments on offer in the programme. Entrepreneurial users even make real money as cyber hookers. (Link to interview with Evangeline, an online prostitute. Be warned; it’s fairly x-rated!)amster-dames02

But as the definition of reality becomes horribly blurred, we find ourselves in the midst of a whole host of moral dilemmas.

Unfortunately, rape in programmes like Second Life is not unheard of. Not only the “consensual” rape built into some games (although if you’re interested in that debate, Jess McCabe has an interesting blog about it). But a case last year in Belgium about a girl who claimed she was raped on Second Life raised frantic debates about what constitutes rape. (Mark Methenitis gives an overview of the legalities involved and advises police to use their time to catch real rapists).

While trawling through various sites on this subject, a comment by Brad Drac really stood out. He said:

“Second Life’s biggest appeal is that it’s content is entirely user created and governed. Unfortunately, this turns out to be more of a weakness, as the majority of the people playing it are incompetent, moronic, sexual deviants. Shit there’s even “adoption agencies” where people can rent kids. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine why.”

Amy Pollard knew her randy ex-husband was looking for something we can only guess was missing from their relationship. There was certainly another person interacting with her significant other, if not physically, than emotionally, so doesn’t that constitute cheating?

And this is what it comes down to. Web 2.0 is all about individuals and communities interacting directly with each other. And it is growing increasingly sophisticated to the extent that people are living out lives, perpetrating ‘crimes’, and making money, all of which are beginning to have consequences in their real lives.

Still, Second Life is still in its elementary form. I will watch with interest to see where its users take it.

Christmas Colour

November 18, 2008

What better colour to rescue us from our credit-crunch blues than a splash of pillar-box red?

Style icons Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Katie Holmes, Liv Tyler and Natalie Portman have all been spotted donning the statement scarlet, and it’s a firm favourite this year with Alexander McQueen, Versace and Valentino, who have used it to give their clothes a dramatic and modern flair.

Scarlett Johanssonvalentino spring 2008

Quintessentially British, pillar-box red evokes that best-of-British spirit and Christmassy feeling, but comes with a luxurious twist. A look perfected by Martine Mccutcheon in Love Actually.

I have been coverting some bright red leather gloves after I saw them in October’s Vogue. So far I have spied a few, the most beautiful being a pair of cashmere-lined red Italian leather gloves by Forzieri, spotted on Agnes Deyn after the Chanel Boutique opening night in London. Topshop also do a funky (and cheaper) pair. Head-to-toe crimson is not always appropriate, but a splash is an ideal way to spice up a winter wardrobe.

But there is nothing like the overstated glamour inherent in a bright red, beautifully tailored coat, which oozes just the right amount of sophistication, confidence and sexiness to make you stand out from the crowd.

I’ve seen a few scarlet-clad ladies strutting their stuff on the streets of Cardiff in the last few weeks, but didn’t pluck up the courage to scuttle after any of them to find out where they got their coats from…bring on the christmas sales!

But for those in the know, red is always a firm favourite. Italian fashion designer and style-god Valentino Garavani, said:

Red has guts…. deep, strong, dramatic. A geranium red. A Goya red … to be used like gold for furnishing a house … for clothes, it is strong, like black or white. – Valentino

Love Actually

Thanks to a rugby-mad younger brother, I had developed strong connections with rugby and shivering in the pouring rain while watching mud splattered schoolboys beat each other up on the pitch.

But at least I knew the basics. My friends and I booked the Wales v. Canada match on a whim, and while we were walking to the game, one of them asked if Johnny Wilkinson was playing…it is safe to say we weren’t your typical rugger fans.

We had left ticket collection to the last minute and queued for what seemed like hours. But our anticipation mounted at every shuffle forward, and by the time we reached the shop I was waving my credit card around wildly looking for 80 pound women’s-fit rugby shirts and anything emblazoned with a Welsh flag.

Our seats were on pitch level and we entered, beer-in-hand, bedazzled by the brilliantly bright lights. The bulging muscular men before me were suddenly the most attractive I had ever seen in my life. Beer-fuelled chants conveyed my heartfelt enthusiasm, I felt even more Welsh than the Welsh. Every time they scored or converted a try I jumping around like a maniac, an idiotic grin stretched from ear to ear.

Such is the intoxication of sport. No wonder my ex-boyfriend missed my birthday party because Arsenal were playing. At that instant I forgave all, my reaction to his non-appearance now seemed to me strangely hysterical and self-centred. How could I have been so insensitive?

By the end of the match I had clean forgotten my English heritage and felt I too would lay my life down for Wales. Just as the hulky yellow-shirted men had put their bodies on the line, my allegiance to the sport was, I felt, unwavering.

As we left the stadium and hit cold, drizzly reality, like an aphrodisiac wearing off my chants were delivered with less and less conviction (and misgivings about my former boyfriend came rushing back).

I started to think about the unfilled seats in the spectator stands, mirroring the problems that rugby is encountering in the current economic climate.

When I got home I read a blog by Delme Parfitt No Wonder Crowds Are Down who highlighted how members of the public are becoming increasingly choosy about how they spend money.

Numbers show many people are finding rugby matches too much of a financial stretch to the extent that Osprey boss Mike Cuddy announced in October his team wouldn’t be sustainable if current attendance levels continued.

The wider picture of this is worrying. Not only is sport an industry whose finances are the cogs setting the wheels in motion of so many things we take for granted. But in terms of the game itself, particularly during these dark financial times, those who do spend their money on rugby tickets want value for money; they want to be entertained. But what does this mean for players?

Sport is already an industry whose rules and practises are applied outside ‘normal’ boundaries. A case in Cardiff Magistrates Court last week dismissed a GBH charge because it was in the context of a football game. Another example: Gareth Jones, 28, a scrum half, was struck by Darren Ryan during a match at Cardiff Arms Park on April 20 and died in hospital two months later. The judge ruled it was a “tragic accident”. For good or for bad, people expect players to put their bodies on the line for their entertainment.

As warm-blooded females, my friends and I were deeply disappointed that Gavin Henson, pretty-boy and key Welsh player, was missing from the pitch. But his long-suffering Achilles tendon problem also saw him miss out on playing against South Africa a few weeks ago.

The decision not to play him in that match was left until the 11th hour, hoping something could be done to enable him to play, when of course he shouldn’t (and in the end, didn’t). At that time he hadn’t even been training fully and his recurring injury was triggered in a game the week before because he played too early.

Adverts like this Nike onei_love_rugby_2i_love_rugby mirror how we view this kind of behaviour in sport as heroic, rather than stupid.

Just like millions of other rugby fans, my friends and I were overawed at the examples of brutal strength displayed on the pitch. But although sportsmen and women accept risk as a condition of their employment, managers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their players, particularly as there are presently even greater pressures from fans to perform.

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