Like most little girls I had a very strong imagination growing up. I played with dolls, I dressed up like a princess and I imagined (pretty much solely thanks to Disney) that someday my prince would come, riding his white horse and whisk me away from my little split-level bungalow in North Toronto to his fabulous castle with a Michelin Star chef and a full time masseuse... and of course live happily ever after. But what every Disney Princess did not know was that behind the castle gates, after that sun had set there lurked the in-laws...ohhhh the Royal in-laws. With their pending pre-nup, royal wedding planner and most importantly the countless rules and regal protocol for marrying into their family.
A Day With London Fashion Designer Charli Cohen and Suki, Her Instagram Famous Pomeranian
London and Fashion. Two words that go together like ….er...London and Fashion. I love fashion and its crazy scene, its colourful people and its ever changing landscape. I was raised by a mother who was a fashion model turned photographer, my father a fashion editor/writer and I started my early days as a model in Italy followed by short career as a wardrobe stylist in the film industry in Canada. I was surrounded, raised breathed and weaned in fashion's colourful flamboyant fabric.
So when a opportunity came up to bid on a “Day With A London Fashion Designer” for UNICEF, well it was in my mind sold before the auction had even finished. I wanted this. I thought this would be a fun experience. You know, get a few insider tips, a brief fashion update…and a little bit of a fresh perspective on the world of London fashion as told from the inside. What I didn't expect was to be impressed with this new generation of the conscientious designer, and how through this ethically moral compass fashion and its people are being redefined.
Girlfriends are your life source.
They have gotten you through messy breakups, given you honest fashion advise (sometimes even unsolicited) been there to let you vent..and vent...and vent, hold your hair back when the Tequila shots are making their way back up, got you home safely, cried when you cried and made you laughed when all you wanted to do is curl up with your other best friends Ben & Jerry and drown your sorrows in a tub of Chuncky Monkey. Girlfriends are your life source.. you could show up at their door at 3:00 in the morning with a dead body and they say nothing as they go and grab their shovel.
So now here you are, in a new city and a zillion miles from anyone you knows you shouldn't drink tequila. So you my friend need to get out there and find yourself some new local girlfriends...start dating for friends.
It is believed to be started by a faulty appliance. The fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, an apartment building in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea not far from where I live. Grenfell is located in a pocket of social deprivation within one of the wealthiest areas of Britain. London's wealthiest borough yet its poorest neighbourhood.
By now everyone has seen and heard about the terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market. Currently leaving seven dead and 48 seriously injured. As a Canadian living in London thankfully I have never experienced this kind of anger, panic and terror these extremist groups are invoking on others. However this Canadian girl has now found myself in the middle of city that is a prime target for attacks. Am I fearful….? Not yet. Am I keenly aware of my surroundings as a potential target….? You bet I am.
So currently I am back in Toronto to spend some time with my mother and family. It is spring, it is April and the weather REALLY, REALLY SUCKS. Barely a crocus in sight. Currently in London however the weather and foliage looks exactly like this!
THE VOTE THAT DIVIDED A NATION AND GENERATIONS
THE BREXIT TENSION IS THICK
I am not a political person. In fact I cannot stand politics as a general rule. I place politicians right up there with car mechanics and dentists with people I trust. Since the historic EU referendum results with Britain voting 52% in favour of leaving (Brexit) the European Union (EU) I have been inundated with phone calls and emails from back home asking what does that mean, whats going on, what is the feeling in London?
Since the result of the referendum I personally have seen a shift in the people of London that inspired me to write this non-political /political post on my personal observations. I am not qualified nor as a Expat am I interested in talking the politics that brought the UK to this point, nor does anyone know what is going to happen moving forward but what I can tell you is since the vote England has become clearly divided in various ways. It is in that divide that has some people believe they have the permission and authority to behave very, very badly.
