Sicilianita’ T’amero Ppi Sempre

Sicilianita’ T’amero Ppi Sempre

Sicilianita’

Image used for Platform Magazine, taken by Paolo Torrisi

To explore Sicily and have no interest in the mafia is like loving the Island but hating the cuisine. They are both very much intrinsic and integral to this amazing and mystifying land that we see in the great visions of Martin Scorsese or read through the page turning words of Mario Puzzo.  Films, sitcoms and books often depict the Sicilian/Italian American way of life – often peppered with mafia dealings. Usually the women are unbelievably sexy and sassy, the men, macho and adulterous and the fashion, flashy and opulent.

For some, The Godfather, The Sopranos and other Italian American media portrayals may be the closest they’ll get to the sizzling culture of Sicily, fictitious and glamourised accounts of a culture and a land that for its media popularity is comparatively obscure in actuality. It is almost prerequisite to mention Sicily and the Mafia in the same breath, something that the proud Sicilian may not be too proud of. There is so much more to Sicily beyond the fascination and criticism of the Mafiosi. It is a land that is just as fascinating and attractive outside of the Hollywood movie scene.

Sicilian authors, designers and photographers add a great depth to Sicily, taking their subject to the classic and traditional capital, Palermo, the bustling, contemporary city of Catania (home to one of the largest clubs in Europe), to the rustic foothills of Mount Etna, the Greek mythology that lingers on the seafront of Aci Trezza and the beautiful terracotta pottery of Caltagirone. Sicilians live a life that is just as rich and admirable as the Italians, appreciating all the finer things in life. The people are colourful, vivid and defiantly respectful, with an overwhelming sense of generosity. The temperament may be a little more passionate and the land more condensed with all its contradictions, but Sicily, regardless of its location (just off the toe of the boot that is Italy) is the true spirit and dialogue of Italy.

Sicily, for many centuries was the host and participant to the torments of war, colonisation and conquer. The now Italian island has been under the rule of Greek, Arabic, Norman, Austrian, French and Spanish monarchies, kingdoms and empires. Towards the final years of the lands turmoil it was once even a protected state of Britain. On May 11th 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian custodian, fought for the unification of Sicily and Italy, battling with the island’s Spanish oppressors. After fighting for several days , the British Navy, omnipresent as always, interceded and called armistice. The Spaniards surrendered and Sicily became favourably united with Italy and henceforth Italian.

The history of Sicily not only remains extremely intense, but there is an extraordinary sense that it remains extremely close to the present. The centuries of war and colonisation is so prevalent it can be heard in the language and witnessed in the architecture. Sicily’s battle has created a wonderland for the enthusiast of life, love, cuisine and a palpable and rich playground of history, architecture, etymology and genealogy.

The language is a fusion of Italian and that of its predecessors’. Although most Sicilians are bilingual in Italian and Sicilian, Italians will struggle with the comprehension of the Sicilian language. The history, like the mestizo race, is also evident in the aesthetic of the Sicilian people. The further and further south of Italy one ventures, the greater the mix of skin colours and hair textures becomes. The darkest of Sicilians have skin the colour of Indians and hair that curls so tightly that if they were black it would be called afro, yet the lightest of them, so fair, they are as blonde and blue eyed as any Aryan.

Like the language and the people, the architecture and the land itself are just as diverse and intermixed. There is an architectural juxtaposition due to both the unrest of wars and an unfortunate natural disaster, which was the great volcanic eruption of Mount Etna. Many buildings take the shape of Arabic and Norman influences, disseminated throughout the island. An assemblage of Arab castles altered to the Norman tastes form breathtaking palaces, churches and cathedrals. The Palazzio dei Normanni, situated in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is an example of this. Meanwhile, Sicily’s infamous Mount Etna’s 1693 earthquake, coined Earthquake Baroque, wiped out the southern part of Italy, killing two thirds of the Catanese* population and with it many of the island’s construction – this initiated the construction of the highly ornamental style, Sicilian Baroque .

There has only been one eruption of this kind since the Earthquake Baroque, which took place in 1928, nevertheless the volcano stands proudly setting the scene for the eastern region of Sicily. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and the inspiration for many of the world’s great thinkers, writers and poets. Frequently  molten lava seeps through  Etna’s flank, painting the  Sicilian night sky with a great crimson red streak – sat in the  Piazza Catanese* at night against this back drop is a remarkable sight, foreigners are often unable to peel their eyes away from the assertive looming existence of the Sicilian volcano.

Like Jorge Luis Borges’ The Aleph, the Aleph was the central point at which all corners of the universe met and could be witnessed without any disorder or confusion. This great, powerful phenomenon in the world was kept hidden in an old man’s basement, away from the exposure of the world. Many have said the same about Sicily, maybe not in the poetic language of the Argentine literary, but the essence remains the same; in this respect the universe is Italy and the Aleph, Sicily – lost in the eclipse of Italy, obscured by its shadow.

Italy has a wealth of diverse characteristics that allow for prosperity and whilst remaining true to its essence, Italians, like the French, have mastered the art of good living – their method: to find enjoyment in the experience of luxury and beauty, whilst being respectful of tradition, remaining classic and adhering to form. Travellers venture to Italy to witness the chic and sharpness of the distinguished Milanese fashion, to take pilgrimage or be spectator to the masterpieces of Leonardo DaVinci at the Vatican city, to celebrate love and float along the canals of the sinking Venezia or travel south to indulge in the simple pleasures of life – good people, good wine and even better food. Nevertheless, it was the great Goethe, along the lines of Borges’ Aleph that wrote, ‘Without seeing Sicily it is impossible to understand Italy – Sicily is the key to everything.’

Inspired By: Stylish Thoughts…

Inspired By: Stylish Thoughts…

I’ve been thinking about style a lot of lately, possibly because I have been shopping excessively and going out at just as much – requiring the styling of many new ensembles for many different events, locations and situations. When I studied fashion two years ago I was lucky enough to truly discover exactly what it is exactly that beguiles me about fashion. Beyond the delight I find in dressing and dressing up, what I am so curious about and so deeply intrigued by is simple…it’s style. STYLE! That simple one syllable word that has such a weighty significance in terms of self expression. We all know the famous fashion quote ‘Fashion fades, style is eternal…’ But do we truly know how to define it? We know it when we see it -‘That’s stylish, she’s stylish, he’s got style etc.’

We all generally tend to have a universal understanding of who and what is stylish, hence why the world covets and henceforth creates style icons. And style icons vary from classic and sharp Victoria Beckham, to masters of the glam rock chic Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, preened to perfection and always neat Olivia Palermo  or forever casual and cool in a leather jacket, skinny jeans and boots combo Kate Moss.

But asides from using the word to identify a form of dressing, Classic, Casual, Trendy, Sporty etc, what constitutes as style and how can we identify what it looks like?

I like to define style as fashion’s cousin, her much cooler cousin and a trend is fashion’s sister, possibly even twin sister. Without going too deeply into semiology and linguistics, fashion is the object – the signified and the trend is formed by the signifiers, in this case the consumers (us), who with our consumption of said object  eventually make the object fashionable or/ and trendy.

Style, I refer to as fashion’s cooler cousin because it’s more expressive and offers more of a personal communication. If we could all afford to wear runway looks straight off the catwalk of the season’s most coveted look, regardless of how fashionable and on trend it might be, we’d all look like clones, or the alternative terminology, fashion victims. Style is not the possession of, or the monetary strength to, own and dress in fashionable items.  Style is the dance between conforming and rejecting, between being predictable, ironic and unexpected.

We can all wear a runway look and be fashionable, but  we’d have no credit to take for our ability to dress, because the look has already been packaged and parceled by another stylist. In fact, the only thing we might express dressed head to toe in a runway look is our undying love for fashion and our ability to keep up with its capricious nature. Ask Anna Dello Russo, Fashion Editor and Creative Director at Vogue Japan, who’ll tell you ‘I don’t want to be cool, I want to be fashion’. I have never seen a woman wear so many runway looks, in fact so fashionable is the passionate fashionista that she has been described by Helmut Newton as a ‘Fashion maniac’.  Anna might be considered ironically cool, like wearing nineties patterned  Moschino in the twenty first century or a black woman wearing a t-shirt that reads ‘Blondes have more fun,’ but too much irony or too much of one thing is never good.

So, back to this dance of conforming and rejecting. Style is a personal interpretation of the signified object – the fashion item, it’s the way in which we  choose to hangout with fashion’s sister, the signifiers, the masses that form the trends and its how we choose to reject it, by refusing to wear it, altering it or manipulate it. A white shirt might be fashionable, neatly buttoned down and tucked into a pair of jeans, we conform to the trend by wearing the white shirt, but we reject it by tucking only the front of the shirt into our jeans and leaving the back out, wearing the first three buttons undone or placing a statement necklace around the collar and so on and so forth.

In my humble opinion, ‘styling’ is the way in which we manipulate fashion. The most stylish of people in my belief are those that always have their eye on fashion but have the ability to manipulate, to innovate, to be unexpected but respectable, ironic and predictable and know exactly when to conform and when to reject.  Style is formed once we develop a particular method towards the way in which we approach dress, over a period of time this will form a motif which eventually becomes our own unique style.

