Review: London Street Fashion

An American’s Take on London Street Fashion

Simply riding the Tube or walking the London streets displays the chic, diverse style of Londoners, turning the pavement into a runway for casually observing the city’s fashion. As an American college student from Clemson University and a native of Orlando, Florida, I’ve taken note of the fashion habits of Londoners while watching the wave of streetwalkers each day, mentally comparing the students and young professionals’ fashion choices to the fashions I am used to in the States. First of all, young Londoners treat fashion as a fact of life, a daily ritual to take part in, while the average American sees fashion trends as optional or reserved for certain occasions—such as going downtown at night or to a party. Thus, outside of stylish fashion hubs like New York, the average American person on the street is not trendy or fashion forward. From watching the generation of London youth on the streets of Shoreditch and Regent Street, I’ve noticed Londoners dress in a variety of styles but always have one thing in common: they are chic. Even compared to New York, London fashion has its own unique history that creates the style flavour that permeates the city. For example, the vestiges of British punk culture left its mark on London fashion, manifested in leather jackets, piercings, and combat boots worn tastefully on a daily basis. Additionally, reworked versions of British classics can still be seen on the streets, including trendy jumpers, tights worn under shorts, funky structured coats, and brightly patterned pants. In general, classic black pieces are a mainstay for any Londoner’s style and neutrals dominate the colour palette of the street, whereas Americans tend toward bright colours. This neutral palette is a sign of high fashion, since fashion designers themselves tend to wear dark, flattering colours, showing that London is truly a fashion capital.

Unlike what is often found in America, individuality is equal in importance to chicness. In American youth, conformity often rules the style senses of the young, who wear ensembles exactly as seen in the stores or magazines. While fashion trends are common in London, the trends are always accompanied by the wearer’s sense of self and mixed and matched to fit their own tastes, whether their personality is punk, prep, athletic, feminine, or edgy. For example, I’ve daily seen different women wearing a new trend of pants called “culottes,” which are trousers that reach past the knee and create a skirt-like silhouette. Female Londoners wear these pants dressed up and dressed down, and depending on their fashion taste wear the culottes with sneakers, ballet flats, or heels, as well as long sleeve fitted sweaters, casual ribbed shirts, or funky asymmetrical neckline blouses. I have yet to see anyone on the streets of Orlando wearing culottes, and I am gathering that women in London are more sensitive and equipped to adopt changing fashion trends.

As far as the fashion of twenty-somethings in America, style changes astronomically as students graduate from college and start working around 22 years old. At my university, students can be seen going to class wearing outfits they could have worn as pyjamas or exercise clothes: large t-shirts, leggings, athletic shorts, and usually tennis shoes or some type of sandals. Then, when American students graduate, they give away most of their accumulated t-shirts and build a new wardrobe of dresses, work-appropriate shoes, blazers, and pencil skirts. This is certainly not the case for London students, who likely do not own mass quantities of t-shirts as American students do, and instead “dress up” for class. Whether they wear high-waist jeans and a fitted top, a calf length dress, or a patterned blouse, Londoners are already dressing more professionally at university than the American college student.

Moreover, the British have learned to mix utility with fashion, something that America lacks. Often, trendy American women’s fashions—maxi skirts, sky-high heels, tight-fitted skirts—are not practical and wouldn’t be worn on public transportation such as the Tube or a bike. In America, cars are the dominant transportation, meaning that walking is not common with working class Americans. Thus, weather is not a factor, and many women buy uncomfortable heels or dresses since they will be sitting at their desk all day instead of walking. This is something that needs change in women’s fashion, especially for the health of American feet. Also, with a place as unexpectedly rainy as London, clothing must be sustainable under the elements as well—another reason black and dark colours make sense, in addition to their inherent and universal chic factor. The average Londoner is not flashy, shying away from over-the-top fashions and preferring simpler styles and assimilated trends accentuated with a nice sense of form and balance that works for everyday life. However, the truly fashion-forward Londoner will always add their own flair: a pair of torn jeans, a pair of 60’s style round-rimmed sunglasses, or perhaps a pair of worn Converse. With a fashion buffet like this so readily available to observe in London, this American will be a little sad to return to a land of plain t-shirts—no matter how comfortable a t-shirt may be.

Theatre Review: “The Woman in Black”

Imaginable Horror:

“The Woman in Black,” Fortune Theatre, July 19

In a horror movie, surprises usually involve serial killers and an axe. Since it shares the genre of horror, theatregoers may expect “The Woman in Black”—a play based on Susan Hill’s eerie novel by the same name—to provide a similar experience. While there are plenty of suspenseful and terrifying moments of the production, Stephen Mallatrat’s adaptation of the novel shown at the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End thrills audiences with a different set of surprises: moments of unexpected humour, a versatile two-actor cast, the use of a simple yet dynamic set, and a gripping storyline featuring an unexpected ending. Under the direction of Robin Herford, this production gives a captivating new form to an often gory, cliché genre, leaving the audience impressed with a lesson in imaginative theatre work.

