Thursday, 15 December 2011

My very own Christmas gift guide

One more year, it's almost Christmas/Hanukkah time. And one more year, as it's customary, media and multinational companies try to make us buy more things/eat more food than we can actually deal with. Every self-respecting magazine makes its very own, very complete "gift guide", filled with the most absurd gift ideas you could imagine. Among some of the gems I've seen this year are a diamond-encrusted usb key which costs several thousand euros, a golden mask- as in Carnival mask- at 500 euros, and an army of perfumes whose brands mysteriously are magazine advertisers (I won't even start discussing how inappropriate it is to offer someone a perfume bottle unless they know exactly what perfume that person likes- if someone gave me a Chanel Number 5 flask it would sit unopened in my bedroom shelves for centuries to come). Those expensive, corporate gifts have always seemed wrong to me. But this year, in the midst of this horrid recession and with so many people going through such hard times, to state that "this year's essential gift is a Mauboussin ring at 999 euros" is downright grotesque. Who can afford to blow thousands of bucks in boring, logo-ed gifts?
If you are anything like me, your family is composed of more than 70 persons (which, at their most civilized, look like an Ingmar Bergman family- at their least civilized they just look like one of those messy Woody Allen or Fellini scenes), you love them all dearly and wish to give each of them a little something which will make them happy. It's only natural! However, if you are like me, what you don't want is to get even more bankrupt than you already are, to contribute to today's pantagruelic and unsustainable capitalistic system by offering expensive objects that don't mean a thing, and to stress a lot over something which should be a pleasure for everybody. Honestly, if this crisis has taught us anything, it's that it is no tragedy to live with less things and that it's time to change our consumption ways... and to remember how enjoyable the simple pleasures of life can be!
So here it is: I have worked my very own gift guide, including only lovely, cute, sustainable objects produced by small manufacturers with prices ranging from 2 to 160 bucks. And because I know my readers come from everywhere around the world, all the objects in this guide can be purchased via internet! (just click over the names of the stores to get to their websites). These are only some ideas, but of course you could also exclusively buy things produced in your community, helping locally; or even work on DIY pressies. Your family and friends will appreciate it more than you think.

Home presents:

Book rest lamp, 40 pounds at Urban Outfitters.

Artist hand-painted totems, 90 $ at Partners & Spade.

Organic apothecary soap set, 19 $ at Izola.

Autumn leaf sticky notes, 4 pounds at V&A shop.

Stationery set, 40 $ at Thornwillow.

Blackbird pegs, 8 pounds at V&A Shop.

Multicoloured enamel bowls, 26 pounds at Objects of Use.

Candlesticks, 20 pounds at Another Country.

Cake stand, 120 pounds at House of Hackney.

Gin & Tonic ice tray, 8 $ at Neatoshop.

Framed butterfly, 28 pounds at Fox & Flyte.

Falcon enamel pie set, 45 pounds at SCP.

Mini scented candle, 22 euros at Diptyque.

Post it notes, 9 $ at Third Drawer Down.

Toile de Jouy notebook, 30 $ at Under Our Sky.

Wine glass, 15 $ at Terrain.

Wooden iPad station, 139 dollars at Ahalife.

Animal soap, 23 pounds at Aesop.

Courtyard urn, 18 $ at Terrain.

Sunflower seed mix, 2 pounds at V&A Shop.

Hanging Tillandsia gardens, 24 $ at Flora Grubb.

For ladies and gentlemen:

Carven shantung dress, 160 pounds at Browns.

LinkGaga's workshop temporary tattoos, 18 $ at Barneys.

Shell coin purse, 6 $ at Evolution.

Lori bracelet, 45 $ at Evrt.

Necklace, 155 pounds at Keko Hainswheeler.

Maribu hoop earrings, 50 pounds at House of Holland.

Holly Fulton bracelet, 140 pounds at Browns.

Champagne bubble bath, 14 $ at Touch of Europe.
Vintage 1911 baseball cap, 39 $ at Ebbets Field Flannels.

Whiskey shave soap, 20 $ at Terrain.

Christmas hamper, 55 pounds at Fortumn & Mason.

Organic maple syrup trio, 20 $ at Crown Maple Syrup.

Tea-flavoured candy, 8 euros at Mariage.


What Would Audrey Do?, 15 $ at Modcloth.

Dazed & Confused, Making it up as we go along, 65 $ at Rizzoli.