London Verses The Rest of Britain
London is mostly a city of educated people. So based on the demographic of voters it is not a surprise that the majority of the city voted to Remain In. They hold degrees, have professional careers, carry passports and are productive individuals. This is the documented demographic of those who voted REMAIN. I recognize I am living in a bit of an expat bubble as these REMAINERS are the people around my dinner table. In fact I don’t know of any friends who supported LEAVE. I guess it is similar to Trump supporters, I know they are out there in numbers I just personally don’t know any. But I have personally run into some of the of Londoners that voted LEAVE and I guess my question is why after winning the vote are they so angry?
I was having lunch at Selfridge’s Food Hall when this elderly British man walking toward me dropped his tray with a couple of drinks on it. He blamed me for this although I was about six feet away. I was talking to him at the time telling him I had saved the table I thought he was moving towards. He was angry and started making a scene. The waitress who was helping with the situation was a Portuguese girl who has lived in London for eight years. As it became clear to the man that I would not be replacing his dropped drinks he took his anger out on the Portuguese waitress. Slamming her for taking away jobs from the Brits. Holding her and “her-kind” responsible for all that was wrong in HIS country. He slammed me too for being an “aggressive American” (nope Canadian and never once lost it on him). The fact that he was surrounded by non-Brits in a food hall gave him license to blame everyone but himself for dropping his tray. This had become a “foreigner fault” situation. The waitress replaced his drinks although under no obligation to do so and after he had left the waitress apologize for the man, saying that this has now become common, angry Brit’s telling anyone with a accent (including me the aggressive American) to “go back where you came from”. She told me that in the Selfridges' Food Hall that on her shift of 80 people only two are British. Do we think that Selfridges’ a Canadian owned company, founded by an American, based in England is discriminating against hiring Brits? Hmm, I don’t think so. But the man with the food tray and many other believe that to be true...and they are angry.
The Fear Is Real
There are some Europeans I have spoken to that have now taken to not speaking on The Tube for fear that their accents could give rise for potential alertcation. An Arab man was being harassed when I was at the Apple Store. He came up to the Apple Genius who was serving me looking to get some help, saying “brother, this guy is abusive, I need your help… you know what I’m talking about”. My Apple Genius had brown skin (and a British accent). You only have to turn on the news to hear the stories of different nationalities who have come to the UK to make a better life for themselves and their families and they are being harassed, bullied and assaulted. AND THIS IS LONDON! I wonder if somewhere in Paris some Frenchman is yelling at some Brit telling him to get the hell out of his country. Not that the Parisian's don't feel like that most of the time. I would hate to imagine what it is like in the districts that voted overwhelming for exiting the EU. It is almost like this vote has given people permission to be rude, aggressive xenophobes and invoke fear as they are personally trying to rid England of all foreigners and “take back our country”. Strange a country full of immigrants, afraid of immigrants.
Young Verses The Old
The Brexit’s vote biggest demographic was the elderly. Vote to Remain was the young. The youth (of those who came out to vote ) voted overwhelming to stay in the EU. This has created another divide, this time it is of those family members, different generations sitting around their dinner table. A common uprising is that the young people in Britain are angry now believing the old have voted away their future and will not even be around in years to come to feel the consequences. Sadly the youth of Britain did not have a high voter turn-out. Had they, many believe the outcome would have been very different.
That is not to say all of the elderly supported Brexit. I meet two elegant and outspoken women in their 80’s (think Maggie Smith and The Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey) who were sitting next to me at a lovely restaurant for lunch in Sloane Square. They shared with me that after the vote they had lost approximately 20% on their savings in the stock market and investments. Savings they required to live on. They had both voted to REMAIN. As a sweet aside one of the woman hand wrote her name and address on the back of my bill saying that if I ever needed something in London I should contact her as she knew what it felt like to be in a new city. Funny but she had intimidated me up to that point, sort of like a strict proper English school teacher. I have kept her address.
The Educated Verses The Uneducated
The stats are as follows, the higher educated you are, the higher income you make, the more likely you would have voted to Remain In. There is a widening rift in British society that this vote has sharpened its focus smack dab in the middle of it. Ironic but I guess not surprising is that the regions with the highest percentage of votes for Leave also tend to be the most “economically intertwined” with the EU. Dropping their tray and looking for someone else to pay for their drinks.
Could There Be A Civil War?