Here’s to some of my personal style icons at the moment…

Carrie Bradshaw Sex and the City
Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City movie wearing pink cut out dress and black studded belt.
Carrie Bradshaw
Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City
Victoria Beckham wearing DVB Jeans
Victoria Beckham wearing DVB Jeans
Victoria Beckham
Victoria Beckham dressed in grey
Rihanna dressed in pink and orange
Rihanna dressed in pink and orange
Olivia Palermo in pink
Olivia Palermo wearing pink lace at the Valentino Couture at Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild
Olivia Palermo in black and navy blue
Olivia Palermo in black leather peplum top and navy blue shorts with pointed wedges
Kourtney Kardashian casual in flats
Kourtney Kardashian casual in flats
Kourtney Kardashian
Kourtney Kardashian dressed in blue patterned dress
Kim Kardashian wearing black and grey
Kim Kardashian wearing staple skinny jeans, heels and waterfall jacket. Dressed in black and grey.
Kim Kardashian dressed in leggings and longline blazer
Kim Kardashian dressed in leggings and longline blazer with statement necklace
Kourtney Kardashian dressed casually in flats
Kourtney Kardashian dressed casually in flats and brown hat

Be charmed, stay inspired! x

Fashion Illustration: A Brush With Fantasy

A Brush with Fantasy –

with fashion illustrations by Hayden Williams

It would seem that the fantastical world of fashion illustration is a world that has sadly been forgotten. In the Golden Age of fashion illustration, illustrated magazine covers charmed the readers into their sensational visions, but today these symbols of fashion and fantasy barely make the pages of the magazines. COAD Charms of a Dandizette celebrates the wonderful and sadly forgotten world of fashion illustration.   

Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration for ELLE Thailand
Chanel fur hat – illustrated by Hayden Williams
The September Issue: Anna Wintour by Hayden Williams
The September Issue: Anna Wintour by Hayden Williams

There is a delightful and indescribable emotion evoked by the spectacle of beautifully dreamy and fabulously glamorous fashion illustrations. A glance at the visions of David Downton, Jean Phillipe Delhomme or Gladys Perint Palmer is instantly breathtaking. The contrast of whimsical brushstrokes juxtaposed against the accuracy of the garment’s design makes the impact of this art form almost haunting. Many find themselves lost in the illustrator’s world of colour, technique, style and imagination. The illustrated Vogue covers of the golden age have a collector’s value and are beginning to find their homes in frames displayed on the walls of fashion and art aficionados. It’s a wonder why these tokens of art, fashion and fantasy no longer grace the pages of the magazine covers and pages the way they once used to.

There was a time when the world of fashion moved a little slower and the rapid turnaround of fashion design, production and the associated media happened over a lengthier period. Today collections are created to deadlines, fashion bloggers and journalists go toe to toe to relay the latest stories and have a number of media platforms to choose from to access the public in the quickest form. Fashion resides in a breakneck world and those not on its heels risk losing their relevance. It was only inevitable that the presence of fashion illustrations in our glossies would grow scarce after the development of the click and snap nature of photography.

‘Illustration is still extremely popular with designers and the public alike,’ says David Downton, ‘but remains generally under the wire.’ What a treat it would be today to purchase a magazine that only featured fashion illustration. No doubt this would be a magazine that would sit proudly on the coffee tables of fashion lovers amongst the Valentino and Vogue collectors books, but it seems almost impossible to imagine that magazines with purely illustrated images ever existed.

During the Golden Age of fashion illustration, Vogue publisher Condé Montrose Nast was the custodian for illustration, he invested in a team of Vogue illustrators that would illustrate every Vogue cover from 1910 till the beginning of world war two. Condé Nast’s admiration of fashion illustration was enthused by La Gazette du Bon Ton, the French fashion, lifestyle and beauty magazine published from 1912 – 1925. The French publication centred itself around the creation of fashion illustration and employed some of the best illustrators of the art deco era, Paul Iribe, Gearges Lepape and Pierre Brissaud to name a few. Each edition would feature ten illustrated couture designs, seven of which were the illustrations of couture designs and the remaining three, which allowed the illustrators to envisage and illustrate their own designs merely to excercise and display their own illustrative minds.

Many of La Gazette du Bon Ton’s illustrators worked on the covers at Vogue including Helen Dryden and George Wolf Plank, but the end of La Gazete soon rendered these artists without a place to execute their fashion fantasies on the page. Nast required illustrators to portray the garments in their most realist form in order to provide the reader with the most accurate vision of the design, while the illustrators naturally longed to implement their artistic freedom. Sadly, fashion illustration began to contradict its very existence, a world that seemed to survive off the imagination, fantasy and art desired the utmost realism and truth.

Carl Erickson and Rene Bouet were illustrative pioneers for creating illustrations for which realism was the essence, it was not long before the two set the bar for this fashion illustration form. Inevitably Edward Steichen’s colour photograph in 1932 would provide the industry with exactly what it wanted. By 1936 Vogue sales proved that the photographic images that replaced the illustrations on the covers sold more copies.

Since the golden age of fashion illustration its presence in the fashion publication has fluctuated. The works of the Puerto Rican major fashion illustrator, Antonio Lopez became a fixture in Vogue and other high fashion magazines throughout the sixties and seventies, even though both decades were particularly dominated by photography.  During this period magazines such as Honey (the first British magazine to feature black models), Jackie and Petticoat all featured fashion illustration, nevertheless, on the whole the art form struggled in and didn’t see its next surge till the eighties. An advert illustrated by Jean-Philippe Delhomme for Barneys New York inspired an enthusiasm around the medium once again, La Mode en Peinture 1982, Condé Nast’s Vanity 1981 and Visionaire 1991 created opportunities for a new generation of fashion illustrators.

Today the presence of the fashion illustration is out of the ordinary and merely peppers the pages of the fashion magazines – what was once the super glue of the magazine is now barely a garnish, decorating the white spaces of magazine editorial. On the upside of this, the fashion illustrator of today is no longer constricted to the magazine and works in a number of different mediums. Gladys Perint Palmer, a Central Saint Martins graduate and one of the last students of Muriel Pemberton, the inventor of fashion education, says, ‘depending on the illustrators style depends where they will find their work.’ Gladys is the proof in the pudding that fashion illustration, even though it isn’t celebrated in the fashion publication, is indeed still sought after. ‘I am on a heavily impending deadline,’ she says, ‘I am currently working on a book titled From Eve to Yves. There is plenty of work. I am swamped.’

Albeit, it is a shame these little slices of art are absent from the fashion magazines, but at least the occasional glimpse, in an ad campaign or on the cover of a book, is a moment that remains just as special and fantastical as the last.

This articles was written in 2010 – the fabulous illustrations of Hayden Williams have inspired its update.

Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration of Miranda Priestly
Miranda Priestly – Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration Rosie Huntington Whitely
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration Rosie Huntington Whitely
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration The Olsen Twins
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration The Olsen Twins Paris Fashion Week
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration - On the Prowl - PFW
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration – On the Prowl – PFW
Fashion Illustration MFW: 'Milan Moda' by Hayden Williams
Fashion Illustration MFW: ‘Milan Moda’ by Hayden Williams
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration Beyonce
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration Feature in Fashion London magazine
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustration
Hayden Williams featured in the Oct issue of Annex Magazine Anniversary ‘I Don’t Give A Fashion!’ issue.
Hayden Williams Fashion Illustrations
LFW: ‘The London Look’ by Hayden Williams
Fashion Illustrations by Hayden Williams
‘Fierce Creature’ by Hayden Williams
NYFW: 'Girl on the Go' Fashion Illustration by Hayden Williams
NYFW: ‘Girl on the Go’ by Hayden Williams
Happy Birthday Beyoncé - Fashion Illustration by Hayden Williams
Happy Birthday Beyoncé – by Hayden Williams

Some of my favourite blogging illustrators: Jean Philippe Delhomme, The Uknown Hipster unknownhipster.com, Garance Dore and,  of course, Hayden Williams.

Be charmed, stay inspired!x

Inspired by: The Boondocks Season 4

Welcome to The Boondocks

Huey Freeman from The Boondocks
Huey Freeman from The Boondocks

Amongst the myriad of skilfully and intricately animated graphic novels and witty comic strips there is one that seems to literally be tearing the American public apart with its social satire on race relations in America.  Regardless of the constant disapproval, censorship, hate mail and rebuttal the comic generates, it is an undying success and continues to prevail.

On the second of May 2010, the pioneering and revolutionary comic strip, The Boondocks aired the first episode of the third season on American TV channel, Adult Swim. The return of the show after a two and a half year break was heavily awaited amongst fans and just as much dreaded by those opposing. The opening titles read ‘an episode that takes us back to the election of our nation’s first black president…’ The episode acted as a documentary that explored the power of the electoral campaign amidst Woodcrest (fictional town) residence. The German interviewer of the episode remarkably took the voice of Werner Herzog (the German film director and screenwriter whose films often feature superheroes with unattainable dreams, this collaboration sat in perfect alignment with the episode.