Ferrán Adriá's The Family Meal, 25 euros at Phaidon.

Andy Warhol's Making Money, 16$ at Rizzoli.


Design your own superhero kit, 35 pounds at V&A Shop.

Soapy pops for the bath, 8 $ at Soapylove.

Children's mini tea set, 42 $ at Catbird.

Lifesize cardboard house, 139 $ at Skitsch.

Harmonica, 10 pounds at Objects of Use.

Mouse in a box, 26 $ at Catbird.

Bath sponge with duck, 12 pounds at Objects of Use.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Only True Couturier Among Us

For most of last week, I was in a daze. A large part of my work agenda consisted in doing research about Cristóbal Balenciaga, but I just didn't know how his story was going to overcome me. Until then, I had a basic knowledge of Balenciaga for someone working in fashion: I knew he was born in the little fishing town of Guetaria in the Basque Country, the son of a fisherman and a seamstress; that his talent was remarked very early by members of the haute bourgeoisie and aristocracy who spent their summers in Guetaria, and thanks to these ladies his company was able to expand. I also knew, of course, that he was forced to leave Spain during the Civil War and chose to open his maison in Avenue George V in Paris, thus becoming the genius designer Coco Chanel would define as "the only true couturier among us".

But enough with the Cinderella story. It has been told a thousand times in a bit of a clichéd tone, so I was not really interested in that. What I wanted to know was why someone like Chanel (alongside Monsieur Dior, Hubert de Givenchy and so many others) openly hailed Balenciaga as the ultimate master and best couturier ever. So I just let his collections -from 1937 to 1968- speak for him.

I discovered a designer deeply influenced by his homeland, inspired by the "Siglo de Oro", Velázquez, Goya, traditional Spanish attire and the practical and simple outfits worn by fishermen in Northern Spain. However, he was intelligent enough as to not display an array of commonplace Spanish pieces; flamenco dresses and torero outfits may be dramatic and impressive, but women don't want to wear them season after season. Instead, he isolated several elements and focused on their architectural aspect to organically transform them into the minimal sartorial basis of his collections.

Carefully analyzed, his pieces carry endless subtle "clins d'oeil" to Spain. But overall, they answer to the universal concept of taste... for women. For I don't think any designer (except maybe Mademoiselle Chanel) has understood femininity and what women need and want as deeply as Cristóbal Balenciaga. He fought Christian Dior's constrictive vision of what women's appearance should be (should women really look like ornate rococo decorative elements, exposed, fragile and vulnerable?) and riposted to Dior's corsets, girdles and X silhouettes with protective fabrics and shapes that brought out the neckline, back and arms of women rather than the tired 90-60-90 zones.

Perhaps it was this extraordinary understanding of women and our relationship to clothes. Or maybe it was simply because I was born myself not far from Guetaria and I could recognize such familiar features in his portraits... I found myself grasping Balenciaga's work and life from a purely emotional point of view. I knew he was an extremely private and discreet person, but I wanted to know more about him. Not the rags to riches story, nor the glory days, just the small things: how was his life in Paris? What was his love story with Vladzio d'Attainville like? What kind of Spanish accent did he have when speaking French? How did Spain's situation make him feel?

I guess we'll never know. But I can't help thinking that, had he been French, no matter how discreet he was we would know. What is it with the Spanish? Why can't we ever give credit to our own talent? While the French (and the British, Italian and American) still hail Balenciaga as the greatest haute couture designer of the XXth century, the Spanish indiscriminately sandwitch him between other national designers like Roberto Verino and Pertegaz (never heard of them? Neither would I if I wasn't Spanish). A Balenciaga museum opened in Guetaria earlier this year (hadn't heard of it? No worries, apparently no one did outside the Iberian border); as part of my research, I read the articles published in every big Spanish newspaper about the museum's opening. They were all filled with grandiose paragraphs describing in thorough detail the endless parade of very important political personalities and celebrities who attended the opening party. There were roughly a couple of lines introducing Cristóbal Balenciaga.
The thought of Spain's media and politicians shamelessly using the very person who situated Spain in the fashion map not only made me feel like I was witnessing some sort of Dickensian scene; it also made me realize that, no matter how many times Balenciaga's story is told as a fairy tale with a happy ending, it is more of a bittersweet drama: the story of an artist's unrequited love for his country.
Perhaps Spain will someday come to understand its gift. Until then, luckily, we'll always have Paris.