Tuesday, January 27, 2015

perfumed, part II


After close to five years, I'm close to finishing my bottle of Vintage Gardenia by Jo Malone. The bottle looks a little forlorn on my dresser. The scent brings always a rush of memories and a number of other things, all of them pleasant - balmy nights, rich damp earth, a flutter of ivory silk, the sweet scent of flowers crushed on the pavement.

But I've also moved on, sort of. Last year, for a change of scenery, I bought Le Labo's Rose 31*. Vintage Gardenia - which really smells more like something else, closer to a Tuberose scent - was always a little sweet for me on some days, and it's also disappointing how quickly the scent wears off.

I smelt Rose 31 ages ago and loved it, but was reluctant to buy a new perfume when I was barely halfway through another. I take ages to get through perfume - I bought Vintage Gardenia in 2010, and it's a mere 30ml - and limit myself to one bottle at any given time. But last year, looking at the Le Labo counter and figuring I had nothing better to spend a 10% voucher on, I decided to get it. At least I was down less than 1/4 of Vintage Gardenia left, I reasoned.

Rose 31 is immensely popular and I won't go on at length about the technical points except one thing: it doesn't smell like a classic rose fragrance, despite the name. This was the thing I learnt about Le Labo perfumes - they don't always smell like their names, because what's named for is just one of many ingredients used. The eponymous ingredient is the one used in the highest concentration, but it isn't necessarily what dominates your nose when you take a whiff.

Like Vintage Gardenia, there's a floral headiness about Rose 31, but there's also an incense-like quality. There also a sharpness that cuts right through, and an earthiness I always look for in my perfumes. I can't identify any of the ingredients by smelling it, but I can tell you it makes me think of black velvet, red wine, grass after rain, my mother. It also lasts - I like that moment when I pull off my shirt at the end of the day and catch a whiff of its last, dying notes.

*It was only recently that I discovered that Le Labo was purchased by Estee Lauder in November. Estee Lauder has also purchased Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and Rodin olio lusso. What I hate about niche brands being bought by conglomerates is that they're not longer quite free of the animal-testing taint even if they continue not to test on animals (because Estee Lauder does). I love this perfume, but I certainly will think twice about a repurchase when my current bottle runs low.

Friday, January 16, 2015

notes for january, book edition

Recently, I finished the fifth of six books I picked up before Christmas, because there was a great deal for members at Kinokuniya, and I finally had time to read. Because this was an unusually good haul - in the sense that I loved most of the books I completed - I thought they were worth a quick and dirty "review".

I can't believe I'd never read "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand until now - I loved every last word and found myself holding my breath during the chapters on the races. I'm pretty inspired to give "Unbroken" a go. The last time I enjoyed a non-fiction account such as this one so much was "The Orchid Thief", which was THE book that made me want to be a journalist. Both books have the kind of depth that comes from really doing your homework and delving into the lives of these people and their circumstances. They also strike that awesome balance between empathy and cold-eyed clarity - you feel deeply for all involved, but you also see them for who they are.

I read "Monuments Men" by Robert M Edsel right after I finished "Seabiscuit", and I suppose because both are books describing the lives of real people, I couldn't help comparing them although the subjects differ. Without a doubt, Laura Hillenbrand is a much better storyteller - the people she wrote about came to life for me, as did the times they lived in and the issues of the day. "Monuments Men" is a great story but it just wasn't told as well.

I bought "The Blazing World" without opening it and reading a single word - it's a rule for me usually, to read the first few pages of a book before I buy it, to decide if it's the book for me. But I love Siri Hustvedt's work that much. The novel begin with a premise that begs for resolution, but the way the tale unfolds left me thinking it didn't matter in the end. The story is told through a jumble of diary entries, recollections of different people, "magazine" articles and reviews, and there are references to philosophy and art, all meticulously foot-noted. This should have been discordant, but everything plays off everything else so deftly that you find yourself completely absorbed, as if you are a scholar, delving into the mysterious life of a woman long dead, trying to make sense of it all. And as always, her writing is clean and beautiful - it never fails to hit me right in the heart.

