Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Whose guna be an electric gypsy?

Sitting in the hairdresser's seat with my hair wrapped up in a towel like a 1950's housewife, my hairdresser asks the usual how have you been type questions and above the drone of the hairdryer we get to moaning about the lack of independent clothes shops in Taunton (in a town where wellies and flat caps are the code of fashion this isn't a shocking revelation). To cut a long gossip short, the result of the conversation was that she recommended this boutique in Exeter called 'The Electric Gypsy'. As curious as a cat with a mighty fine new hairdo I decided to visit this retro vintage shop and give it a good raiding and report back.

Trotting down Exeter's fore street in the rain with mother in tow, I spot the shop and we both bundle in, blinking like new born lambs in the warmth and light. As we shake off our wet clothes, the bloke behind the till gives us a smile and to the sound of the new Goldfrapp album being played, we furtively begin to look at the racks of clothes.

I quickly become engrossed, elbow deep in one of their many baskets of sale items when mum calls me from the back of the shop. She is wearing a floor length coat with a fake fur collar and cuffs and begins expertly stuffing me into a 70's beige mac whilst telling me she had the exact same style herself in her wild child hippy days when your dad wore flares and a leather jacket.

While coughing up the mere thirty pounds for my new-but-not-new mac, I get chatting to Nick, one of the guys who runs the shop. In a matter of ten minutes we discuss second hand clothes, sustainable fashion, independent shops and doing it all like they did when the hairstyles were longer and the skirts were shorter. After promising to call up for a proper chat, mum and I leave with a nice warm fuzzy feeling, a bit like after having a few glasses of vino, which you just don't seem to get when leaving a chain store where the checkout girl tells you in a monotone voice to have a nice day.

A week later, I'm sat down calling The Electric Gypsy, eating my third chocolate digestive and slurping my tea when Nick picks up the phone. Being the professional that I am I call him Duncan, then when hearing his confusion remember he's called Nick and quickly jolt his memory of our chat the previous week. Sounding genuinely pleased to hear from me we get talking about how the founders of The Electric Gypsy all met...

Nick: Well, Mike and I were doing film studies at art college (what used to be Farnham and is now Surrey Institute of Art and Design) and she (Emma, the driving force as Nick refers to her as) was doing fine art. That would have been...gosh...working back at least twelve years ago, so 93 or 94. So anyway, Mike was doing this zombie film (there's a pause while we both laugh over this film genre) and was involved in art direction, special effects, costume and set building and we just stayed friends. After college they (Emma and Mike) were down in Dorset and it was around April 2004 that we started the shop but it was the autumn before that, that Emma had been chatting about it and asked me to join in so I moved from London to be part of it.

Me: Last time we met, you said Emma designs and sews a lot of her own clothes for the shop, how did she get into that?
Nick: She had kind of always made and customised her own clothes at college, but it wasn't until after college when she was working for a water company that it drove her to think about it as a business. So she made her first clothes the year before and sold them at Glastonbury in our own tipi-
Me: Do you guys make everything yourselves?!
Nick: haha! Yeah well the guy behind the tipi now travels festivals and it's called the Bimble Inn. But anyway we all came together down here and me and Em spent two weeks running the shop.

Me: Who came up with the concept/idea of the shop?
Nick: Em and Mike came up with the name, it's from a 1976 Steve Hillage song called electric gypsies. I suspect Emma had been dreaming about the idea of having a clothes boutique for ages (how long you'd have to ask her!), and when she and Mike first moved to Exeter, the time she spent temping was time she spent imagining turning that dream into reality. So she isn't just the driving force, It's actually her vision that made it happen, and her designs and sewing which are behind all of our "own label" and customised clothes. We all pitch in bits here and there, but it's Emma we always defer to!!

Me: I really like your website (
http://www.theelectricgypsy.com/) it's all psychedelic!
Nick: Yeah it's cool! Em was adamant; it had to be pink purple and orange! It has been her baby from the start. When I first got down here she had the whole design laid out and in the end we changed one wall, it was pink and looked bad in the morning! But when I'm not in the shop, I'm doing Boothill Records (Nick runs a music label and has a radio show on Phonic Fm with Mike on a Monday night) and Mike is now really doing his graphic design (the Electric Gypsy E-shop is designed by Mike and his design company is called Reactor) and Em has her own workshop, sewing and designing, oh and she sorts out the website.

Me: So is sustainable fashion something that you aim to promote or is it just part and parcel of your shop?
Nick: No definitely it is something we are all keen about. our first philosophy is the idea, the old art school idea of charity shopping and reclaiming old fashion to make something new. Sustainable fashion is really what we encourage, though no vintage fur. Em's against fur, there is still a stigma and she hates it-
Me: My Oma (the Dutch word for gran, she was Dutch Indonesian) had some original mink coats she used to wear and when they got wet they would smell of old dog! Other than obviously being cruel, it's just a bit creepy!
Nick: Ha-ha! Referring back to your question on sustainable fashion I think our ethics are quite multi-layered and we just wanted to harp back to a period of time that was freer creatively. The 60's/70's was a wonderful time when anything went and we want to encourage people to be like that more. I mean independent shops are important for the community, whereas clone shops make it impossible to see the impact they have on the local and further reaching than that. The people that run them do not care about the area as they don't live there, it has weird knock on effects.

