I went to see the MET Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition the other day. Camp famously was the theme of last week’s MET Gala, and the exhibition opened as soon as the confetti had been hoovered from the entrance hall. Those who are planning a trip to the Big Apple, the exhibition runs through 8 September.
I’m peppering this post with pictures, as otherwise there’s no way to describe what was on display. The exhibition was well curated, as can be expected of the MET -people – it is not huge, but it was really well put together. Unless you meditate and reflect in front of every single exhibit, you will be done in an hour. There was a fair amount of literary references (hello Oscar Wilde!), and the first several exhibition windows presenting the outfits were all emblazoned with quotes from Susan Sontag’s Camp- essay with the recorded sound of an old-fashioned typewriter on the background. Otherwise the music was campy classics à la “Somewhere over the rainbow”.
The exhibition space was fabulously flamingo-pink (walls, ceilings, floors, light), and there were clearly lots of people, but not disturbingly many, and many iconic pop culture outfits were there at arm’s length. The ticket gives access to see the MET permanent collection as well, and I went to see my favourites, the sculptures, also because the sculptures hall was conveniently close (the MET is huge) and there was plenty Rodin in the corridor already.
Because America, the curators of the exhibition had also spent a moment to think about merchandise. Gucci and Balenciaga, amongst some other (apparently) campy labels had provided exclusive swag for the shop (600 dollar T-shirts and 200 dollar paperweights. I resisted.). The regular MET Gift Shop is a tourist attraction in itself, it is bigger than most European department store floors.
You can get into a campy mood already on the 5th Avenue, where some major shops (Valentino and Bergdorf Goodman in particular) have fabulously campy window displays, referencing the exhibition.
One of my favourites: an exquisite beaded cauliflower headpiece. Design by British Deirdre Hawken in 2013, using silk satin and chiffon, synthetic pearl beads and black elastic. An absolute must for any summer weddings – or why not autumn’s harvest festivities?
Whether you enjoy camp or not, Camp: Notes on Fashion is an excellent break from the NYC shop floor muzak, and history of fashion is always fascinating. Much recommended. Also, the now-famous posh NYC hotel The Mark (because Meghan Markle’s baby shower) is almost around the corner, so you can lurk around to see if there are any celebsconveniently stepping out. I personally had no luck.
Balenciaga’s take on Finland’s favourite national summertime footwear: Crocs. I finally have the ultimate validation to what I have been saying since the plastic “shoes” hit the shops: Crocs belong in the museum of camp.
I thank the curators of the MET for their understanding.
Pictures of Master Archie’s toes have made it to this side of the Atlantic, thanks for asking. It’s a relief to see proof that he has all ten of them. Other than that it was a quiet Sunday as the weather was horrible, but I found refuge in a bookstore around the corner and observed people (in a socially acceptable, discreet manner – I’m not a stalker) in the hotel lobby bar the rest of the afternoon.
I knew I had to leave Manhattan to see another woman with short hair, so I took the L-train to Brooklyn today. If you don’t follow the Accidental Iconyet, I would strongly recommend you start now. Her Instagram account @iconaccidental is fantastic, as is her blog. Lyn Slater is a 65-year old professor of social work and a blogger/social media influencer, and I met her today.
The deal was to do a one-hour photo-walk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, organised by Apple, and learn form a top influencer the tricks of the trade for taking interesting pictures for social media. The truth is of course that the pictures of Accidental Icon are taken by her spouse, who is a professional photographer, but all the same, it was very interesting to do something like this.
Lyn Slater told us about why she started the blog five years ago (boredom, could not find interesting content online that would really resonate with her) and how she started out on Instagram (black & white photos, because no-one else was doing it). All this was super interesting, because she has kept her day job all along, and is only taking outfit photographs in New York, doing “a lot with very little”, as she said herself.
About the event itself, we were about 20 today, schlopping around Brooklyn in pouring rain, stopping to take pictures of the Accidental Icon as well as of ourselves. We received a quick introduction to how to make the most of the cameras in our iPhones, and after the walk we were again instructed on how to make best use of the editing tools.
It is very obvious that I do not have the luxury of having a photographer in tow to document my outfits on a daily basis. Also I have not been 100% convinced that featuring what I wear would be of much interest – it might also end up a short-lived and boring exercise as I have very few clothes, and was never really meaning to make this blog about what I wear.
