Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sharing Letters (and Margaret Howell)

A couple of days ago I woke up from a bizarrely vivid dream about interacting with Margaret Howell who was being uncharacteristically unpleasant and snooty. (On a side note, I seem to have an obscene amount of 'celebrity dreams'- I have canoed with John Malkovich, hung out in a kitchen with Damon Albarn, taken selfies with Nick Cave and- quite the best- George Clooney once gave himself a mangina and then sent the results to my best friend. Waking up is always a heavy disappointment) 

Waking up from my Margaret Howell edition wasn't too bad because when I checked my email I found that Mel from Two Breads, Please? had sent me a brilliant email of 'minutes' from the Margaret Howell and Penny Martin in Conversation V&A event that I missed a couple of months ago. A spooky coincidence but a very happy one as I'd jokily asked for some in-depth 'event minutes' a while ago and she actually delivered!

I wanted to share her email because I loved the tidbits she chose to share "she showed us some pencil sketches of fields. Her pencil strokes were light but quite precise." and "Margaret Howell was captain of her netball team!" I've also been thinking about the sharing of letters and email recently. This is mostly after signing up to Miranda July's 'We Think Alone' project which leaves a weekly email in your inbox full of other peoples exchanges covering one topic. Last weeks was 'Emails to Mothers', for example and there is something strangely comforting about reading exchanges which are at times moving and mundane and never intended to be shared. I've also been reading Brainpickings an awful lot of the past few months. It is one of my favourite websites and editor Maria Popova is often posting extracts from anthologies of letters; there is John Steinbeck's letter to his son on the subject of falling in love, Sartre's letters to Simone De Beauvoir, the handwritten marriage proposal from Charles to Ray Eames, and a stack of parental advice from great Americans to their children. I know a lot of people read published letters in the same way that they might read an autobiography; I have rarely read either but when I next get paid a lot of these will be on my book list. It also strikes me that blogging is a sort of form of letter sharing. In this way it is similar to writing a journal; when I'm writing my journal I always wonder 'who' I am writing to but at the same time I am fairly sure that it is a future version of myself, someone who is older and affection towards their own youthful naivety. So in this way my entries always have an underlying awareness of the fact that the words may seem sweet or funny or ridiculous in years to come. It adds another quite bizarre dimension to the simple process of writing in a diary. I suppose that is why I like reading letters or emails, because I actually find that they are less self-conscious.

Digressions aside, here is Mel's email. I may end up posting some of our subsequent communications as part of a 'bloggers in conversation series', we shall see.

Hey Stevie,

Sorry for not getting back to your comment! I've unintentionally been on a mini internet detox recently - no blogs or facebook (but instagram keeps me coming back like a sucker).

The talk was interesting and structured chronologically, talking about her life generally and what sounded like the very organic development of her brand. Of course, Margaret was really charming (FYI, she wore a great breton top, crisp cropped trousers and lace-up shoes). As requested, a quick(ish) round-up of my favourite bits:

  • Margaret was captain of her high school netball team! There was a great photo of her with her team, gym skirts and polo shirts, in front of her modernist-style school building (apparently her school has been demolished now).
  • She studied Fine Art at university and she showed us some pencil sketches of fields. Her pencil strokes were light but quite precise which seemed to echo her personality to me. She spoke about drawing and practising fine art like a proper craft, completely separate to what she does now, and said something like "you need to practise every day and think about it all the time in order to be any good". 
  • There were great photos of Margaret's early studios/factories. I think she started making shirts in her flat before expanding. There was a Hockney poster from an old V&A exhibition on the wall in one of the studios, which she bought after visiting the exhibition herself!
  • An early Margaret Howell ad featured her PA (or something similar?) wearing a trenchcoat tied with Margaret's old leather belt and wet hair (they'd showered her with cold water for the effect).
  • We looked at a few different adverts and editorial from the Margaret Howell archive. It was interesting to hear that she didn't like the recent Dree Hemingway shots as much because they seemed "too posed". She was much more enthusiastic about shots where the clothes were worn "as they would be in real life".
  • Margaret said that she tries on every piece of women's clothing that they design every season. There's something about that which felt very reassuring - if it's good enough for margaret, it's definitely good enough for me. It was a running theme throughout the talk that she designs clothes for herself. She spoke a lot about "practicality" and "quality" but without looking "too smart". Which in my head sort of translates into "things that look good with loads of pockets but not too many frilly bits".
  • She's a patron of Open House which is the BEST because I love Open House.
  • She swims regularly at a lido in Blackheath. My boyfriend told me it would be creepy to make the trip and try to accidentally on purpose bump into her.

Also, Penny Martin was a total babe. A good, intelligent interviewer. Keeping the conversation flowing and on-topic. I am so easily charmed by clever, modest, northern women.

I hope that was interesting rather than too long and boring! Let me know if you're ever down in London. It would be lovely to meet and I had the dreamiest peach and raspberry meringue slice at Ottolenghi's last week which I'm eager to scoff again.

Mel xx

Life Now

How to update the blog after a two month hiatus? A blank box is always sort of overwhelming but there are lots of fun things to talk about like 'GRADUATING' and 'REAL LIFE STARTING' although those topics can be tackled in a fairly easy way with these two photographs:

In other news I got a job! This is a very exciting development for me as I'm working at Creative Tourist which is a website that I've hawked from afar over the past 3 years and which helped me to locate the interesting 'non-studenty' stuff going on around Manchester while I was new to the city. In the mornings I get out of bed, make myself some porridge and then travel into work with 'I'm Every Woman' by Chaka Khan blasting in the background, just like Bridget Jones when she walks to work over Waterloo Bridge with her hair all tucked under her scarf. Just like that. 

I'm living with two of my best friends and a red cornsnake called Morpheus who we are looking after for a friend who has moved to America. We have little mice frozen in the bottom drawer of the freezer for him to eat every 10 days. 'Morpheus fed!' is marked on the calendar every few rows and watching him attack and consume a partially defrosted little mouse whole is fascinating and morbid in equal measures. Sort of like the footage you occasionally see from nature programmes of giant serpents lying very fat and still after tucking into a small piglet from a nearby village, but a lot of more bearable. I still haven't quite plucked up the courage to take him out of his tank (I'm more of warm-blooded pet person) but time will tell. 

In the evenings we have been working our way through the first season of Twin Peaks, drinking slightly too much wine and singing passionately along to the theme tune and shouting 'She's dead! Wrapped in plah-stic!' We all then hastily handwash our shirts to be worn the next day, hang them in the shower and head to bed.