Me: With The Electric Gypsy are you trying to give a different shopping experience?
Nick: Absolutely. Come in and chat if that is what you want to do, come and be comfortable in here. I truly hate anything that sells itself too hard, it just doesn't appreciate how we operate as human beings. It is just psychological bullying, forcing your thoughts a certain way, which is the opposite of what we (The Electric Gypsy) want people to do. If this place could be inspirational, firstly get people to think-though not too many people in Fore street!- I could do that then secondly to change their views on fashion shopping, that would be amazing.

In the true spirit of the hippy 60's electric guitar rocker Steve Hillage, this little shop is actively 'looking for adventurers to come and share the vision' of handmade clothes, vintage items, arty communities and comfy seats. Though no fur coats, especially if wet and smelling of old dog, allowed.


Monday, 25 August 2008

Not Cartier

Forget diamonds, costume jewellery is a girl's best friend. It's lavish, dramatic, sparkles and if you are as clumsy as me, it doesn't matter if you break it.

Since natural resources have hit the roof price wise, original vintage costume jewellery has become more sought after. As stylish as the expensive stuff they aim to imitate, the only difference is the price tag (and probably that these glass jewels are not robbing developing countries' ticket to equality).

There is this gem of a stall in Bath Guildhall Market, where vintage costume jewellery covers the the cabinets, tables and ceiling. Tucked in a corner of this Aladdin's cave is the lady who seeks all the pieces for her stall, she is exactly how I want to be when older; surrounded by treasure and interesting finds, though she is minus a cat.

Among the faux pearls and 60's plastic bangles, I found really exciting items like original cameo brooches and extravagant corsages for just five of your English pounds. This is the kind of sustainable fashion I like!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Web addresses on Primark, War on want and Blast

These are a few websites I have come across which are informative and lets you know how to get involved with their campaigns on poverty.

This is a youtube video for anyone who missed Panorama's exposing documentary on Primark's crimes against the third world (it is just a snippet):

This is a brilliant website encouraging people to be clued up on third world exploitation and do something about it all:

This is a BBC initiave aimed at young people but it is still very informative (and has nice graphics!):

Can I supersize on my McPrimark order?

Speed has become addictive in the 21st century. As consumers we expect our food to be fast, our internet to be fast and now our fashion to be as equally fast.

However, it is quickly being discovered that it is as difficult to shift those pesky pounds from a fast food binge as it is to clear your conscience from a bargain buying bender. High street stores are lowering their costs and distracting shoppers from the credit crunch with their cheap prices.
Stores like Primark and Tesco encourage consumers to buy in bulk and due to fashion turnaround being that much quicker and new styles being on the shop floor within the month, fast fashion supports the decadent sins of an already throwaway society. The question is though; if you are not paying more, who is paying that cost?

I am sure it is not a revelation to anyone that the UK outsources most of its manufacturing to countries like Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. Resources, lax laws and of course cheap labour make the benefits worthwhile. Though perhaps (the naive and hopeful shopper might think while clutching their armful of bargain outfits) the jobs given in the factories by these multinational corporations and large companies put people in paid employment and as a consequence contribute to the country's economic growth and GDP? I mean, after all the newly industrialised countries of Asia began developing in this way, so surely we are just giving them that kick start they so desperately need.
This idea could only seriously be entertained by the type of person who also believes Amy Winehouse does not have any drug based mental illness and merely has an excitable disposition.

Unfortunately, child labour, long hours, low pay, poor conditions, abuse and no labour rights are a common practice in this industry. According to the campaign group 'War on Want', employees work as much as 'Eighty-hour weeks for 5p an hour, forced overtime and potentially deadly working conditions'. The driving motivation of capitalist production within the fashion industry is the force of supply and demand which is set against a backdrop of exploitation, inequality and the reality of an international division of labour.
In order for manufacturing costs to remain low, work is subcontracted to sweatshops where 'homework' is encouraged as workers are paid by 'piece rate' and not per hour. These middle businesses are illegal and evade tax. To avoid being penalised they can shut down at a moments notice, resulting in no profits going back into the country and hindering rather than helping the country's progression.

It seems ever glaringly obvious that it is an unsaid rule of the government's not to help the third world but instead to shift the blame on to the public. So with this growing sense of guilt we should do our bit, even if it just means putting that fabulous top declared this weeks 'must have' by Cosmopolitan back on the rail, and putting ourselves on a fashion diet.

