Performance Cashmere

Dhu – a new ‘performance cashmere’ brand – is on a mission to persuade us that it’s time to give cashmere a little more respect, taking it beyond the realms of cable knit cardigans and off into the great outdoors.

As someone who has on more than one occasion been referred to as Cashmere Tan, it doesn’t take much to persuade me that my favourite fibre could have another role to play in our lives.

I attended the launch of Dhu’s first collection of cashmere performance wear, aptly held at the Royal Geographic Society.  It was here, inspired by photographs of intrepid explorers, that I learnt about the qualities that make this lovely fibre the perfect insulating material for outdoor activities like mountaineering, climbing and walking.

Image

Ian Moore, the founder of Dhu, can explain the technical bit much better than me, so here is what he told me about how he came to start Dhu and what he learnt about cashmere in the process:

I’m a keen outdoor enthusiast and, like many others, over recent years I have been exposed to the increased use of natural fibres – such as merino – in sports clothing. This led to me considering why cashmere is not being used in the same way. There followed an r&d process, starting by looking into mountaineering and expedition archives and seeing what equipment was traditionally worn. It soon became apparent that cashmere has a rich heritage as a performance fibre, used and credited by early polar explorers and pioneering high-altitude alpinists for warmth in the severest of conditions.
What is often considered as a traditional luxury product also had genuine provenance as a performance garment. Cashmere has long been renowned for its warmth without bulk. The benefits of cashmere appeared to be proven – but there was not the opportunity to enjoy it in a modern performance environment.
What was inspiring was that there was an inherent honesty and simplicity associated with cashmere. It is just natural fibre, providing ultimate insulation – lightweight, breathable, odour resistant and very soft to touch. There are no fanciful performance claims, or technical jargon required. No gimmicks. That was very appealing.

The other admirable thing about Dhu is that they manufacture all the products in Scotland and source the fibre from sustainable farming communities in Mongolia. This feels right for a brand that is very much about doing things the proper way. It’s a natural, sustainable option for those who like being in nature. Simple. Even the one syllable name feels straight forward and honest.

From a female perspective, the combination of rugged outdoorsy-ness and cuddly cashmere is pretty much irresistible. On the launch evening, myself and my friend Alexis, could be found buried within the rails of the super-soft items, ‘testing’ them for stroke-ability. They all scored highly. Winner.

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Anti-gangnam style

Right now, South Korea is experiencing a wave of attention, thanks an eccentric popstar by the name of PSY and a dance move that is fast-becoming an international symbol of peace. Or so it would seem, judging by the number of celebrities and world leaders caught doing the ‘invisible horse’ on camera.

This super cheesy, brightly coloured K-pop extravaganza has been viewed 800 milllion times and counting. Meaning that suddenly, ‘gangnam style’- the overly showy style of a certain Korean elite – is now recognised the world over.

However, there is another, side to South Korean style that is quietly gathering international recognition. It’s what you might call ‘anti-gangnam’ style since it is largely minimalist, understated and focussed on finding beauty in the detail.

Here’s two shining examples of this subtle style movement…

Just this week, I was introduced to the Korean label, Low Classic, by my ever-ahead-of-the-curve friend Nomfundo. It’s basically her style and my style summed up in one collection. Very minimalist, a little bit tomboyish, body skimming (never body clinging please), not too much colour.

My two favourite looks from the collection would do just the job for a weekend outfit and a work outfit. How neat and tidy. Very Asian in fact.

Low Classic’s perfect work outfit (different shoes)

Low Classic’s weekend look (maybe the shoes this time)

Annoyingly, you can’t currently buy Low Classic in the UK but it’s been getting enough press of late that hopefully it won’t be long. I really do need an alternative to Cos sometime soon. Can you hear me out there fashion buyers??

Slightly more grown up but still on this minimalist theme is the label, Leyii. Designed by Central St.Martins grad, Sunghee Lee, Leyii is all about creating beautiful silhouettes with minimal fuss. For a better explanation of the label, hear from the lady herself in this interview with Crane.tv.

Leyii (image from Vogue.it)

 

Work Out Life

I’m ashamed to confess that up until now, my yoga outfit (if you can even call it that) consisted of old black leggings and a worn out Gap pyjama vest. In my head this was wholly justified, as waking up on a dark morning to do yoga was effort enough.

My strategy for the morning commute to yoga class was to throw my trench coat over the top of this mismatched get up and hope not to be seen by anyone I knew. This strategy has served me well as there are not many critical hipster eyes on the East London line before 7am.

Still, I was beginning to regret my lazy approach since other girls at yoga seem to be able to get up early AND throw on a pair of snazzy printed leggings and somehow make their messy bun look artfully stylish rather simply unbrushed and unwashed (like mine).