‘It was a veritable loaded gun (as many Boondocks episodes are), aimed at blasting the hype that surrounded Obama’s presidential win in 2008,’ says Tom Surette, staff writer for TV.com. The disapproval and enthusiasm that would surround this episode was as exciting as the show itself. Moments after the show broadcasted Facebook patrons, bloggers and online writers began a whirlwind of deliberation. Many fans thought it to be the best episode yet, while others felt it was too critical of Obama. The political cartoonist and creator of The Boondocks, McGruder had done it again, provoking the thoughts, confronting the situations and creating the debates that nobody really wants to explore – at least not in the eye of the public. The Boondocks may very well be guilty of documenting the most honest cultural and political analysis of the presidential electoral campaign and its impact on American society to date.

Thirty five year old Aaron McGruder created The Boondocks in 1996 while attending the University of Maryland where he studied African American Studies and where the initial Boondocks comic was published, in the university’s student newspaper, The Diamondbacks. The Boondocks is set in a fictional middle class, white suburban town named Woodcrest, centralised around the Freeman family; Huey aged ten, Riley aged eight and their grandfather, Robert Freeman. Huey and Riley have moved to white suburbia from Southside Chicago to live with their grandfather, where they attend a ‘very strict and very white oppressive’ school named, aptly, J Edgar Hoover (1) – this is where the strip begins.

The show satires prominent events and figures in American society against the back drop of black socio politics; George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Lil’ Wayne, R. Kelly and Martin Luther King are to name a few of the famous figures McGruder has lampooned. He approaches delicate and controversial issues like Hurricane Katrina, Nine Eleven, the rape trial of R. Kelly and the ambiguity of use of the ‘N’ word. Many of the impressionable and ignorant characters use the ‘N’ word, and in selective episodes such as the Jimmy Rebel episode, so excessively it is hilarious (ashamedly so, maybe). Mike Lee Richmond, political radio talk show host at 90.1fm and a general fan of the comic, known for broadcasting shows that discuss many of the prominent Boondocks episodes says, ‘I have no issue with him using the word or explaining why he does so*. Satire is a comical reflection of what the writer sees in society, he is clearly pointing out our loss of self. He’s not trying to entertain us all the time, he is trying to send the message that we are losing what we fought so hard to gain.’ It is important to note that when the characters swear in the cartoon, these are always bleeped out – this technique emphasises McGruder’s reasoning of the use of the N word.

Like The Boondocks, McGruder was born into a middle class family in Chicago, at age six Aaron and the McGruders, consisting of Aaron, his parents and older brother Dedric, who also works as a political cartoonist, moved to middle class suburban town Columbia, Maryland, where McGruder was the student of what he describes as a ‘very strict, very, very white school.’ He says the two years spent at this particular school were ‘the most oppressive years of my life.’ Evidently the two oppressive years at McGruder’s school failed to coerce him into a silence, in fact it has provided stimulus for material that has created what may cautiously be considered a genius comic strip, which speaks as loudly and clearly, with all the political belligerence and integrity of Aaron McGruder.

Before the end of 1999 McGruder secured a syndication deal which was ultimately the beginning of his fame, success and notoriety. Since then The Boondocks has emerged in over three hundred American newspapers, most of which the comic has appeared daily. Due to the comics nature newspaper editors frequently discontinued and postponed printing it. Nevertheless the newspaper medium acted as platform for McGruder to reach a much broader and varied audience and has since been adapted into the cartoon series. This has inevitably allowed the cartoon to be accessed globally across a number of video streaming sites, including Youtube.

In view of the success of The Boondocks, McGruder has become a bit of a personality, associated with both black and white public, political and celebrity figures. He is repeatedly invited to lecture at universities, which are renowned to sell out, he has been awarded the Chairman Award at the NAACP Image Awards and The Boondocks was the winner of the 66th Peabody award in 2007, for an episode which envisages the awakening of Martin Luther King. McGruder has become a celebrity in the light of the impact of his work and since his recognition has attended Hugh Hefner’s birthday party at the grotto and P.Diddy’s infamous MTV after parties. The cartoon features the voices of Samuel L Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def and Busta Rhymes and is celebrated in the lyrics of conscious Hip Hop artists. It is important to note that the recognition and celebrity status McGruder may have acquired is a consequence of the quality, the intelligence and the artistic vision and conviction of his work and not vice versa. It is also important to note the rise of McGruder and the success of The Boondocks is not because the American public are enthusiastic about his work, many of the American public are somewhat adverse to McGruder, his views and or The Boondocks – but his work and the intellectual brain behind it is indisputable excellence and can evoke a strong aversion.

But what is it that makes The Boondocks such a powerful piece of art and McGruder such a powerful artist?

For those that are yet to watch The Boondocks, the Black President episode epitomises the essence of the cartoon and shows the true talent of McGruder at its best. The brilliance of McGruder is not the political events that he explores but the characters he has created and how he aligns them perfectly to each and every event; The Boondocks, although dealing with conflict ridden situations, manages to tell an astute and entirely candid discourse. ‘Aaron McGruder’s overall portrayal of black people in American culture is very parallel. Notice the things such as uncle ruckus, the self hating black man that is there to specifically point out all the faults of the black culture. Huey, who is there to show that there are some people in the culture that are willing to believe in blacks and are hopeful that something will smack the people upside their head and make them realize what is truly important in black culture, I can go on about the other common characters but I’ll leave it there,’ Mike Lee says. Of course, it is to be noted that the narrator of the cartoon and protagonist of the comic is Huey Freeman, Aaron McGruder’s alter ego – who often summarises and concludes the impact of various current affairs and their influences on society and the Woodcrest residents. Excluding this, through the perspective of very diverse and dynamic characters that represent various social characteristics, the reader or audience is able to view circumstances in their entirety, as opposed to just McGruder’s perspective.  There are many characters in the comic that are just as influential to the cartoon, who communicate vital elements of whatever the subject matter maybe just as effectively and authentically that completely conflict with Aaron McGruder and his alter ego’s political alignment.

Huey Freeman, possibly the most intelligent, socially and politically aware ten year old is introduced in the First Black President episode as a ‘Domestic Terrorist.’ Aside from his neighbour, District Attorney Tom DuBois, Huey may be the only black character that does not use the word Nigga on tap. Throughout the cartoon and comic strip Huey has a constant frown and hasn’t smiled once thus far. He is known for his conspiracy theories, his political convictions, his disdain for rap culture, capitalism, Black Entertainment TV AKA BET, which Huey has redubbed Black Exploitation TV and is tired of celebrating Martin Luther King, ‘as though he were the only black person to ever do any good.’ McGruder and Huey are also known for their disdain for Condoleezza Rice, so much so that McGruder writes her into a strip where Huey links her single status to the war on terrorism. Huey deliberates, ‘maybe if there was a man in the world who Condoleezza truly loved, she wouldn’t be so hell-bent to destroy it.’ McGruder has previously said on TV show, America’s Black Forum TV, ‘I don’t like Condoleezza Rice because of her politics. I don’t like Condoleezza Rice because she’s part of this oil cabal that’s now in the White House. I don’t like her because she’s a murderer. You know, I’m not bound by the rules of a politician or journalist. So, you know, when I say, “She’s a murderer,” it’s because she’s a murderer, and that’s all that’s necessary for me to make those statements.’

Both Huey and McGruder are in McGruders own words, ‘Cautiously pessimistic’ about Obama’s presidency, he says, ‘I believe the Federal Reserve Bank, the Military Industrial Complex, and the massive corporate interests that run this country have more power than our new President. I hope I am wrong.’ In reflection of this, in The Black President episode Huey merely sits in the background watching his fellow black people campaigning for Obama, his silence is due to the fact that, ‘Nobody listens’. His lack of excitement for the black president baffles the interviewer and irks black Woodcrest residents so much so that they try to attack him. What McGruder documents in this episode is the unfortunate truth, this electoral campaign was in fact more a racial protest, more so than it was a political campaign.

‘When McCain played on Obama’s inexperience in government, people started playing the race card. The whole election was racially charged and racially fueled. People who were against Obama’s policies were either labelled racists, or uncle toms from the black perspective of things… it’s sad really, but McGruder really pulled it off nicely,’ says Mike Lee. Mike Lee believes his political views correlate with McGruder’s, he felt that McGruder documented the impact of the electoral campaign with complete accuracy, ‘Spot on,’ he says, ‘he did an excellent job showing that no one was paying any attention to what Obama was saying or rather, not saying, in regards to his policies.’

Nevertheless beyond all the excitement around McGruder’s political approach to creativity or his creative approach to politics many black media figures struggle to accept the concept as intelligent entertainment, for many the show has materialised as a degradation of black people and the cartoon and McGruder generate a following divided by conflicting views. The nature of The Boondocks isn’t entirely dissimilar to the creator’s infamous and highly controversial temperament that frequently causes uproar, offense and humiliation within both the black and white American public.

