Thursday, October 30, 2008

You can't make a silk purse out of a peasant's bag

I lay no claim to the following article, wittily and wickedly written by The Times regular columnist Caitlin Moran. But it's too funny to ignore. Especially the Guernica in ponyskin comment.

I promise to lay aside my Chanel bag-owning aspirations during this time of financial crisis. I am not, I repeat NOT, deranged and unpleasant. (oh my god! is that the latest denim blue
Chloé...). Just kidding.


October 27, 2008

You can't make a silk purse out of a peasant's bag

The handbag I would like most is a big, hollowed-out potato with handles; in times of crisis I could bake and eat it

Should I buy a £600 handbag? “What are you talking about?” many of you might ask. “What on Earth are you saying? Do you know that there's a recession on? Do you know that old people are having to throw their trusted companion-cat, Mr Whiskles, on the fire, just to keep warm? Didn't you see the It's Fun To Eat Worms! supplement in The Guardian? Should you buy a £600 handbag? What kind of obscene question is that? You're deranged and unpleasant.”

To which I say: “I know all that. I know. But Grazia magazine doesn't. Tell Grazia. It's Grazia that told me I should have a £600 handbag, that it would be a style investment. Tell Grazia!”

Of course, it isn't just Grazia that's making me think that I need a £600 handbag. I am not a simpleton. I am not so easily led. It's the Woman supplement of The Observer, too. Before I began reading these periodicals, my stance on “investment handbags” was that if I were going to make a £600 investment, it would probably be in post office bonds, not something that, by and large, lives on the floor in pubs, or which I sometimes use to carry 5lb of potatoes. But in the past year I've begun reading women's fashion magazines and am aware that I am in a handbag minority. Normal women, says Grazia, do not buy one handbag every five years for £45 from Topshop; normal women have dozens of handbags: small ones, potato-less ones, £600 investment ones such as a Mulberry tote. With mounting alarm, I learnt that having a £600 handbag is like having a crush on The Joker in Batman. It is an irreducible fact of being a woman.

The October edition of Observer Woman, however, brought matters to a head. Lorraine Candy, Elle's editor-in-chief, tried to go a week with just high street gear. On the Wednesday she writes: “I've failed. Today, I know that I cannot brave that front row with its cool bags and sexy ankle boots without the one thing that makes my outfit work: my new Chloé bag. I feel ashamed.”

I had a flush of horror: no one has ever passed judgment on my cheap handbag to my face. But then, this is a reserved country. I don't know how they would react to my £45 handbag somewhere more demonstrative - Portugal, say, or Texas. They might leap on to their chairs screaming “MAH GAHD!”, trying to hit my cheap handbag with a broom, as if it were vermin.

That night I made a decision. One of the modern wisdoms of womanhood is that eBay has fake designer handbags that you can't tell from the real thing. But despite typing in “great fake £600 handbags for £100” into the “Search” field, nothing came up. In despair I was driven to look for £600 handbags for £600. Vuitton, Prada, Chloé; £300, £467, £582. God, they were horrible. Like Guernica, in ponyskin. I tried to find one I liked. I really did. Tanned, tasselled and oddly shapeless, many resembled Tom Jones's knackers, with handles. Others were covered in straps, buckles and brasses, like some S&M horse. There was a whole shelf of leather clutches with gigantic gold clasps that looked a bit as if someone melted Grace Jones in 1988, leaving behind only her blouson leather jacket and huge earrings.

On page 14 of my Search Results I finally saw one I liked, by Marc Jacobs. It was bright, acid-house yellow, with a picture of Debbie Harry. But my joy in finding a £600 bag I liked was mitigated when, on closer inspection, it proved to be a canvas tote, for £17; basically, the only designer item I was attracted to was a Marc Jacobs carrier bag. I was thrown into existential despair.

I am not wholly unfashionable. I have learnt some things about style over the years. A bright-yellow shoe is surprisingly versatile, patterned tights are never a good idea. And if - through chaos, fate and backed-up laundry - you end up in an outfit of alarming randomness (socks, Crocs, tuxedo jacket and tricorn hat), you just look people in the eye and say, with crocodilian self-assurance: “I don't like to be too matchy-matchy.” But if I cannot connect with the finer things in life, if £600 handbags fundamentally revolt me, this must prove that I am a peasant. If I really were of noble blood, left by mistake on my parents' council house doorstep (as I still, albeit fadingly, believe), I would, surely, have an affinity with these things. It would be like the princess and the pea. I'd probably get a rash if I used a handbag worth less than £500. Every time my eye is unstoppably drawn to some bright red thing in “pleather” for £45, it's further confirmation that I am resolutely of the underclass.

