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


elisabeth said...

feel a little less devastated about missing the talk now,thanks! <3

blue roses said...

brainpickings often picks the correspondences up from "letters of note." the archivist/digital gleaner/writer there is releasing a book, of the same title, so has not been updating recently, if i recall. but surely you could spend hours digging into the past (literal, figurative).

Unknown said...

I have some notes from the talk too if you'd like them? I tried to transcribe a few bits and need to visit her London store asap! I just love how she's stuck to her guns and inadvertently created a longlasting trend.

ouestladiscotheque said...

ohh I love this, thank you for sharing! I've been receiving the Miranda July e-mails too and I love them, there is something quite calming about peeking in to others more 'normal' aspects of their lives, especially these people we already know in one way or another
Charlotte x

discotheque confusion said...

Thank you for the 'Letters of Note' tip, Blue Roses. I hadn't come across it before but can already tell it'll be a go-to read..

discotheque confusion said...
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