 Larry Elder, an American talk show host and great critic of the cartoon and McGruder says, ‘Aaron McGruder draws the sometimes-funny daily comic strip “The Boondocks.”… In a recent strip, two young black characters considered renaming what they call the “Most Embarrassing Black People” award. One character suggested calling the award the “Larry Elder.” An idea clicked. How about an award for the “Dumbest, Most Vulgar, Most Offensive Things Uttered by Black Public Figures”? Maybe we could call the award the . . . “McGruder.”’However, McGruder doesn’t see Larry Elder as much different to himself in their approach to their work and is well aware of the fact that in order to make changes in the world one most certainly needs money, ‘The more ridiculous shit I say that’s hurtful and hateful and racist, the more stupid rednecks will buy more books. I don’t even get mad at them, ‘cause I get what it is…He [Larry Elder] decided to be that black guy that makes money by saying things that white people want black people to say.’

‘I find it very funny that the people who have the hardest time dealing with McGruder’s satire, are the people who truly haven’t done anything productive for blacks since Martin Luther King died. Larry Elder, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton just to name a few,’ says Mike Lee. Would The Boondocks be so controversial if it had a predominately black or urban audience – like it does in the UK?  Would Larry Elder even care so much as to critique the show or strip be it obscure to the mainstream or only satire the black underclass? It could be doubted that Elder would even want to give the show any exposure, not for the refusal of contribution to the success of a highly intelligent black male, after all it’s not the success of Aaron McGruder that troubles black public figures. If McGruder were a golfer, a conformist journalist or creator of something similar to The Cosby Show he probably wouldn’t mutter a single, negative word – in fact, when boasting of black people’s achievements in the world, he might use McGruder as an example. What does anger black middle class figures like Larry Elder is the precise and acute illustration of black society in its totality, broadcasted to the public domain and put in the line of fire.

The Boondocks, heroic and defiant in its illustration of ‘blackness’ and societal, racial and political views acts as the metaphorical mirror being held in the face of American society. Exploring the lives of black people living in a country that is the supposed manifestation of Martin Luther King’s ‘blissful’ dream McGruder unveils, fortunately or unfortunately, the black social and cultural experience in all its glory and criticism. It’s authenticity, frankness and it’s no hold bars approach is what makes it a success. The Boondocks forces people to question their own actions and reactions – even if they don’t do so out loud. Should we be laughing at Uncle Ruckus’s racial verses? Should we be laughing at the poor white teacher Mr. Petto that made a slip of the tongue and called Riley a Nigga in what he thought was a term of endearment, maybe even brotherhood, confused by the various contexts and meanings? Do we ever find Huey’s subversive nature tiresome, even though knowing he is for the greater good of the race?

The Boondocks success is McGruder’s courage and his competence to illustrate the profound issues he does and his outstanding ability to tap into his audience’s mind. McGruder uses the audiences own personal perspective as an interactive part of the experience, finding identification and familiarity with the strip or particular characters is a very fulfilling instant. Watching the short twenty minute cartoon is like being on an emotional roller coaster, the sensation of The Boondocks is beyond description and worth watching or reading just for the sheer amazement at the witness of a genius.

McGruder isn’t about whitewashing blackness or making the truth obscure to anyone – he is just extremely courageous and devoted to presenting his vision with complete veracity to anyone and everyone who cares to know, regardless of their race, class or political affiliation. However, in the words of Huey Freeman, ‘Now here’s something black people have known for a couple of hundred years, niggas are crazy, now black people may not want to talk about crazy niggas in public because white people might be listening, but I’m afraid the secret might be out.’ The Boondocks Season 4 is in production.

Otis Jenkins, A.K.A Thugnificent is Woodcrest’s very own superstar rapper. ‘Otis has found success like many negro American entertainers today, by being a professional buffoon.’

(1)  J Edgar Hoover the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,and to collect evidence using illegal methods.

Marella Ferrera – Sicilian Treasure

Marella Ferrera is possibly one of Sicily’s most influential and inspirational fashion designers still living and working in Sicily. Sicily always at the heart of her artistic endeavours, Marella Ferrera has provided the island not only with its very own claim to high fashion, but possibly one of the most imaginative and intelligent fashion designers to date.

Sicilian fashion designer Marella FerreraMarella Ferrera is an acclaimed Haute Couturier and Prêt a Porter designer who began her career in 1974 after attending the Accademia di Costume e di Moda (Academy of Costume and Fashion, Rome). She has won numerous awards across Europe that have crowned her ‘Best Couturier’ and given her recognition globally. The precious works of Marella Ferrera are not only the proud possessions of Sicilian art and fashion, but are the treasures of Sicilian culture, history and geography.

It is in the creations of Marella Ferrera that one can truly begin to decipher the distinction of Sicilian fashion from Italian, ‘true Sicilian style is not related to the clichés of “mafia, coppola (1) and lupara (2)”, but it is the unique and elegant melange of tradition, heritage; all the conquerors that signed the identity of this land,’ she explains. Using materials that are rustic, raw materials that are geologically Sicilian and materials that may not necessarily be associated with fashion design at all gives Marella her distinctiveness. A Marella Ferrera creation not only acts as an emblem of Sicilian fashion and art, but gives her designs an unmatched exceptionality. The core of a Marella Ferrera design, beyond its sicilianita’ is her desire to create, ‘garments unlike anything you would normally see,’ she says.

A Marella Ferrera dress might be embroidered with terracotta or embellished with thin clay flowers. She incorporates lava rock, rock crystal, copper wire, papyrus, textile paper, cork and palm roots, to name just a few, into her designs. ‘For my professional fulfilment I have always trusted in the potential of my birth land. I have never cut the cord that ties me to Sicily, Sicily is my creative limb.’
Italian Sicilian Catanese Fashion designerThe bodice of a Marella Ferrera dress can take up to one month to be created, she describes the process of making a terracotta dress, ‘it must be painted, then it is broken, pierced with holes, and crocheted together like a piece of embroidery.’ The final result is a dress that one might assume to be heavy or stiff due to the materials used to create it. Surprisingly a terracotta dress weighs only a hundred grams. Using science and geography to create pieces without a mind that continuously seeks knowledge and takes on experimentation might seem impossible, but Marella persists to take on challenges to make new discoveries and push physical boundaries. The advances in technology are paramount to her designs, as this provides her with the tools that allow her to reinvent and present the innate materials of Sicily in original ways.

Her creations have a sensitivity about them that evokes her spirit and her sentiment. Her work is poetic and picturesque, whilst remaining romantic and sensual. Marella’s designs can transform any woman in to a goddess, so much so she designed the wedding gown of Princess Elvira Grimaldi di Nixima, the cousin of Princess Carolina of Monaco and frequently sells her creations to Arab princesses. Her designs are favoured as wedding dresses and ceremonial events. A Marella Ferrera dress is for the occasion that is to be memorable, worn by women who want their garments to have significance and discourse.

It is clear to see that she is a couturier at heart. Placing a Marella Ferrera design in the middle of a room transcends its purpose, from protection and functionality to a piece of art ornamenting a space – a memento of her dreams, her childhood, her travels and her origin. She creates designs with such intricacy and attention to detail that she is any fashion technicians dream. Her fashion design and creative process is just as intriguing and inventive as that of the wondrous Karl Lagerfeld or the talented and late Alexander McQueen. One might indeed find a likeness comparing the work of Marella Ferrera to an artist or a sculptor and this is what makes both her and her work so unique and enchanting. Marella’s designs are a castle in the air, a wonderland or a fairy tale that have been miraculously brought to reality. The utilisation of outstanding technique and an approach to fashion design that is out of this world creates designs that are literally like no other, thus far. Marella Ferrera truly is a Sicilian treasure.

Visit Marrella Ferrera’s multi-functional Museum come Artelier in Sicily Catania. Read more about Sicily in Platform Magazine.

Sicilian cap
1) Sicilian Coppola Cap2) Lupara, sawn down shot gun

 

The Black Book

It is undeniable that the female fashion and lifestyle magazine reader of today is spoilt for choice. The abundance of women’s magazines gracing the shelves is phenomenal, sometimes even overwhelming. A visit to the local WH Smiths can last absolute hours and for the enthusiastic reader, can cost a small fortune, or at least a nice lunch. As readers we select our magazines in accordance to the publications that speaks to who we are, or more aptly, who we aspire to be.  A wealth of publishers, photographers, editors, writers, stylists and designers want to give readers the opportunity to see the world through their eyes. They are the vocal-chord of fashion, communicating the core ideals of the industry through their voices. With great creative manipulation they use the shiny pages of their glossy magazines to show us how beautiful, respectable, fabulous and glamorous the world of fashion is. These creatives, however, that assure us fashion is global, multicultural, powerful and important, whilst being at the same time and most significantly – fabulous, seem to be less eager to style, write, advertise or photograph ethnic women.