If I'm honest, the handbag I would probably like most is a big, hollowed-out potato with handles on it. Then, in times of crisis, I could bake and eat the handbag and survive the winter. That is the way of my people. And yet, despite all this, my handbag-psychology denial rumbled on. Yes, those £600 handbags might be visually unappealing, I thought to myself. But maybe if you touch them, they have some manner of £600 magic that makes it all worthwhile.

“They will all be made of butter-soft leather,” I told myself, not really knowing what that meant. “You can always tell the difference close up. People who come near me and feel the bag will know my true nature.” I went to Liberty and walked around, touching the handbags, waiting for the enchantment to overwhelm me. They all just felt like handbags. I did, however, see a silvery purse that I liked. For £225.

“I am classy after all!” I thought, running to the till, incurring a £40 overdraft fine and a rumbling schism in my marriage. “Maybe I have a secret uncle who's an earl! True breeding will out! Finally I crave expensive designer items! I'm normal! Thank you, Grazia!”

Five days later the silver purse was pickpocketed on Gower Street. It turns out that thieves read Grazia, too. They can spot expensive accessories from 500 yards away. It also turns out that husbands do not read Grazia, and no matter how magnificent or loving they may be, they can't help themselves from sporadically saying “£225! For a purse!”, as if you've just deflated the Moon and put it in the bin. Again.

I've gone back to my £17 purse and £45 handbag. I know my place in the handbag class system. My name is Caitlin Moran, and I am an accessories peasant.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Singapore Biennale 2008

I haven't an artistic bone in my body.  I can't paint (except the occasional piece of furniture), and I can't draw (except for a fairly decent stick figure).  Therefore, I am always very inspired and moved by artists who have a vision and execute it.

The Singapore Biennale 2008 is the second time that Singapore has hosted an art biennale.  I chatted with several overseas clients who managed to visit it on their trip to Singapore, and they consistently mentioned that the biennale's standard was one of the best they'd seen.  Therefore, my curiosity was piqued and I went to check it out myself.

It was a mixture of good and average, with some exhibitions leaving me quite breathless.  The venue was also interesting - old Supreme Court in SIngapore.

Here are the highlights of what I liked:

"Singapore 2008" by Wit Pimkanchanapong from Thailand
A life-sized Google Earth map installation of Singapore where visitors to the exhibition could interact with post-it notes, simulating the online tagging of places (right down to specific addresses) on Google Earth.  I left a little post-it right over my house :)

"Tropicana 2008" by E Chen from Taiwan
An elaborate woollen set, complete with mailbox, scooter, chairs, tables and a little garden - a motor quietly and slowly unravels the entire set until it becomes a pile of yarn.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  The transcience of objects - right down to art.

"Little Guilin: (Bukit Batok Town Park) Singapore 2008" by Gary Carsley from Australia
This one is a nice little surprise.  The artist took IKEA furniture (cheap at best) and transformed the interior of the closet and drawers into an elaborate, precious work of art.  From a photo, he painstakingly re-creates the image of Little Guilin with layers and chip of veneer.  His style, called Draguerreotype, references the process of dageurreotyping but with the idea of "drag" or dressing up.

"Blackfield 2008" by Zadok Ben-David from Israel
A two-dimensional sculpture - the viewer's perspective is challenged depending on the angle the installation is viewed.  Essentially an intricate field of tiny metal flowers and plants, it is a colourful and happy garden from one side.  On the other side, it is a charred and depressing "blackfield".  

And finally, the highlight for me was a mesmerising collection of photographs from Dutch photographer Desiree Dolron.  Her photography (which I later discovered after I saw her work at the Singapore Biennale 2008) is haunting and introspective.

This is what she displayed - a beautiful selection of photographic art which references Vermeer and the other Dutch masters who did beautiful portraits with the play of light.

Her work is so gorgeous it's worth checking out:

And in case you're too lazy but somehow managed to stumble upon *my* blog - then here's a few she took in Havana, Cuba - very romantic and melancholy.

I do look forward to the return of the Singapore Biennale in 2010.