I was sitting next to an Irish man on the bus, a working man, dirt under his fingernails, in dire need of a bath with a working class slang that made him very difficult to understand. It took no encouragement from me for him to tell me what was wrong with Britain, how the foreigners have taken all the jobs and are impossible to understand (funny as he was near impossible to understand). He went through each foreign nationality sparing no one. He was telling me how lazy they all were (yet clearly they were all busy working on all those jobs they had taken). How they add nothing to the country with maybe a small exception of the Italians for opening up some good restaurants. He spoke in stereotypes and concluded they should all go back home so “England can become England again”. Then was not the time to bring to his attention that he himself was not English but rather Irish.
I did find it all sickly fascinating as I sat there taking the 20 minute bus ride to Kensington. He asked if I live in that neighbourhood and I lied and said no. He said that was good because it was a very stuck up neighbourhood filled with rich snobs taking advantage of the working class. I felt that if given the chance (and a pitchfork and a torch) he would have been storming Kensington Palace.
I am not saying there are not problems with the whole system but like I said at the beginning I am not either interested or qualified to discuss the issues, there was misinformation on both sides. I am just here to share with you what I am observing first hand. He did say something that even a few days later I could not shake, he said that with the country being so divided he thinks that England could have a civil war, the Un-United Kingdom.
With England currently without a captain, this country and the generations living here are greatly divided and this giant ship is adrift in very troubled waters. Aboard the ship the passengers are close to mutiny arguing which way is land. But try as I could, I could not totally dismiss the Irishman’s theory. People are scared. Scared of the future or scared of their neighbour. Some experts have even theorized about this being the start of the break down of Western Civilization and even World War lll. There is fear.
One Last Observation
Last Saturday London had its country's largest anti-Brexit protest called March For Europe. Born from a simple Facebook event posted only a week before over 35,000 people came out to support the UK staying in the EU. It was a peaceful, supportive gathering as the masses marched down the streets of London ending at Parliament Square in the giant shadow of Big Ben. The repeated message was to stop stereotyping or degrading the LEAVE supporter but rather take action by lobbying your MP as they are the governing body that can potentially do something. In the crowd of 35,000 people not once did I feel any fear, anger or uneasiness. The same could not be said that day in Selfridge’s Food Hall or sitting beside the man in the bus. There was even a woman, a LEAVE supporter who clearly felt no fear either as she stood in the middle of those thousands of REMAINERS holding a LEAVE sign over her head. She was booed…that was about it.
There are a ton of articles, videos and posts (now one more with this one) on Brexit, the future of the UK and the rising divide between Remain In: vs Leave. But none in my opinion so brilliantly explained Brexit as well as comedian John Oliver did. If you really want to understand what this is about and you have a few minutes I highly recommend watching this funny…yet very true rant.
Oh…so you know, it was banned on UK television until after the vote…so you know it has to be good.
You must have heard of that saying that goes something like this. You see an extremely well put together guy, attractive, fit, incredibly well dressed and you think to yourself is he “gay or European”? Of course all your straight male friends jump in and say for sure he's gay because straight men don’t dress like that. Well here in London they do and as a woman I say AMEN, God Bless and Hallelujah. London is rich with extremely well put together men, and although I cannot attest to all of their sexual orientation I am hear to say that they are not all gay (phew)… they are Londoners.
I recognize that I do tend to frequent the more creative places to hang out. I practically live at the Soho House, the birthplace and resting spot of the creative metrosexual. I recognize that with fashion there will be some aspects that I can’t understand or relate to. As example, the "lumber-sexual". I can’t be certain about this, it is just a theory of mine but I believe that lumber-sexual look was born not from the giant Red Woods Forest in California but rather came directly out of the Soho House on Greek Street, London. You know the look, that big bushy full manicured bread that must have taken forever to style, sculpt and grow. Unless you are chopping down trees for a living I say, NO.
I believe years from now (and maybe not that long) looking back at this facial hair fashion faux pas it will be remembered and thought of as fondly as the Mullet or the Flock of Seagulls hair-do of the 80’s. While I am at it, no again to the man-bun. Nothing good can come from that. So although I do not get all fashion trends, and they do come and go, what is enduring is style.