"Justice" by Michael Sandel was recommended to me - I admit, these days, I read for easy pleasures and moral philosophy didn't immediately excite me. As it turns out, "Justice" is testament to the power of good writing - there is no way I could have absorbed the general premises of Rawls, Dworkin, Aristotle, Kant, Locke and other no-first-name-needed, oft-cited superstars of philosophy otherwise. In about 200 pages. It's quite something, to explain all this and their relevance to contemporary political and social issues, and explain it so well that I've started thinking about issues I come across through their lens.

 I was pretty excited when I bought  "Travelling to Infinity" by Jane Hawking, but after I finished, I felt exhausted, and not in a good way. Yes, their marriage was every bit as complicated as one imagined and Stephen Hawking appears to be...no picnic. But while she painstakingly described her feelings and her experiences, I wished there was a bit more reflection, a little more explanation on why she chose the life she chose. It felt like there were feelings that she had yet to confront.

I have one book left, "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross. Haven't started, but I can't imagine disliking a book that comes with a recommended playlist.

Which books have you read lately? Share!

Monday, January 05, 2015

hello, 2015

Nayapul, Nepal, December 2014

I spent the last day of 2014 on "me time". I picked up my new mobile phone in the morning, got a hair cut, grabbed some magazines at the bookstore, and went home. I spent the rest of the day reading and snacking on strawberries, had a shepherd's pie I made a couple days before for dinner, and then lounged, read, and watch old episodes of The Mindy Project. I was blissfully unaware that the clock had ticked past 12, until a good 20 minutes later. I said very little all day.

It was the kind of day I lived for all year - in 2014 I felt extremely challenged at work, vacillating between "I love this!" and "I am not cut out for this!" and there were times I didn't handle the bad days well. I let myself get carried away with the drama of it all, and it was draining. I needed the days where I could ignore emails and speak the bare minimum. 

I feel a lot better about 2015. 2014, while challenging to get through, was extremely enlightening on hindsight, and spending the last few days of the year away from work has been a great way for me to organise my thoughts, and think about what I want to do this year. 

It's been quiet on this blog, because I haven't had the time (I have one blog project gathering dust in my draft folder and email inbox, apologies to those who responded!). But also because, much as I continue to love clothing and be fascinated by design and style, I also felt like I've said pretty much all I want to say about this topic. I enjoy reflecting on my buying decisions and reviewing my experiences with certain things (how well did these shoes hold up? how often am I wearing the dresses I bought? what should buy less of?) but there is only so much energy I can devote to those things. 

Increasingly I have become more comfortable with going with my instincts when it comes to shopping and dressing myself, and I feel less of a need to evaluate my purchases. If buying something is going to make me feel bad, I don't buy it. If buying something makes me feel good but not that good, I don't buy it. If I feel that warm glow in my chest from looking at something wonderful that captures my imagination, I buy it. If I need it, I buy it.

I continue to make the odd questionable impulse decision but I don't believe in spending too much punishing myself with regret. Life is far, far, far too short for that, and I trust that since I've almost always made responsible decisions all my life, buying a pretty swimsuit I won't be wearing for another six months isn't that major a mistake. 

In the same way, I hope to feel more certain about other aspects of my life as well. So, happy 2015! 

Saturday, November 08, 2014

all about me

A sleepy b&b in Loket, Czech Republic, June 2012

Taking a leaf from Amanda's and Kali's book, and telling you all kinds of things about myself, whether you want to know or not. A strangely relaxing exercise.

1. What are you wearing? 
Lounging at home in an batik cotton dress which I also sleep in. It's a lazy Saturday.

2. Have you ever been in love?

3. Have you even gone through a horrible breakup? 

4. How tall are you?

5. How Much do you weigh? 

6. Do you have tattoos? 
Yes one. Alphonse Mucha's "Music" on my upper back.

7. Do you have piercings?
Nope. I did use to want an eyebrow ring, for some reason.

8. What is the ideal couple to you? 
I once met a couple on on diving trip - if love was a competition, they would be champions. They were in a relationship for almost 20 years before marrying in their late 30s, and have two young children, and I loved that they appeared to still find each other very entertaining, interesting and attractive. It was lovely to see them together.