The production is set up as a play-within-a-play, where a lawyer named Arthur Kipps, haunted by a ghost story from his past, hires an Actor to help turn the experience into a piece of theatre and thus, by sharing it with an audience, rid himself of the cursed tale rattling in his brain. With the lawyer’s written manuscript in hand, the Actor takes over the role of Mr Kipps himself, while the real Mr Kipps plays the other characters from his own story. The story from Kipps’ past revolves around a deceased widow named Mrs Drablow, whose estate he is sent to sort out; at the estate, he experiences ghostly sightings of a mysterious Woman in Black in both the mansion and surrounding marshes, and realizes the townspeople have seen her before. The two men act out the manuscript, creating a dynamic plot where Mr Kipps and the Actor switch between different characters, returning back to their original selves as they work out the retelling of the haunting story. This breaks down the wall between the actors and those seated in the theatre, inviting the audience to experience Mr Kipps’ journey as the Actor does. The small stage in the Fortune Theatre works in favour of this invitation, making the audience feel included in the unfolding series of events.

The initial interaction between the two solitary cast members of the play takes the audience off-guard: the Actor runs through the audience to the stage and playfully berates Mr Kipps’ non-existent oratory skills as he struggles through the first few sentences of his manuscript. The humour offers a relaxed beginning to the thriller, loosening up the audience and creating a contrast to the dark ending. As the play continues from this point, the Actor takes over the role of the younger Mr Kipps, becoming more entrenched in the character and his experiences with the Woman in Black. The Actor, played by Malcolm Connor, experiences the ghost story first-hand, pulling the audience with him in his fear and experience of terror. Connor plays young Kipps with confidence, sureness, and an air of deep thoughtfulness in monologue. His moments of terror are tempered with moments of perfect comedic timing and delivery, as the Actor humanizes the stoic Mr Kipps and illustrates the emotionally scarring journey that created the haunted old man who came to him with the manuscript.

As the other half of the two-man cast, Malcolm Jones is perfectly suited to play aged Mr Kipps; aside from his fittingly grey hair and lanky appearance, which create the well-worn look of old Mr Kipps, Jones captures the essence of the haunted lawyer with a quiet, nervous, and tortured energy. However, Jones true talent is revealed through character study; due to the nature of the play, Jones’ challenge is to portray a character acting as other characters. This requires convincing the audience of his multiple personalities, and Jones carries it out expertly, switching body language, accents, and facial expressions with each new character’s outfit donned onstage. The transformation is seamless as Jones switches between tortured old Mr Kipps to the antsy Mr Jerome to the reclusive coach driver Keckwick to the snarky landowner Sam Daily, creating the illusion of a large cast in the audience’s mind.

This illusion is part of the magic of the play, a magic created by capturing and controlling the audience’s imagination. The actors convince the audience to imagine the scenery and larger world of the play; the set itself is glaringly simple, orchestrated by set designer Michael Holt without a wasted object or space. The stage holds a wooden box, chairs, door, clothes rack, and gauze curtain concealing the second half of the stage. The wooden box is almost a character in itself, becoming a table, chest of papers, bed, and carriage; as it is used by the two men in various capacities, the audience believes the transformation just as the actors do. In addition, because of the talented acting and staging, the audience sees in their mind’s eye the non-existent elements of the play: the surrounding marshes, the dog Spider given to Kipps, the sinking quicksand, and the grey mansion.

As the play becomes darker in tone, darkness itself—the absence of light—is used to create a spooky dimensionality, and the choice moments and areas of illumination created by light designer Kevin Sleep control the audience’s gaze within the small space. This especially heightens moments where the key components of the Woman’s haunting story are revealed, such as the illumination of the locked door in Mrs Drablow’s mansion, a spotlight detailing the terrified face of the Actor or Mr Kipps in monologue, or a soft glow revealing the dark form of the Woman herself. The set and lighting design work together in the use of the gauze curtain, which conceals the back of the stage, and when illuminated reveals the changing scene behind: the cemetery on the Drablow estate, a boy’s bedroom, or the halls of the haunted mansion.

In addition to the set and lighting, the sound orchestrated by Gareth Owen adds to the world forming in the audience’s mind. Sound effects like a bustling street or the clop-clop of a horse-drawn carriage help convince the audience that the events are taking place, though no horse or pavement appears. Timed perfectly, the moments of highest terror are preceded by a mysterious thumping sound, and the “jump out of your seat” moments are punctuated by a child’s piercing scream, causing members of the audience to cover their ears. The use of silence also terrifies the audience, as whenever sounds and words cease, their expectation of the Woman increases.