Fashion is what you buy, but style is what you do with it and London men really seem to know what to do with it. I think the men here in London start early learning how to dress. I recently went to this Polo event, I know, I know…polo. But it wasn’t one of those haughty events rather it was an event that was trying to bring polo to the masses. There was no dress code (I checked online before I went) but when I arrived everyone was dressed like they just stepped off the pages of a Ralph Lauren ad. There I was, out-fashioned by nine year olds as I stood there in my mom jeans and a pair of communal Converse that I occasional share with my daughters.
I am not accustomed to being out dressed or better put underdressed. I am seriously going to have to kick this fashion thing up a few notches. The kids were stylishly dressed and not just the girls. The boys were in tailored summer suits or a sports jacket or a crisp linen shirt with not a wicking property or sports logo insight.
In clearer contrast to the "North American style" of suit, the boys weren't wearing the kind of suit that we would buy our sons when they had to attend some wedding or Bar Mitzvah or something. You know the one, the oversized suit that he is going to have to make last for his entire adolescence. Where the "window"of it fitting perfectly happened while he was away at summer camp. These kids look like Tom Ford himself had dressed them and they were good with that.
My daughter who was a tomboy growing up would refuse to put on a dress. In fact I shopped for her almost entirely at the Old Navy boys section until she was 12. So I look at these stylish kids and think how do the parents do it? Are they not chasing their kids around the house trying to stuff them into some dress or ill-fitted suit? The truth is it's just a way of life for the Londoners, it's in their DNA. Their peers and friends are all dressed accordingly and there was not a single "Kardashian style" belt-like slutty dress or a belly-top in the crowd. God bless.
The women of course looked wonderfully turned out and very stylish which is not a surprise other than this wasn’t even a “dress code” event, did I mention that I checked that online? One thing I had taken away from this day was I am going to need a whole new wardrobe. I also vowed to myself that very day that never, ever again be it man, woman or especially child would anyone be able to look me up and down and think , "oh those shoes look comfortable".
All of them, men, women, boys and girls they all dress the part of success and style. They are The Londoners.
But I am focusing on the men today. Not because the women aren’t incredible, my God that is a whole other chapter but rather that the London men are so vastly and superiorly dressed to the average North American dude that the contrast is crazy. Even walking the streets of London I have yet to see one guy dressed with those saggy "gangsta" jeans barely hanging on to their hips with the waistband of their underwear clearly readable. London men are stylish and proud of it. A young friend of ours recently moved to London from Toronto for his work. In the short time he has been here his social calendar has been filled with all sorts of events, most requiring “proper attire”. As result his wardrobe has expanded to include a pair of plus fours (baggy shorter pants usually found on an golf course from the 1800's), several linen jackets, a tweed riding cap, a few new scarfs (not a single one with a sport franchise name on it) and most recently a rented black tails and a top hat for a horserace (required attire).
He even needed "proper attire" to go watch a cricket match or so he told his parents. I believe he as an North American male has adjusted beautifully to the British social and fashion scene. Why? Because he is surrounded and influenced by well dressed, stylish people and peers of London.
Can you imagine if North American guys put that much thought and care into what they were wearing at a baseball or hockey game? I believe it is expected that when Londoners go out, attend an event, party or even just go down to the pub there is an understanding of what is proper attire. I have yet to see proper attire on London men looking anything like this right here.
This city is rich with stylish people. If style is a way to say who you are without having to speak then London you are talking loud and clear. I think the fabulous fashionable Coco Chanel summed it up best, “dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccable and they remember the woman (or in this case man)”. I believe that the London men got that down. Not the “dress” bit…but you know what I am saying.
So London men I thank you. I thank you for your street style, your well fitted suits, your beautiful shoes and your noticeable lack of team sport jerseys as your “ready to wear” collection. As I have watched and learned you have taught me something very important to which again I say, thank you. For it has become so very clear to me now more than ever, that although I have been shopping all my life I still have nothing to wear.
This will be an expensive lesson.