Lyn Slater’s spouse Calvin is taking a picture of her – he’s the one with the black ponytail.
I don’t have anything to share as far as today’s lewk is concerned. I had thought about an outfit for this event, but the weather continued to be unbearably shitty and cold, so I ended up wearing everything I had with me and looking like a hobo instead. But here we are. Inspired by the experience, I will think about how to incorporate pictures of outfits in the blog. Eventually. Hope you enjoy today’s harvest.
And do check out the Accidental Icon. It is bloody refreshing to see people over 25 years do style. Love it.
I have taken all pictures here, except for the ones with me on them, which have been taken by Lyn Slater’s spouse.
P.S. This is not a sponsored post in any way despite the Apple-mention. I saw the advert for the event on @iconaccidental feed and signed up. The Apple-store in Williamsburg organised the photo walk and facilitated the editing of the pictures. I am not doing this post (or anything else) at their request, also I’m getting nothing from them.
1. I am the only woman on Manhattan with short hair.
It’s like religion here, for women to have long hair. The only woman who did have short hair was the Saks Fifth Avenue salesperson. She complemented on my hair, and while I know she’s paid to do exactly that, I immediately bought three Gucci-lipsticks.
I envy all the unreal manes that come my way, and then try to remember the reasons why I cut mine: in short, mine was never going to be an unreal mane. In a good way.
I am presenting you evidence above. It is bad quality because I used filter to get rid of the yellowness. I went to a book signing by one of my favourite Instagram illustrators, Julie Houts (@jooleeloren) at Kate Spade store on Madison Avenue. I was basically going almost directly from the airport, except that I had a quick cocktail with a friend before, but so yes basically directly, and once I was in the shop I realised it was going to be a very intimate affair. We were a handful of people. Which is just as well, because Houts’ mane clearly needs a room to itself.
Everybody else was all glossy hair and cute dresses while I looked like an Upper West Side psychiatrist in (by now crinkled) linen getup. Also I had not prepared a question and felt massively intimidated, but then fuelled by the combination of the cocktail and jet lag I launched into a short, hyperventilatory presentation about how much we in Europe enjoy Houts’ observations on Trump.
I only felt mortified afterwards when I realised that the point of the book signing was to actually buy the book, which I had already, but did not take with me on this trip because it weighs a ton. Again I was too intimidated to ask Houts to sign a random piece of paper or my notebook. Staring at the glossy crowd from my short-haired & middle aged corner, I kind of slouched down the stairs like a tired slinky and made an embarrassed exit from the store. So European of me.
2. I am the only person on Manhattan who does not have dietary restrictions.
– Any allergies, ma’m?
– No, I’m good thanks.
(Face emerges) – So just that you know there’s onion in the taco sauce.
– Yeah I’m good.
(Face shrugs and leaves)
Next time I’ll mention something about night shade legumes. I’m not sure what they are, but I read there’s a diet that makes you not eat them. I think it was keto.
3.Customer is King.
This is intimidating for someone whose favourite city is Paris and who’s thus become a sucker for punishment. I generally don’t want to cause inconvenience to the staff in a restaurant. In continental Europe you’re the waiter’s bitch and should be lucky if they bring you what you thought was what you ordered. Or anything, without being rude and/or obnoxious.
On the other hand the megawatt-smile people over here also want you to haul your ass out of their establishment the minute you are finished with your coffee. And not, like, a second later.
4. Everybody is either talking about a wedding or a baby-shower
The very best thing about being out and about alone is the fact that one can pretend to read, but actually one is eavesdropping every conversation around and taking notes. NYC- uniform for women: an insanely thick ponytail, Lululemon fleece and black yoga pants, all-black Nike trainers and a big-ass diamond on their ring finger. Literally. Everyone.
Overheard in a park:
– So what’s your workout tomorrow? I’m like doing a ten o’clock class on Spring Street because I have this baby shower later I have to go to.
– Oh so you’re going now?
– Yeah it’s like I had to pay an advance of fucking 100 dollars so yeah I kinda have to go now.
– So whose shower is it?
– It’s this Amy from office and it’s like ok, I went to her last shower and it was like so fucking boring though. I just wanted to get drunk but she had no alcohol there and it was just so boring.