London is home to approximately seven million people, known for its great melting pot society. It is the creative hub, rich in cultures, races and lifestyles. There are two and a half million of London’s population living in the capital’s largest borough of Lewisham, half of the population are black. Amongst the assortment of mainstream fashion magazines on display at a Lewisham newsagents it may be possible to spot three or four black women’s lifestyle magazines on the shelf at any one time. This however, does not happen often and when it does, no doubt these newsagents are keen ethnic magazine stockists. There are only but two longstanding UK based women’s lifestyle magazines, Pride, ‘for the woman of colour’ which has been in print for nineteen years and Black Beauty and Hair, ‘for the beauty conscious black woman’, for twenty four years. Acutely looking for these two black ‘lifestyle’ magazines in the Lewisham borough the investigation found it was not always possible to find them on the ethnic magazine stockist’s shelves, however, Jet, Essence, Ebony and Oprah, all of which are black American women’s glossies appeared to be the staple of the such vendors, (of course, whether Oprah is actually a black magazine remains slightly ambiguous).

Whether its music tastes, fashion, Hip Hop and basketball subcultures or hair and beauty matters, it is no revelation that black UK culture follows on the heels of America’s dominant black culture, henceforth, 56% of black women claim they are more likely to read a black American magazine than they are a black UK magazine, opposed to 22% who said they would prefer to read a black UK magazine. 22% of black women claimed they wouldn’t read either. The general consensus feels that black American magazines have a more authentic position on black issues and a greater affluent black population than the UK, with ideologies that UK blacks obviously feel they can identify with. Of course the black population is significantly larger in number in America, hence America’s ability to represent blacks better and produce higher quality black magazines that obtain a larger readership in countries outside of its own. ‘I hardly ever see a Pride magazine in my newsagents and Black Hair and Beauty, never,’ says London College of Fashion trained Afro and European hairdresser, Natasha Bonet. For the woman who never buys a magazine, or doesn’t care too much for them, if there is one place that she is certain to at the least flick through one, it’s at the hairdressers. Most hairdressers spend ample amounts of money on magazines and most black women spend ample amounts of time at the hairdressers. Natasha runs a private boutique hairdressing service in Forest Hill, Lewisham. Her clientele are by referral only. Ninety nine percent of them are black women, who she describes as mature professionals or young upwardly mobile. In the magazine rack in her salon she has Vogue, Glamour, Look, Elle, Marie Claire and OK – all the mainstream glossies you can think of, but not a black magazine in sight, not even a black hair magazine. In this boutique salon, that is, without claiming to be, a posh black hairdressers, even the hair magazines are white hair magazines. If there is a formula for the survival of the black publication it most certainly involves saturating it with black hair editorial, advertorial and adverts.  In fact there are more black hair magazines than there are lifestyle magazines and even those lifestyle magazines are filled with hair products and adverts. Hawker publications, publisher of Black Beauty and Hair magazine also publishes Braids and Naturals, Black Hairstyles and Black Beauty and Hair professional, their media pack says, ‘Black Beauty and Hair has a high pass-on readership because it is the top choice magazine for salons,’ evidently not for this boutique salon.

Black magazines may not be as readily available as mainstream glossies, however this may not be the absolute reason that black women prefer to purchase mainstream magazines as opposed to black magazines. You can guarantee that if there is a black hair shop in the vicinity there is definitely an ethnic magazine stockist nearby. Catford, in Lewisham  has a diminutive town centre, asides from the local butchers, bakers and other high street staples, there isn’t much else there, that is of course, not including two impressively sized, well stocked black hair shops and two newsagents whose black magazine collections are rife. Catford is also home to a WH Smiths, where a black aspiring writer, who refuses to be named, buys her magazines on a weekly basis, ‘I have been collecting Vogue since I was sixteen,’ she says. She also admits that she never used to read them, just admire the fashion and possibly read the cover feature if she liked the celebrity. She only has two black magazines in her collection, ‘One, a friend gave me last year and the other I bought the following month with a conscious effort to support black magazines – what a joke that was.’ She hasn’t bought one since and has vowed never to do so again. There is most certainly a pattern here which is creating a significant problem for black publications. While the majority of black women are quite happy to overlook black UK magazines and receive their lifestyle, beauty and fashion advice from mainstream magazines, the black UK magazine struggles to maintain readership. ‘One hurdle editors and publishers of black newspapers feel that they have to overcome is the lingering belief on the part of many people that any black-run institution is inherently inferior to any comparable white one,’ writes David Hatchett, in his article, The Black Newspaper: Still Serving the Community. He goes on to quote publishing figure, White, ‘Black newspapers have to struggle to get rid of the stereotyping of inferiority that black people place on everything black.’

Many believe that the difficulties that black magazines face are self inflicted, the publications feature poorly edited articles that are neither topical or engaging, the photography at best appears somewhat defective and substandard and the styling and make up, just the same. Of course the quality is a knock on effect of the circulation and advertising rates. Black magazines are a specialist, niche magazine, an alternative to the mainstream magazine, yet they need mainstream readership figures to create the revenue they need to level with the quality of any mainstream glossy, however the black magazine must remain niche, to remain a black magazine. Ed Davies, managing editor of American newspaper, the New Pittsburgh Courier says, ‘Black newspapers are caught in a quality –revenue “Catch 22.” Black newspapers need to hire additional reporters and editors and purchase computer systems and other equipment to improve the quality of their products and attract more readers. More readers will bring in more advertising, which brings in more revenue to further operations.’ Advertising has an insurmountable impact on the survival and production of the magazine, as this is where the publication will generate a significant amount of its revenue. However advertisers markedly are more attracted to advertising their products in magazines with more impressive readership figures, as this creates greater exposure for their product. Mainstream magazines unmistakably provide a more lucrative platform than any niche magazine because the readership figures are greater. ‘Many ethnic magazines are niche products and their publishers should perhaps spend more time promoting the quality of their target readership rather than worrying about the quantity when trying to woo advertisers,’ says Media Week.  Some advertisers claim they are reluctant to advertise in ethnic magazines, some publications aren’t ABC certified (Audit Bureau of Circulations) and publishers swell their readership and circulation figures. Pride has a regular monthly print of 200,000 with a readership of 40,000. Black Beauty and Hair has a regular print of 30,000, how many people actually read Black Beauty and Hair is ambiguous, however Black Beauty and Hair claims to be the biggest selling black UK magazine in WH Smiths and generates the most advertising revenue.

On the complete other end of the scale, Vogue has a total paid circulation of 1,240,800. Magazines such as Vogue can sell advertising space to Versace, Chanel, Christian Dior and Prada and each fashion house has a number of adverts in one edition, advertising various products, from sunglasses, watches, and perfume, to make up, handbags, shoes and clothes. The quantity of adverts in such magazines can be grating for some, in Vogue March 2010, there are fourteen double spread adverts, which totals twenty eight pages, not including the Louis Vuitton double sided fold out, before even getting to the contents page. How does Vogue get away with it? The adverts are beautiful, as are the models, but most importantly they can afford to balance their high fashion adverts with high quality stylists, editors, photographers, features and journalists and for such a reason, their readers are prepared to pay a little extra for the cover price.  Black Hair and Beauty and Pride magazine, the closest equivalent to a glossy magazine, on the other hand fight to secure advertising that can generate sufficient funds to improve the magazine’s quality.

Black magazines cannot attract mainstream advertisers, Versace has never advertised in Pride magazine and neither has H and M.  Media Week claims that, ‘the difficulty for advertisers is that ethnic communities can be as internally diverse in terms of age, language and location as they are distinct from mainstream culture. Add this to a client team’s possible lack of understanding of ethnic cultures and a fear its brand image will be damaged if a company gets its advertising message wrong, and it is perhaps understandable that many advertisers and their creative agencies prefer to stick with the mainstream media they know so well.’ Surely then United Colours of Benetton must have mastered this art, then? The brand prides itself on its diversity and features models of nationalities from all over the world, Alek Wek being a household Benetton model. However, according to the United Colours of Benetton press area the brand hasn’t advertised in either of the major black magazines in the past year and undoubtedly, ever. The truth is, regardless of what Media Week claims about ABC certificates and a team’s lack of ethnic understanding, advertisers don’t consider black consumers to be significant enough to target them solely. David Hatchett quotes a black American media figure, Warren, ‘Many businesses do not advertise in black newspapers because they are not overly important to their marketing strategies in the black community.’ Advertisers are also aware that they can reach the black market through mainstream magazines, as black frequent magazine consumers read mainstream magazines more frequently than black magazines. 86% of black upwardly mobile women under forty read mainstream magazines as opposed to black magazines, 10% of these women said they might buy a Black Beauty and Hair magazine to refer to when getting their hair done.

So what kinds of adverts end up gracing the pages of black magazines? In Pride’s May 2010 edition, seventeen pages of seventeen different brands are dedicated to hair adverts, two double spread adverts, (two brands, four pages) appear before the contents page, in comparison to Vogue’s fourteen adverts, twenty eight pages. Pride evidently has fewer brands to advertise in its publication; out of forty pages dedicated to advertising and seventeen hair adverts, the remaining twenty three pages are dedicated to churches, foster care, community events, black Businesses and organisations and black album releases. The lack of advertisers willing to advertise their brands in black magazines leads to black publications being forced to depend on black businesses, government projects and inevitably, black hairdressers. You wouldn’t be wrong to assume when reading Black Beauty and Hair or Pride, that black women have but one issue in their lives – beauty. ‘It’s embarrassing, surely we have progressed a little more than this, or are we still seeing our beauty through the eyes of European standards?  It’s a shame black history can’t generate more advertising revenue,’ Gemma Ellen says, disappointedly.