Along with a haunting ending and a great attachment to both Mr Kipps and the Actor, many images stay with the audience as they leave the play. A hand protruding from the fog, the gaunt face of the illuminated Woman, a ghostly rocking chair, a slowly moving black figure; while no gruesome axes are involved, “The Woman in Black” leaves the audience with a beautifully-formed, haunted world, making this production a stand-out piece in London’s West End that no theatregoer is likely to forget.

London: Bond, James Bond

The Bond in Motion Exhibit at the London Film Museum in Covent Gardens has everything a 007 fan could desire: the real cars, planes, motorcycles, costumes, concept art, and props used in the movies, accompanied by the film footage of explosions, car chases, and jumping building to building. At the end of the exhibit, there are even lovely souvenir posters and a Golden Eye pinball machine. There’s also a life size replica of Mr. Bond for the ladies to fawn over. Carson also entered a drawing of an innovative “vehicle design”for the coveted prize of a James Bond goodie bag; let’s hope he beats the other children’s drawings.

Art Review: The Boulevard Montmartre at Night

A Peaceful Parisian Night

Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897

Often, a bird’s eye view is the best way to see a city. Pissarro’s The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is just that: an inky evening snapshot of a dusky, wet, and twinkling Parisian street as viewed from above. Housed in the National Gallery in London, a visitor can find the painting in the Impressionist section along with works by Monet and Seurat. While placed among other great works, the depth of this painting captures the attention immediately. The lines of the street and sidewalk converging create dimensionality, like one could step in and explore the boulevard for miles. This feeling of movement begins as the eye is drawn to the centre left, where the street meets the horizon and a smoky tree hovers from the foreground; then, the eye travels forward along the street lined with cars, lampposts, shop windows, and an indistinguishable amount of people milling about. The surrounding tall buildings give a feeling of cosiness to the painting, like they are creating a private space for the boulevard to exist.

At the central focal point where the street disappears into the horizon, the last sunlight of the day creates a soft, light blue haze in the encroaching navy blue night. This suggests that the sun set recently—maybe within the past hour—putting the scene at the hour of dusk when one might stroll and window shop. Accompanying the atmosphere of this quiet time of night, the colour scheme plays with varying shades of calming blue, along with soft stretches of grey in the street and smudges of black that form cars, trees, and light posts. Like a city street at night, the colour palette is simultaneously sultry and cheery, with bright dots and squares of light accompanied by dark shadows.

Though there are no visible cloud shapes in the sky, the painting exhibits a general atmosphere of rain or wetness given by the reflection of colour in the street and on the sidewalk. Underneath the shops, the sidewalk shows a dull reflection of the yellow and orange light glowing through the windows, as if there are puddles or patches of wet cement that are catching the light. Pissarro’s choice to portray the street in the rain creates a dimension that would not have been present if the ground was dry; without the rain, the streets would not reflect the colour of the glowing lights, forfeiting some of the charm of the scene.

Viewing distance is important for this painting; from far away the street scene is obvious, but as the viewer comes closer, shapes become indistinguishable dabs of paint. That is the magic of the impressionist movement Pissarro belonged to and pioneered; contrary to other works of painstaking detail, this painting lets go of the need to “try hard” and instead lets the viewer relax and enjoy the feeling of the scene. The particular impression left by The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is the view of a dusky city street from a rain-splattered window: the scene is quaint, cosy, and a little blurry as if viewed through a misty windowpane. And likely this is exactly what Pissarro saw, since the scene was painted from his hotel room window situated at the end of the boulevard. So captivating was the changing scene of his bird’s eye view that Pissarro painted a series of the street at different times of day, different times of year, and different weather conditions, evoking the changing stories and experiences taking place on the same street. As the last instalment of the series, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night stands out as the only night scene, and thus portrays a change in colour palette as well as lighting conditions: dark, inky colours instead of light neutrals.

In addition, this scene is the only depiction of the street in rain, a condition that pairs quite nicely with the smudgy style of the impressionist. As per his style, Pissarro uses the rain to further soften the scene into a blurry moment of the night. Really, one could imagine this painting being the product of an evening when the painter decided to avoid the rain, stay in his warm hotel room, enjoy a cup of tea, and paint the street instead of walk in the puddles. Similarly, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is the type of painting one might return to as a rest from the more evocative, hyper-realistic, and painstakingly detailed images, finding it like a warm, safe, and cosy rest in Pissarro’s hotel room.

 

London: “Tax the Heat” at the Big Red

Last Friday night, Carson and I went to see a band called “Tax the Heat” at a dive bar in London. Seeing a live gig was was my homework from class (the class being “London: Culture Capital of the World”) and I found this free show on timeout.com. Below is my review of the gig, written for class and shared with you, as well as a video from the night! Check out their music on Spotify – my favorite song of theirs is below – and their website.