Thank goodness then, that earlier this week I was invited to a yoga class run by the new label Work Out Life. And in return for getting up early and attending the class, the lovely ladies at Work Out Life have kitted me out with a gorgeous yoga kit. With matching pieces and everything.

Hurray! My road to early morning style recovery has now begun.

Work Out Life is all about fusing performance wear with fashion and mixing work out pieces with more casual fashion pieces, so you can move seamlessly from one activity to another and still look presentable.

Sounds ideal to me! Perhaps a little too ideal as I don’t quite have the lifestyle that involves gliding from yoga to coffee and back to yoga again. But still, beyond the PR speak, the pieces are really lovely.

Work Out Life ‘Perky’ top and printed trousers

The ‘super chic long sleeve top’ and ‘super fly’ leggings I was given not only look great and have some really nice detail on them, but they were super comfy to do yoga in. In particular, the top was long enough not to ride up when being all bendy and upside down and stuff. You can tell the pieces have been designed by someone who actually does yoga and knows an exposed stomach isn’t something most girls want to have to grapple with first thing in the morning.

Work Out Life ‘Activate Life’ racer back top & ‘No 1 Ass Pant’

It won’t be a surprise that these pieces don’t come cheap, but they are comparable in price to labels like Sweaty Betty and in my opinion, much more unique and better quality. I’ll have to see how they wash but so far so good. Also, 40% of the range is made using organic cotton and the production methods are all socially and environmentally responsible where possible. So big tick there.

I’ll be keeping an eye of this label and seeing how it develops. And in the meantime, I’ll be enjoying the fact I don’t need to look quite so shame faced if someone sees me on route to morning yoga.

Found! The perfect backpack

Following my post a few months back re: my difficulty in finding the perfect rucksack, I’m pleased to report the mission is now complete.

A lovely, roomy, Scandinavian backpack has been found, bought and used for all manner of activities and outings. It has also had the seal of approval from the boys at work (not an easy crowd).

It is by the Swedish brand Sandqvist, who by the way, have all sorts of lovely Scando-style accessories on offer. Check them out.

Here I am on backpack’s first outing a few weeks back when I was feeling pretty summery and carefree.  Let’s see how it fares with the more challenging climes of the rainy British autumn.

Sandqvist backpack

Fashion week’s gone digital, so what?

As someone who works in a digital agency by day and blogs about fashion by night, I can’t not comment on this season’s fashion weeks, arguably the most ‘digital’ yet.

On the one hand, this is exciting and something to applaud – I’ve been banging on about fashion and digital technology being natural bedfellows for some time. They’re both highly creative, fast-moving and innovative and although many fashionistas would be horrified at the thought, their love of all things glossy and new isn’t too dissimilar to the technology geeks’ love of shiny metal objects.

This season, even the fashion editors from the most traditional of papers have felt compelled to write about the use of digital by fashion labels, indicating how mainstream the idea of adding an interactive element to a show has become. It seems every label – from the youthful Topshop Unique to the classic Diane Von Furstenberg – is trying to ‘do a Burberry.’ And for the time being, this is still enough to grab the attention of the media.

But what happens next season when simply trying out some cool digital stuff isn’t PR-worthy anymore?

And herein lies the problem.

Burberry aside, I would question what are the business and brand objectives behind many of these digital activities? Burberry – as the innovator in this space – was smart enough to make its investment in digital part of its brand DNA way ahead of its competitors. So much so that even if not all of Burberry’s digital ideas are good ones (and I’m not convinced they are), it doesn’t matter as they have positioned themselves as experimenters and pioneers.

Digital is now so integrated into the Burberry business, they make everyone else look like they’re playing catch up. And since few can match Burberry in terms of investment in this area, it’s never going to be a very fair or interesting race.

From what I’ve seen at fashion week, many of the labels that are using new technology seem to be taking a scattergun approach, trying out whatever technology they can get their hands on or whatever technology company approaches them first.

It feels a bit like the fashion world is going into “sample sale” mode, grabbing any and every piece of new technology just because it is there for the taking (I’m hoping this analogy may be enough to horrify some labels into thinking about their digital strategy!).

Now, this is all very disappointing as I strongly believe that integrating more digital technology into the fashion industry has the potential to grow the kind of businesses that are set to thrive in the future.

But this can only happen if fashion labels take it as seriously as they would their new collection.  Imagine for a minute if fashion labels asked the same questions about their digital technology as they do about their collections?

  • What do these clothes communicate about the brand?
  • Which of these clothes will my customers really want to wear?
  • How do my clothes answer a customer need or desire?
  • Which piece of clothing is going to be the stand out piece that will make the label famous?

Just replace the word ‘clothes’ with technology and you have the starting point of a more business-centred, rather than column inches driven, digital strategy.