89% of black women claim that they do not get sufficient information from UK black magazines, 78% claim they don’t feel they get sufficient information from mainstream magazines either. 75% think that mainstream magazines should diversify and would prefer to see a more diverse and integrated mainstream magazines as opposed to black UK magazines becoming fruitfully successful within their own specialist niche. Only 25% feel mainstream magazines are created to represent the majority and are fulfilling their remit perfectly, they believe it is the black UK magazines responsibility to satisfy black women. 100% of women feel that the black UK magazine is completely necessary for black women living in this country. Although the obvious differences between blacks and Caucasians are hair and beauty related, the disparity isn’t just skin deep, black women feel that the black UK magazines should feature editorial that mainstream publishers won’t publish, such as cultural and social issues, they also feel strongly about covering editorial focused on black history.

Instead what black women end up with is something that resembles the yellow pages of hair, an index of black hair salons, photography of black hair styles and hair stylists (which also advertise black hair salons) and page after page of black hair products. It is overwhelmingly tedious to sieve out any editorial that isn’t advertising or writing about black beauty issues or hairdressers. Black Beauty and Hair’s photography is cleverly disguised, at a first glance you may think the photography is the cultivated vision of the magazine, makeup artists, hairstylists, stylists, photographers and the creative director coming together to create something which captures the essence of the magazine, however you would be mistaken. A source reveals that Black Beauty and Hair magazine have nothing to do with the production of the pages of photography, ‘hairdressers arrange their own photography, send it over to the magazine, who advertise their salon on the page. The magazine doesn’t actually do any photo shoots.’ The magazine’s offices, or office, to be apt is just as non impressive; one office, three desks, no more than a handful of computers and on that particular visit, two members of staff. David Hatchett says, ‘Another yoke around the necks of the black newspapers is the continuous movement of the better black editors and reporters from black newspapers to better paying jobs at white-owned newspapers.’ So, which black journalist, with the possible power to begin the resolution of the black magazine predicament aspires to work for such publications? It is rumoured that the editor of Pride magazine has no journalistic qualifications and Black Beauty and Hair doesn’t appear to have the need to employ anyone that isn’t working on a sales and commission basis. Aspiring black journalists ultimately want exposure, they want their work to be read, accredited and critically acclaimed, understandably they want to receive the big bucks, the aspiring black journalist wants to write for a mainstream publication.

However it would appear that there is a change slowly developing and it has begun by marketers and advertisers recognising the black beauty market share. Cosmetic brands such as MAC, Bobbi Brown and Clinique cater for a greater range of skin colours and therefore nationalities than most mainstream brands and reflect this in their advertising campaigns. MAC has featured black celebrities such as Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige in their campaigns. Clinique and Bobbi Brown both frequently cast models of various nationalities. All three brands are regularly in the editorial of Black Beauty and Hair and Pride. Both MAC and Clinique have adverts in the May 2010 edition of Pride; Clinique has a double page spread, the only double page spread advert throughout the entire magazine, barring two hair adverts.  MAC has a single page advert which features Lady Gaga. These are, however, the only mainstream adverts in the magazine, whose products cannot be bought at the local pharmacy, such as Vaseline or Cocoa Butter. On the other side of the coin, ‘Superdrug is the first high street retailer to throw its weight behind an ethnic cosmetics brand, by stocking Sleek Make UP in more than 100 stores nationwide. Like the rest of the retailers, Boots sells only a small number of ethnic brands in selected stores,’ says Mintel.Fashion retailer Next revamped its brand in 2007 and made mixed race, Brazilian born Emanuela de Paula its household model. In turn Marie Claire has notably begun to diversify their subject matter and identify with their readers beyond the black token celebrity on the cover; Emanuela de Paula features in the fashion spread of the June 2010 edition, which introduces The New Black, which describes itself, in the words of Marie Claire, as being ‘all about black beauty.’ In actual fact, it’s a page with four hair and makeup tips written by black fashion and beauty writer and editor of Brownsfashion.com, Funmi Odulate, nevertheless this definitely shows the black Marie Claire reader that she is being acknowledged.

What brought on this change? In a word – money.  According to Carole White, co-founder of Premier Model Management, ‘Black models do not sell,’ (unfortunately she made this statement before the Vogue Black is Beautiful edition was released, which flew off the shelves and had to go into print twice). It may be the general media consensus that black models do not sell, but black women most certainly consume. Mintel reports inform marketers and advertisers that the black female consumer is a valuable and untapped market, with a thriving consumer base that can make a significant boost to product sales. ‘Ethnic make-up, skincare and hair care is a niche market worth £65 million in 2007, growing by 18% since 2002. However, the ethnic beauty products market has not kept pace with population growth, due to a lack of impactful new product activity and limited distribution opportunities. Market growth is hampered by limited availability of ethnic brands on the high street. Ethnic brands are losing sales to mainstream cosmetics and toiletries brands as ethnic women turn to a wider range of brands to meet their beauty and personal care needs,’ Mintel reports.

However, advertisers are already aware of the fact that they don’t need to advertise in black publications to contact the black market share as more black women read mainstream magazines as opposed to black magazines anyhow. Should diversification of mainstream magazines occur, it would be more likely to render the adverts that are currently limited to black magazines being advertised in mainstream glossies. This would inevitably lead to mainstream magazines hiring more black journalists. Black readers already lost for reasons to purchase the black UK magazine, in this instance will no longer have any need to do so, whatsoever. Whether Vogue will ever sell advertising space to Sensationnel is debatable, however, if black magazines are already struggling to stay above board and are doing so without being entirely respected by the black population, the diversification of mainstream magazines could lead to the complete demise of the black magazine, the magazine that black women feel is totally necessary to the UK.  If what black women want is the choice between a good UK black magazine and a mainstream magazine then ultimately they need to begin by purchasing the black UK magazine and remaining loyal consumers. Only then will the revenue be generated to improve the quality of production, the increased advertising rates and a better editorial content – but until the black woman’s market becomes a market that can solely be communicated to via its own channel, Versace will never cast a black model and will never advertise in Pride magazine.And how does this affect the black magazine? The impact can be vast. Primarily, the more this niche market  is recognised, the more marketers will want mainstream products to tap into it, this will initiate the diversification in the advertising of mainstream products, possibly employing more black creative advertisers to create more ethnically diverse advertisements, requiring the casting of more black models. Needless to say, such adverts would fit aptly in the black magazine and conclusively give the black magazine its lifeline; a continuous flow of mainstream advertisers. At long length this should precipitate greater readership figures, possible higher advertising rates and a requirement for better black journalists, photographers, editors and staff in general, creating a significantly more attractive magazine for readers, advertisers and prospective employees. It sounds all a bit pie in the sky, but may be less far off than some may realise. The past two years have seen two Vogue Italia editions celebrating blackness in one way or another, in 2008 Vogue Italia created the The Black Issue, in 2009 Vogue Italia celebrated Barbie’s fiftieth anniversary by creating an edition which consisted of back to back pages of  photography of black Barbies only, titled The Barbie Issue. Vogue Italia has even gone that one step further and has a residential section on their website entitled Vogue Black, which devotes itself to the black Vogue reader. Vogue Black is written in English and features black writers from Italy, New York, London and Paris. The site discusses black issues, photos black women and features black celebrities and models.

*It is to be noted that since this investigative feature was written Marie Claire’s The New Black appears to have dropped off the pages since its November edition.

*Boots now stocks a number of black beauty products.

*Toni and Guy and Pantene have developed products for afro hair.

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Quinn, C. (2009). How to Pitch and Sell a Freelance Feature. London: Methuen.

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Rooks, N. M. (1996). Hair Raising, Beauty Culture and African American Women. In N. M. Rooks, Hair Raising, Beauty Culture and African American Women (p. 34). Brooklyn: Rutgers University Press.

Rubinstein, R. P. Dress Codes. Westview Press.

Scranton, P. (2001). Beauty and Business. New York : Routledge.

Sex, Lies and Advertising. (1990, aug). Retrieved 04 01, 2010, from Publishing Business Group: http://www.publishingbiz.com/html/articlebysteinem.html

Taggart, C. (2010). Writers Market UK and Ireland. Cincinatit: D & C.

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Dolce and Gabbana Catwalk Report: Sicilianita’

It is impossible to speak with the Sicilian artist about their work without them slip into a profound nostalgia of their land and its spirit in their creations. Their devotion is thrilling, poignant and undeniably powerful, all the core ingredients that created Dolce and Gabbana’s collection this season.

The two Italians managed to communicate an affectionate homage to Sicily and the fashion house’s core essence by creating classic Dolce and Gabbana; perfect tailoring and seductive femininity. The show was entitled ‘Sicilianita’, translating Sicilian-ness, the quintessence of Sicily.