A Rock Band with Big Potential in a Small Pub:

“Tax the Heat” at the Big Red, London, July 15

Last Friday night, modern rock group “Tax the Heat” performed live at The Big Red dive bar in Holloway, London to a small and intimate crowd gathered by the beer taps. The band took the small stage without preamble and lit right into their opening song, the amps turned up to “perfectly deafening” and the drumbeat pulsing the beers in the hands of the mixed-age audience. As a venue, The Big Red attracted a varied crowd—the venue itself, with its license plate decked ceiling, cowgirl cut-outs, dark wood, and poster smattered walls, felt like a mix between Western saloon, biker gang hangout, and classic dim-lit London pub. Between tables with empty bottles of Jack Daniels holding flickering candles and walls decked with cow skulls, the bar counter was placed strategically in the middle of the establishment, leaving the stage directly near the front doors. Amongst the audience, a few tall tables stood holding chips and drinks. As the crowd gathered in this space before the show, the clientele turned out to be an odd mix of leather clad bikers, pierced punk rockers, young professionals, and groups of middle aged men and women, showing the bar was both an old standby for some and a new find for others.

While it seemed some people ended up at the gig by accident, a few devotees sporting “Tax the Heat” shirts clustered around the front of the stage and knew every word. However, seeing as the show was free, the turnout was not impressive. Perhaps the gig was not well advertised, the bar’s location was not in a frequented area, or the band did not yet have the reputation to draw a crowd. As is often the case, the real reason for the low turnout was likely a mix of these factors. Nonetheless, The Big Red was not by any means empty, and the crowd exuded a general atmosphere of enjoyment and bobbed in tune with songs they (mostly) didn’t know.

Even for someone who has never heard of Tax the Heat, the band’s performance was easily enjoyable—if you like rock music, that is. Their sound is a mix of modern, indie, alternative, and classic rock, featuring strong guitar riffs and harmonies that work seamlessly. The lead singer, Alex Veale, is a talented guitarist and adequate vocalist, but has a voice that is indistinguishable from other current rock bands. During the gig, he lacked the charisma that most lead singers exhibit during a show, and really the instrumental quality overshadowed his vocals. As far as performance goes, drummer Jack Taylor really stole the show; his tall, lanky appearance made him a prominent figure, and his confident mastery of the drumsticks demanded attention. He looked as if he was having the time of his life, singing to every word and smiling in a way that was somehow both endearing and rock n’ roll at the same time. His signature energy was manifested when he sang along to the music, opening his mouth wide like he was shouting the words and occasionally getting out of his seat in excitement during a break in instrumentals. Guitarist J.P. Jacyshyn displayed excellent talent during solos, fingers flying down the frets casually and without extravagance. On the other side of the stage, bassist Antonio Angotti played in an equally nonchalant style, being most exuberant during the parts when the musicians would bang their heads in sync.

The band’s look was buttoned up hipster chic, complete with combed hair, beards, suits, and glasses. Their fashion choices matched their simple performance; over-the-top show garb or edgy punk leather would not have fit their sound or spirit as a band. As a whole, the band cared about their audience, and the listeners easily picked up the bluesy rock lyrics when they were invited to sing along. In the song “Some Sympathy,” the crowd was able to nod along, sing, and raise their drinks during the strong and catchy chorus, picking up on the fact that if it got traction, this was a song that could be played on the radio or used in a commercial. With hard-hitting beats, lyrics supported by harmonies, and memorable guitar riffs throughout the set, it was easy to get caught up in the gig, stomping along and slopping your drink. Some of the music was angry with a strong beat; some was soulful with a memorable line during the song; but most was just fun loud rock music to sing along with at your local dive bar, nodding your head and pounding your foot in rhythm without really noticing the lyrics until the chorus.

Speaking in terms of talent, this band still has a fighting chance in spite of the unimpressive turnout. With the current popularity of alternative rock bands, and with a sound akin to the Black Keys or the Raconteurs, Tax the Heat could easily take off and pack a bigger stage if they differentiate themselves. This is probably their dream and biggest challenge, and what keeps their lanky drummer smiling and playing passionately. With a few more catchy hits, some luck, and a bigger following, this band could catch fire. Next time they play The Big Red, let’s hope there isn’t room for standing tables to hold chips.

London: Joe & The Juice

Right down the street from our University of Westminster Regent Street campus is a funky, hip, and (thanks to the cute baristas) hunky coffee/juice/snack establishment called Joe and the Juice. Loving it this afternoon as a breather after class to read my Timeout magazine I grabbed on the way to the Tube this morning. (Thanks to my friend Emily for telling me about this place!)