As Tesco ironically said 'Every little helps'.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The colour purple

Trudging up the Rialto bridge in Venice and panting slightly from the heat, I suddenly get a sharp nudge in my ribs as one of my travelling chums feels the need to inform me that he has, yet again, spotted some member of the public, Venician or tourist, wearing the colour purple. I had stupidly told him over pizza and vino the previous night that I was scouting Venice for any visible or unusual fashion trends. Lucky for me it seemed I was not going to get the chance to complete this grand mission on my own, I now had a voluntary sidekick to hand.

'Look, they're in purple. Purple tops and shorts', I squinted following his gaze and took in the view of two elderly women clad in lilac t-shirts with the slogans 'I heart Venice' teamed with matching lilac pedal pushers. I took one look at his beaming face and didn't have the heart to inform my accomplice that these ladies were less dedicated followers of fashion and more likely part of a pack of tourists following some guide with a plastic sunflower. If only he had read September's issue of Vogue he would have known that tomato reds and hot oranges are the autumn girl's colour palette. So instead I ignored him, smug in my Bible-like Vogue knowledge.

There are two questions I wanted to know the answer to from my few days in Venice; firstly why were there so many tourists wearing faux straw gondola boating hats with ribbons emblazoned with the words Venezia (why? why?! When would you ever where this item again except at a never-going-to-happen Venice themed fancy dress party, also do you just want to get ripped off with tourist prices?) secondly and more importantly, why do girls perceive fashion so differently from boys?

Well I don't have the energy to rant about the ludicrously irritating former observation, so why tourists wear hats with corks on in Sydney and t-shirts with the Eiffel tower on in Paris, (though interestingly, these items never reappear outside of these top touristy destinations) will remain one of life's great mysteries.

In attempting to tackle the latter mystery surrounding gender perceptions of fashion, a few explanations should probably be dismissed, Such as the age old stereotype that men see clothing as purely functional. The rise of very metro sexual male identities in the twenty first century, from pretty indie boys in tighter jeans than girls to emo boys with their precision styled hair, shows men see fashion as central to being recognised as part of a certain subculture.

Maybe the question is not; why do girl's perceive fashion differently to boys, but perhaps, just perhaps there is too much information advising, contradicting and essentially confusing girls. You only need to walk in to your local WHSmith and compare the voluminous rack of women's magazines on fashion, lifestyle, health, and bridal wear to men's sports and 'interests' (which we all know is a censored word for gay mags). Even when I have accompanied the boyfriend shopping with the aim of proving him wrong, that there is variety in men's high street clothing, I have been genuinely flabbergasted at the lack of individuality, noticable change in seasons and the general void of diversity. As he aptly stated 'it is all boring sh*t'. Whereas men's fashion seems to be promoting the minimalist meets subtle look, women's has exploded in a firework display of colours, fabrics and structures.

It seems this season there is for women a definitive trend of black lace, tartan, check print and the staple chunky high heel, whereas for men it is the usual 'smart casual' but of course we are going to describe it as “smarter than casual look but less smart than tailoring” according to David Lamb, Associate Fashion Editor at GQ (http://insider.asos.com/) Sure sure darling.

Oh having just checked the women's section of asos.com it informs me to 'Reign supreme in regal, jewel encrusted purple. It's the colour of the season.' Humph. Not only am I now confused with my Vogue palette of tomato red but I am now thinking that those lilac ladies of Venice were not so stale after all.

When a hat is not just a hat

Note to self- a trilby hat is good for messy hair, smartening up a summery outfit and avoiding sunburn of the scalp which inevitably creates your very own personal, flakey snowstorm of dandruff.

However, this juicy little tip flies out the window when the toddler on the plane seat behind you sees your fashionable accessory as nothing more than a bit of light entertainment. Not only does the trilby do all the benefits noted above, it is also doubles up as an essential item in a game of peek-a-boo.

Unfortunately this game is compulsory.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

How to sweat with style

My travelling chums and I are now in Croatia in Hvar to be precise and we are are all positive in bag numbers and very much minus in fluids, I won't go into gory details but the loss of fluids involved a lot of toilet trips, one hospital visit and a never ending supply of chicken soup. God bless the good people of Sarajevo and the Lord Immodium.

I have travelled a few times before to Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. The first two countries I visited, my clothes were functional and my accessories non existant, combats- great for hiking up a mountain, not so great for a night at Sydney opera house! So with a slightly more open mind I went to Thailand and quickly ascertained that floaty dresses were a vital staple part of a girl's wardrobe diet.

Now with my knowledge I am in Eastern Europe; the weather has soared from freezing Bosnian rain to scorching Croatian sunshine and my clothes have had to be just as versatile. Without a doubt the most useful items have been my straw trilby for those windswept beach hair days, a vast handbag to hold not only my snorkel set, passport and purse but also the boys stuff (why can't men embrace the man bag?!) oh, and my turquoise pop-coloured nail varnish!
All this I remembered and of course I forgot sensible covered shoes and an anorak. My mum would be tutting under her breath at this characteristic revelation!