Overheard at an upmarket gift-shop that specialises in posh decoupage of insects*:
Male cashier: – Get out! You’re coming to Mike’s wedding too? That’s like so awesome!
Female customer: – I yeah I’m like his husband’s cousin so yeah I’m totally going.
Male cashier: – They’re registered with us so it’s like really exciting to see what people are getting them.
Male cashier: – I’m one of the flower-girls at the wedding by the way, I’m so psyched.
Female customer: – Oh that’s like so awesome.
5. Fantastic bookstores.
There are three absolute favourites: The legendary independent multi-storey bookseller Strand, another indy bookshop in SoHo, McNally & Jackson (they have an extremely comfortable adjacent café) and Rizzoli on Broadway, in the Flatiron district, which is beautifully curated and has an extensive section for art, fashion and photography. I spend inordinate amounts of time in New York bookstores, and still have not yet even proceeded to the second floor of Strand during this trip**.
The nice thing about independent bookstores is that they are unashamedly liberal, and usually have huge selections of liberal, feminist literature and anti-establishment merchandise, or swag, as us Manhattanites like to call the weird crap you don’t need at all, but it’s situated conveniently next to the cashier and which, at the time, makes all the sense in the world.
P.S. I’m writing this on a terrace and am listening in to the table next to me (crowd of four).
– Did you guys know that in Europe they speak like so many languages? It’s like so crazy.
– Yeah I heard they like have one mother tongue and then they like have to learn another language, so everybody in Europe is like bilingual.
– That’s so crazy.
– Like totally.
– So they learn these languages even in like regular public schools?
– Yeah like that’s what my friend tells me.
– I speak like ten words of Japanese.
– That’s so awesome man.
– So what’s like, thanks in Japanese?
– It’s arigatou.
– Fucking awesome.
* This is mainly the reason why I take my holidays alone. Thank you for your understanding.
** This is the other reason why no one wants to do city breaks with me.
The blessed May is here. There’s barely a full working week in the cards for the next couple of weeks, and this sparks terribly much joy. It’s again the time of a year I feel I’m permanently knackered, be it hay fever or my body somehow not realising the days are getting longer and it really should play ball rather than feel old. It is also possible I’m simply old.
I have been an expat for almost half of my life. I rarely miss the country where I grew up for the first (almost) 20 years (I left for a year when I was 17). Nowadays when I travel to Finland and the plane starts its descend and I look at the waterfront and the forests and the light and, well, the endless forests, it almost feels more exotic than nostalgic.
There are days when I do not use my first language at all. I cannot use my mother tongue for anything useful in my daily life – none of my immediate colleagues speak or understand Finnish, and I obviously cannot get anything done in Belgium in Finnish. It’s an odd thing sometimes, to realise how many of my friends and colleagues are able to carry on with their lives using the language of their emotions.
I keep up with reading books and news online, chatting with friends and family via social media and of course by catching up live with local compatriots (so liberating to swear to your heart’s content in a fancy restaurant without anyone understanding! To be able to gossip about anything without the hush! The luxury of mastering such an obscure, good-for-nothing language!).
An interesting thing happens whenever I visit Finland. I become a different person. This new person is very fond of linen tea towels adorned with unaesthetic symbols, quite possibly derived from a national epoch or similar, as well as of decorative objects made of different types of wood. As I walk the streets of Helsinki I Oh! and Ah! at totally random things, praising the Scandi freshness and the innovative take together with the other tourists. So many clever things, such as that little, overpriced (but handmade!) box made out of, um, birch bark. Look at that darling mug, carved out of burl! Needs to have!
I find myself elated at any clothing store that sells garments designed and made for Nordic women, because we are ginormous compared to our central European sisters. I can fit my ass into a pair of trousers just like that! This never happens in Belgium! I run around, blinded by bright things with bold patterns, will quickly conclude them to be a spectacularly good idea, and return to Brussels with meters of cotton that, depending on how I finally install it on my corps, either looks like a circus tarpaulin or an unfortunate pair of curtains from a 70s movie set.
Then there’s the food. I suddenly feel obliged to savour every single obscure regional & traditional dish that comes my way just because. I lunge at pierogis and concoctions made of tiny Baltic fish. Yesterday I ordered a coffee with a cinnamon bun (which is gluten free for the purpose of this story, thank you for your understanding), and was given a choice of four different kinds of cinnamon buns, which means that I have to go there every day now, to try all of them, because what if they stop making them? I will haul back delicacies, causing my Rimowa to smell rank for weeks, because while I have been away, food has stopped being available in Belgium.