Amidst the minimal chic humdrum, it had seemed that the woman had been robbed of her real meaning. Thankfully, Dolce and Gabbana served up a beautiful myriad of dresses, made from Sicilian lace, velvet and satin that brought sexy back. The dresses were breathtaking to the eye, made from materials that were sumptuous to the touch.  Knee length fitted leopard print and polka dotted dresses, form fitting and to the knee were extraordinary.  Underwear as outerwear appeared in an array of sensuous 1950’s inspired body suits. Bustiers and French knickers peaked out beneath tailored jackets and caramel coloured corsets were decorated with contrasting black lace. The theme here was not minimal, but intense and dreamy, just as rich and alluring as Italian ice cream.

There was a constant dance between logic and emotion, romance and reality. Whether the Dolce and Gabbana woman wore the classic tailored short suit, or played on the under wear as outer wear, in feminine lace and sheer materials, there was a sense of the strong Sicilian woman in every ensemble.

The Italian Sicilian duo redefined and distinguished, with total clarity all that is exquisite about the continent, the island and the woman. It was an assemblage that set apart the Dolce and Gabbana woman from any other woman this season and presented her with what it truly means to be a woman’s woman; sexy, sensuous, classy and elegant.

The collection kept its strength, it remained Sicilian, it remained classic and extremely ‘sexy woman.’ If there was ever a moment for the Sicilian to be proud, now would be as good as any.

With Miss Campbell taking respite from her diamond debacle on the island, Sicily is only seconds away from becoming the next destination a la moda.

A Man’s Visual Instinct…?

Whether we are at work, on Oxford Street doing some much needed shopping with the girls, heading to Old Street for early evening drinks or Sunday lunching with family and friends, no matter where our presence may be, our appearance shall always be judged. Where does the fashion sensitive woman’s standards and visual instincts, that she uses to judge herself and other women, really come from? Ayesha Charles Reports.
 
Jennifer Lopez Versace Grammy Dress

Basic humaninstincts has us judge what is before us with our senses, those of us lucky enough to have all five senses seem to be led instinctively by what appears. What we wear can blur the lines of class, status, wealth, politics and taste, giving us the all the ability to materialise as who we want to be or who we wish to be perceived as. Fortunately or not, depending on your stance, what we wear and our general external appearance plays an immensely significant role in how we are treated in society. Traditionally, as women in the western world we have a far more intense relationship with our external bodies and appearance, this is very much reflected in women’s fashion and it’s enormity and variety in comparison to men’s fashion. We have an insurmountable choice when it comes to ornamenting our exterior. Before we even begin to consider colour, fabric, length or cut, we deliberate over dresses or skirts, trousers or leggings, costume jewellery or precious stones, practicality or glamour. Of the eighty two Oscar ceremonies we have only just had our first woman win Best Director, we are still struggling to diminish the twenty percent extra that men earn over women and the ratio of female to male designers is twenty five percent to seventy five, yet we have a world of fashion and beauty products available to us in abundance, how come?

According to Mr Sigmund Freud, ‘Most normal people desire to look at and derive pleasure from looking at things they find sexually attractive.’ Many theorists would have it that women inherently are to be looked at, to be pleasing to the eye and give the onlooker pleasure in looking. John Berger, art critic, author, painter and novelist made an eminent declaration, stating that, ‘Men act and women appear – If men decide how to behave towards a woman on the basis of her appearance, a woman has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.’ This statement no doubt applies a great deal of pressure to women, our appearance is judged doubly by society; firstly as women, the alternative sex, secondly, as objects of the male desire – but by no means does this make us victims. On paper, Berger’s theory reads far worse than it is in actual fact. The truth is, as women we battle with our desirability everyday – playing it up and toning it down in order to get what we want and to keep away what we don’t. It all sounds so femme fatale, Catherine Tremmel like, but really it’s just another intrinsic skill added to the woman’s list of survival tactics.

In the Black and Blue, a bar tucked away inside Borough Market, a group of us were meeting for after work drinks to celebrate a twenty sixth birthday. Cassandra Jones, a Diary Secretary for the department of health arrives in an oatmeal micro mini skirt, with a long sleeved black t-shirt, black tights and ballet pumps, very tastefully put together. However, the length or lack thereof, of her skirt stirred up some conversation; incredulously, we asked her if she had worn that skirt at work, ‘Yes,’ she said, almost defensively, ‘If I had long legs or was wearing heels it would be a problem, but I’m short – it’s ok.’ In society we discredit a woman for using her femininity or attractiveness as a tool to get ahead, but in this case we know Cassandra, she’s an intelligent woman who is far too feminist to ever endorse such behaviour. Yet instantly and instinctively she validated herself for wearing a mini skirt in the work place and we, as women and her friends instinctively judged her for it. Could these instincts be the lingering remains of the cave man mentality residing in us?
 
In the power dressing eighties it would have been considered the norm to be irked by a woman dressed in a mini skirt in the work place, regardless of whether she was doing it for personal advancement or sheer self expression, it was completely unheard of. Emma Soames, British editor of Saga magazine says, ‘Thirty years ago we were happy to be accepted professionally – we regarded it perfectly ok to dress mannishly to beat our way to the boardroom…we subconsciously accepted that we were operating in an utterly male world and playing by their rules.’ Even though Emma wasn’t playing up her desirability, with her career in mind she had to pay attention to the fact that she was an object of desire, of distraction, of the alternative sex and tone down her ‘otherness’, which ultimately equivocates dressing for the man’s approval.
 
I asked a number of women whose approval they seek when they get dressed on a daily basis; the answers were split fifty-fifty between dressing for themselves and for the approval of other fashion conscious women – of course, none claimed to dress for the man’s approval. Gemma Ellen, a twenty six year old prison officer spends ninety percent of her time dressed in a uniform she detests, ‘It’s manly, it doesn’t give me any shape and funnily enough it makes me feel naked,’ she says, ‘I relish the opportunity to get dressed up, put some heels on and feel like a woman.’ Gemma Ellen is lucky enough to have a bra size that could permit her to be a Glamour model, what she fills her bra with is all hers, however, unlike such models she never wears low cut tops or anything that accentuates this part of her body, ‘I don’t want that kind of attention.’ Although this is completely comprehendible and we know the exact kind of attention Gemma Ellen is referring to, it’s still almost contradictory; she hates her uniform because it stifles her femininity, yet when she has the opportunity to dress as she chooses, she plays down an inherently female asset, (An asset that woman all over the world are paying thousands of pounds to enhance in order to feel more feminine and possibly more attractive to the opposite sex) because she doesn’t want the – male attention?
Selina Sydonnie, a twenty five year old ex model, turned English and Drama student has too claimed that she dresses for herself and possibly the women in her life, ‘Men haven’t got a clue,’ she says. Once upon a time she was a Nike, Gap jeans and quirky t-shirt wearer, dressed appropriately for hanging out at her actor, boyfriend’s Caterham mansion. Now, she is a social butterfly and today she wears a black bandeau skirt, with a tunic top, Hogan pumps and an Yves Saint Laurent Downtown bag. ‘Well, I’m a single woman now, I want to get dressed up. I enjoy it. I would never dare to leave my house without eyeliner – even if I’m just going to Sainsbury’s.’ It is to be noted that Selina split up with her boyfriend of ten years, nine months ago and is now actively enjoying playing the field.
 
 
If one of the intrinsic roles of the woman is her to-be-looked-at-ness then the women I have encountered are not only enjoying, but fulfilling this prescribed area of their femininity. Of course the codes of good taste and modesty would have it that we keep our exhibitionistic elements to a minimum and dress accordingly.
It’s considered cheap and vulgar to dress too far left of the modesty mark – it resonates sex worker, who emphasise their sexual desirability for capital gains and trade solely on their objectivity to men. On the other end of the scale are women who rebel against their objectivity and their femininity,denying any adornment that plays up their sexuality as women. Fashion sensitive women seem to frown upon anything overtly sexual and contrived and anything that lacks femininity and attention – surprisingly enough, so do men.
 
It could be considered that dressing for the male approval is so deeply rooted in western society we are now none the wiser we even do it, or we are so accepting of our desirability and objectivity that we just get on with it, using it or not when we feel it to be appropriate. But it would appear that the women I encountered still judge themselves and other women by the very own standards they are confined to, using the man’s process to decide what’s attractive and appropriate. Kate Millet says that, ‘The woman’s image is fashioned by men,’ they may cringe at the thought of dressing for a man’s approval, but ultimately, if women are judging other women on their employability, their performance in the work place, their attractiveness, their ability to get a husband, their femininity and their sexuality, all by how they adorn their external bodies and the woman’s image was indeed tailored by and for men, then dressing for the approval of their friends and dressing for the approval of themselves is no different than dressing for a man’s approval.
‘Maybe I have contradicted myself, and maybe I do dress for a man’s approval,’ Selina Sydonnie admits, ‘but I’m not a try hard and I don’t dress provocatively – at least not when it isn’t suitable. I just love getting dressed up.’
Mini Skirts and The Mini Show

Mini Skirts and The Mini Show

 When Mary Quant named the ever rising skirt after her favourite car, the mini, no doubt she had foreseen the ambiguity of the term ‘mini’, in mini skirt. It wouldn’t have been absurd to assume that no matter how short the mini skirt rises, it will always have reference to it’s length or lack thereof, as opposed to this actual region of the female body. Low and behold, once yet again, followers of fashion have thrown caution to the wind and out with it has gone their dignity and in coming, the bandeau skirt (I prefer to call it the spandex skirt, it sounds more offensive). The bandeau skirt, just to be clear, should not be worn by women twenty one and over with; wide hips, a pronounced bum, a saggy bum, shapely thighs, cellulite, ample belly, bow legs or those lucky enough to possess a womanly shape. Imagine lycra stretched across the bottoms of the likes of Jenny Lo and Beyonce, the volume on the sex, crude and overly suggestive radar rings far too loudly for good taste and screams ‘Look at me, look at me,’ for cultivated and gracious style, this is a deterrent.