It would be wonderful to see more fashion labels using digital technology to service and communicate with their customers better; being more thoughtful about what they share rather simply setting up a live stream of their show, as seems to be the default digital activity du jour.

Indeed, who really has time to watch these live streams other than those that work in fashion for a living? Wouldn’t it be better if designers created online content that felt a bit more personal and a bit easier to digest for their fans? Simple stuff that is thoughtful and centred on what it is about the brand that makes it so special.

I, for one, would trade a grainy live stream any day for some ‘making of’ content from designers like the Mary Katrantzou and Erdem. Revealing the amount of work that goes into creating those prints and that embellishment would surely be more brand-building that simply live-streaming a show just like everyone else?

Injecting some personality into digital activities is equally vital for these brands. I’ve bemoaned the lack of personality in the Stella McCartney twitter feed before but it really bothers me. It’s a missed opportunity for a brand whose designer is such a strong personality to use twitter merely as a bland PR stream. They could learn a lot from Victoria Beckham who uses Twitter to show her sense of humour, her unquestionable love of fashion, and her own fabulous lifestyle. Yes it is vain and self-indulgent but that’s what brand Beckham is about.  So it works.

Anyway, this post is fast becoming an essay but I’ll be looking more into this area. So watch this space and I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

A slightly reworked version of this post also featured on The Guardian media network hub here.

Turkish summertime

Just back from another wonderful holiday in Turkey – can’t recommend it highly enough as a place to go to recharge – staying at the beautiful Deniz Feneri Lighthouse hotel, near a little town called Kas. It was a week of pure relaxation:  swimming in the azure blue sea, eating copious amounts of delicious mezze, kayaking over a sunken city, and doing some waterside yoga.

Inspired by Louis Vuitton’s Art of Packing,  I tried to rely on a minimal and multi-tasking holiday wardrobe:

2 x borrowed sundresses

Usefully, I’m the same dress size as my mum so I borrowed two of her sundresses and they proved perfect for the hot weather. One was a white, light cotton wrap dress and the other, a bright royal blue linen shift dress. Chic but comfortable and roomy enough to eat lots of delicious Turkish food in. Yes.

Borrowed dress (thanks mum)

1 x Miu Miu sunglasses

Ok, so I don’t actually own these particular fabulously feline miu miu glasses but my more conservative (and I think more flattering) miu mius seldom left my eyes in the bright Turkish sun.

Miu Miu sunglasses (image from miumiu.com)

1 x plain black swimsuit

My faithful M&S black swimsuit (cost approx £9.50) worked very hard on this holiday, doubling up as a morning yoga kit, a leotard with denim shorts, and of course, a very practical yet chic enough piece for some power swimming in the open sea.

Morning yoga in the M&S one piece

1 x clutch/iPad case

This super-soft leather iPad case from Capulet served as a clutch in the evenings, a pouch for valuables in my beach bag and as a case for my iPad on the move. A multi-tasking holiday wonder piece!

Capulet’s Fleur iPad case

1 x denim shorts

A well-worn pair of vintage cut off Levis I’ve had for years. Perfect to throw on over swimsuit and potter about it.

1 x day to night sandals

Topshop sandals

I picked up these sandals from Topshop in a rush one day but they’ve turned out to be a staple this summer. The gold chain and gold heel make them dressy enough for the evening but they are also incredibly comfortable for walking around in the daytime. I find sandals never really last more than one summer so it’s not worth spending much.

So it’s time to pack away the holiday wardrobe for another year now. Boo!

Token sporty(ish) post

It’s safe to say that no one would ever describe my style as sporty so it’s been a little tricky for me to embrace the so-called ‘sport couture‘ trend that seems to be sweeping the world of fashion.

However, you know what is upon us in less than five days and so I can avoid it no longer. Whilst watching the Victoria Pendleton documentary on BBC (watch it by the way – she is amazing) and listening to her talk about mixing sportiness with girliness, I realised that this trend can span much more than bodycon lycra and weird scratchy mesh material.

After meeting the lovely Hannah from Belle & Bunty, I was reassured to see that even they – a label that is even more feminine and resolutely un-sporty than my own wardrobe – have a sporty looking number in their ‘magnificent seven’ collection. It proves that pretty and sporty can go together.

Belle & Bunty The Bay dress (thank you Hannah from B&B for the image!)

Additionally, a favourite store from my New York days, Rag & Bone, also featured some pieces in their Spring/Summer 2012 collection that use soft, feminine colours and floaty fabrics to present a different take on sporty. So maybe there is a way to embrace this trend after all – I’m going to try it out at my friend’s  Olympics opening ceremony party on Friday. Will report back!

Rag & Bone Spring 2012 collection (image from style.com)

As an aside, Rag & Bone are opening their first London store soon! Pity they chose Sloane Square as the destination – they feel more Redchurch St material but they may be enough to draw me west for a fieldtrip.