While I’m high on Finnish folklore, there’s really only one thing to rapidly bring me back to Earth and to remind me where the home truly is. That would be the bill following an afternoon glass of rosé at a Helsinki eatery. Dear reader, you’ll get a decent glass of wine for under half a million euros even in Paris, but not in Helsinki you don’t.
Which is probably a good thing. A drunken rampage at a birch bark-shop would surely not end beautifully.
I spoke to a class of university students the other day. Topic du jour was climate change, climate action policy and communications. Therefore it was not surprising to have the following question come up during the Q & A:
– What is green and what is green enough for you?
I showed off my full professional capabilities by elegantly ducking the actual question, and instead replied to a question I was prepared to answer. The question from the audience didn’t leave my head, though. What’s green enough?
The next evening I was having dinner with a friend and we were discussing her recent trip overseas.
– “I felt so embarrassed for flying. It felt so wrong to post anything on Facebook or Instagram about the trip, so I made a big show of highlighting that I actually went to see family and not just jetting about for fun”, she said.
Another friend told me that their annual girls’ trip destination would be St Petersburg this year, because it is accessible by train from Helsinki.
– “Because we couldn’t justify flying”, she explained.
I myself got the biggest kick for a long time when I found out about an amazing artisan cobbler in Brussels and prontissimo took my footwear for her care (follow her on Instagram @_ledispensaire_). In all honesty I also felt the biggest embarrassment as I realised I was unearthing shoes I had actually forgotten I had (I have to point out here that I have expensive tastes as regards footwear, which made the embarrassment chill me to the bone).
I decided “that was it” for buying more shoes until foreseeable future. This weekend I got to thinking whether I could also stop buying clothes for a while? Given that I don’t need anything (none of us really do), how much stuff is it still OK to want for oneself?
I shall spare you from the science and politics of climate action and all things related, but even if we leave out the warming globe of the argumentation, our lifestyles have become unsustainable on many counts. I am the first to confess that for many years an invitation to a party also meant an excuse to buy a garment for the occasion. It is not once or twice I have made the last-minute ambush to Zara or H&M in search of a perfect party top, which, post-party, mainly ended up collecting dust rather than further wears.
The fast fashion chains seemed legit in the beginning, because we all wanted fashion to be democratised. They made trendy dressing accessible, mainly because most of their stuff is inspired by the collections of couture fashion houses. Today fast fashion not only keeps the masses clothed, but also is a major contributor to the apocalyptic mountains of fabric waste (mainly cotton) that is becoming impossible to recycle – even partly.
I am not judging where people should buy their clothes or shoes. Anything legal is perfectly fine – it’s more a question of how much do we want and how often do we want to buy. I recently read about a blogger who orders stuff from Zalando, takes photos of the mail-order goodies for Instagram and then returns everything.
This is the problem: keeping up the appearance that an endless amount of clothing is desirable, normal, accessible and something one should strive for (because of course her followers were not told that she does notactually own the clothes she models on the pictures).
I fully see the paradox here: I love reading fashion magazines and I follow a large number of style influencers on social media. It is inspiring to look at new things, and I crave that inspiration. It is fun to try and buy new things. When does it become unsustainable (not just from an environmental point of view, but also morally)?
I am already seeing more and more bloggers and social media influencers taking it down a notch with the frantic hysteria of acquiring new stuff. This must be difficult, because for many their income solely relies on selling glamorous lifestyles and creating needs people didn’t know they had. I am not advocating the shutting down of the economy, moving into tree-houses and feasting on wood chips to save the planet. I am merely wondering what could be the middle-ground that would allow us to enjoy fashion and trends, dress interestingly and satisfy our need for fresh things, while at the same time ensuring that we don’t actually suffocate on stuff.
I am not making any bets or promises for this year as regards buying clothes/shoes/accessories, but I will try to cut any purchases to an absolute minimum. In full disclosure: I have bought two pairs of shoes this year (I know, it’s only February so it’s not looking good) and two pieces of clothing.
Also I flew one return flight already. It was for work.