There are, however, better things to wrap one’s derriere in; skirts that don’t stretch or roll up when you walk, that have an intricate pattern or cut and are well tailored. The spandex skirt’s lack of imagination is reflected in it’s three pounds retail price and unlike a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti shoes or a Robert Deniro, Martin Scorsese collaboration, that are both instantly impressive, this skirt most certainly is not. Of course the sexual power a short skirt possesses is undeniable, which is why, as age progresses, it is paramount to get the balance between length, quality and textile spot on.

It’s not so much the length of the bandeau skirt that disgruntles me, it’s not even the fact that it’s made of spandex – well maybe it is, in fact, the reasons such a skirt aggravates me are intrinsic; It is completely impossible to wear this skirt as short as it intended to be worn and it be made out of the stretchy material it is to be made from and preserve dignity at the same time. There is no way anyone above the age of five could keep their dignity in this thing and should a five year old be wearing such a skirt, then it is the mother’s dignity in question.

At a fifteen year olds birthday party, girls pranced around a bomb fire, dancing to music, drinking cider, wearing bandeau skirts that stretched to their fullest capacity, barely managed to cover their bum cheeks. It was obligatory with every reach for the marshmallows or Pringles to get an eyeful of big white knickers, which was then, followed by the obligatory ‘pull my skirt out of my bum to cover my dignity’ tug.

The point is, this combination of material, length and garment requires the don of a lady and not just in physicality, but by nature and demeanour; the woman who knows to sit with her legs crossed, who ensures that the knickers she wears beneath her tights or skirt are matching or mute, as to avoid striking anyone with lightening flashes of luminous colour, she also knows, if required to, she bends her knees instead of bending over. Of course, it is arguable that women of this kind would actually wear a spandex, bandeau, elastic skirt in the first instance.

It sounds harsh, maybe a little prejudice, but I have seen far too many minis of the past month not be concerned, firstly, by the female’s understanding of the mini skirt, secondly by their desire to wear these obviously malfunctioning crotch and buttock revealing skirts and wearing them as though they are as comfortable as a pair of track suit bottoms, paying almost no attention to the unfortunate discomfort, impracticality and attention required when wearing an insanely short elastic skirt. Of course, the skirt being made of spandex means the material itself is less movement restrictive as opposed to a cotton skirt, so this should be where the constraint of possessing decorum and poise would kick in, you’d think. But I have seen the crux of tights one too many times and am compelled to let the spandex, elastic band wearers know, unless being with your lover or your gynaecologist, not at any other point should I or do I care to see what lies beneath and nor does anybody else. Flashing was hot in Basic Instincts, but as was Catherine Tramell, it’s not so hot getting flashed on the tube, by a girl who wears ladders in her tights, holes in her knickers and has to yank her skirt out of her arse whilst readying herself to get off at her stop. It’s unsightly and quite frankly disgusting, it’s worst than that god awful g-string trend, you know the one when females began wearing their g-strings above their jeans waist line? Of course I am not so anal to know that this crotch flashing thing isn’t a trend, more than it be a fashion faux pas, but again, the surmountable display of this feminine region is definitely indicative of a change in the  female’s attitude towards this part of their body.  

Recently a friend came round, dressed for a night out, she too was wearing one of these bandeau things, truth be told, to see her without one is a miracle. She was sat on my bed trying on a pair of my sisters new Kurt Geiger Kinetic shoes, once slipping her foot in she begins to fiddle with the buckle, struggling to do it up, before she contemplates moving to the edge of the bed, putting her foot on the floor and leaning over to buckle the shoe this way, she cocks her leg up, like a dog sitting on it’s back side itching it’s ear and awkwardly and unattractively and does the buckle up. I look at her in horror and she laughs, ‘So what? I’ve got thick tights on,’ she informs me. Well doesn’t that put me in my place? She also tells me, ‘If you wear big knickers, it doesn’t matter anyway.’ 

So, the new attitude may be that if your genitalia is well concealed, it’s OK to continue to let your lycra skirt roll up to your belly button and to sit with your legs akimbo, should you fancy it. I suppose Lady Gaga and Beyonce wouldn’t disagree much with this new trend or way of thinking. Admittedly, if I had the power, the success and the luxury to dress and henceforth act frivolously, I most certainly wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to wear a spandex skirt and not give a f*, however as I submerge myself further and further into my twenties and closer and closer to thirty, the commodity and art of style has become far more valuable to me than capricious fashions –  this may render me boring, but are fashion victims stylish?

I don’t doubt those sheathing themselves in the spandex skirt that are old enough to know better, might come up with some kind of empowering and liberating women crap, but unfortunately half the females sporting this trend are not old enough or conscious enough for their mini displays to demonstrate anything other than bad manners and terrible dress etiquette. The sheer fact that these skirts are being worn in the first place suggests some form of fashion and aesthetic interest, for such an interest it is the wearer’s responsibility to also know that an eyeful of crotch is definitely not aesthetically pleasing…even if Gaga’s doing it.

 

Inamo – Soho London

Inamo – Soho London

Located in the middle of Soho, Wardour street is host to Inamo, the oriental fusion restaurant. The decor, although incredibly minimal has a stylishly modern and chic appeal, the monochrome of the white walls and chairs, edged with black borders creates a clean and simplistic finish, juxtaposed by the red snowflake kitsch pattern that garnishes the windows. Tables are lined up literally inches apart and being unfortunate enough to be seated against the back wall, sliding in and out between the tables for necessary bathroom visits, gave my neighbours a discomforting amount of bum in their plates. Due to the proximity of neighbouring tables I was also able to decipher most of their conversation, which in turn they exchanged in whispers.

Like most patrons of Inamo, my partner had been drawn in by Inamo’s unique and innovative concept – the technological self ordering system and ambience selection. Above each table in the restaurant, set in a large white cocoon like lampshade is a projector, the white tables act as the projector screen as well as a touch sensitive, interactive pad. At Inamo, human service is a thing of the past and all ordering takes place through the interaction between your fingers and the hi – tech table.  On the touch sensitive table you can scroll through the menu, which displays descriptions, prices and pictures of each meal. In order to make a selection from the menu you tap on the chosen meal, which is then displayed on an orders list, once you have completed your selection, you tap on the order icon and miraculously your order is fed through a system which has your food on the table within fifteen minutes. No doubt it is needless to say, that the food is actually placed on the table by a human being and doesn’t digitally appear as you might expect.  As well as your table being an electronic ordering system, it also allows you to modify the colour and pattern display on your table, play games and watch the food being prepared in the kitchen.

For starters we ordered kelp marinated sea bass Sashimi, salmon and avocado Ceviche and a selection of Nigiri, followed by mains of Cinnamon Chicken and Black Face Lamb. Due to the safe, non adventurous nature of chicken and my frequency of consumption of this particular bird when I was younger, I am now adverse to ordering chicken when eating out. Against my better judgement I ordered the cinnamon chicken and was most certainly not impressed. Although having no idea what such a dish might or should taste like, I had imagined the cinnamon would make this dish far more exciting than it had. The chicken lacked taste and most certainly needed a good seasoning or at the least some salt, the cinnamon flavour was barely there and merely added a dark brown crisp to the outer edge of what was already a dry chicken.  The Black Face Lamb on the other hand was absolutely divine, seasoned to perfection, succulent, slightly pink and falling off the bone – sadly there wasn’t much of this dish to share to make up for my terrible chicken order.

If you are fond of oriental foods and don’t have a particularly significant appetite or are calorie counting then Inamo is most certainly ideal, the food is fresh, light and the portions are minuscule.   Unfortunately Inamo will not be a restaurant I will be dining at again.  The hard, slippery chairs, the proximity of the tables and the ordering process most certainly does not lend itself towards comfort and slow dining. In fact, upon arrival I had foolishly assumed that this was a modish fast food restaurant, a voguish Wagamas or Cha Cha Moon. I realised I couldn’t be more wrong once viewing the e-menu, which priced it’s cheapest main dish, a measly plate of vegetables, at eight pounds.

The touch sensitive tables and intelligent projectors are the true stars of this show, sadly, they did not dazzle me enough to offset the dissatisfaction of my meal, my discomfort and a seventy pound bill for two (one glass of wine), which I thankfully was not paying.

 

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