(They were also funny, nice and smart people to hang out with, leading interesting lives - mountain climbing, diving, with children in tow where possible - and appeared to have successful careers. Damn they're good at life.)

9. Your favourite TV show? 
Oh dear, where do I begin? I'm currently working my way through the Gilmore Girls again - in my youth, this show misled me into thinking I could just say inappropriate things out loud and get away with it, like Lorelai. I was wrong.

To pick a more recent TV series that's ended, it would be "Breaking Bad".

10. Your favourite band?
Argh, too many. The bands I've stayed faithful to since I was a teen are AC/DC, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, No Doubt and U2. The bands I've listened to a lot in recent years are The Killers, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. The band I'm really exciting about coming to Singapore next year is Little Dragon.

(I also listen to a lot of pop, but never one band/singer consistently.)

11. Something you're missing?
Scuba diving and being at sea.

12. Your favourite song? 
Last night when I was waiting for a cab with a friend, I played The Strokes' "I'll Try Anything Once". Classic song for me on late nights.

Currently, I'm listening to "Partition" by Beyonce a lot. I can't make of what I feel about the lyrics of her songs but I haven't stopped listening to the album since she released it last year.

13. How old are you? 

14. What's your astrological sign? 

15. An essential quality for a boyfriend? 
The capacity to handle lots of sarcasm.

16. Favourite Quote?  
"Really? I already have a drink. Do you think he'd buy me mozzarella sticks?" - Liz Lemon, "30 Rock"

17. Favourite Actor?  
Surely no one has just one? Right now, it's Michael Fassbender.

18. Favourite Colour?  

19. Do you listen to music at a low or high volume?  

20. Where do you go when you are sad?  
Back to bed.

21. How long do you stay in the shower?  
About 15 minutes.

22. How long does it take to get ready in the morning? 
30 minutes to leave the house. 15 minutes if I don't have breakfast.

23. Did you ever get in a fight?  
A physical one? Only when I took MMA classes for a year back in university. One lecturer thought I had an abusive boyfriend. It's quite an experience, being punched in the face. Like bungee jumping. Of course this would not be funny or welcome in a situation of actual danger.

24. Something that seduces you in a man?  

25. The most repelling thing in a man?  
I also find the same quality repelling in a woman - selfishness.

26. Why do you have a blog? 
To decompress. These thoughts need a place to go!

27. What are you afraid of?  

28. The last thing that made you cry?  
The look on my friend's face when he told me he was afraid his father was dying.

29. The last time you said "I love you"? 
Out loud? It's been a while. But I usually think it when my mother cooks for me.

30. What does your blog name mean?  
Shopping. I'm such a consumer - I love taking things out of the bag when I get home from a shopping trip.

31. The latest book you read?  
"The Handmaid's Tale", by Margaret Atwood. I didn't love it, but I think it's because I read it after hearing too much about it/

32. What are you currently reading? 
Haven't found a book to start on yet.

33. The latest TV series you watched?  
I'm watching The Good Wife, Homeland and The Walking Dead. But if I were to just pick one show I've found consistently impressive in recent years, it's Veep.

34. The last person you talked to?  
My mother.

35. Who did you last text with?  
One of my best friends.

36. Your favourite food? 
This is impossible! Something Chinese and broth-y with noodles in it.

But I also never say no to cheese and chocolate.

37. Places you want to visit? 
Too many. I'm headed to Nepal in December. Next year, I've put down Palau for scuba diving. Iceland, because it looks epic. Indonesia for a mountain-climbing trip. And perhaps California, to visit a friend. But I usually just pick whichever destination that has a cheap fare going on.

38. The last place you visited?  
The Maldives

39. Are you currently sweet on someone?  
Yes. Although it's mildly embarrassing to use that phrase...

40. The last person you kissed?  
A person I don't speak to anymore.

41. The last insult you were told?   
Ohhh this one really stung, because it just happened at work this week. "When did we get so boring?"

42. Your favourite candy flavour? 
Something tart.

43. Do you play an instrument?  
Nope. I took violin lessons as a child but none of it stuck.

44. Your favourite piece of jewellery?  
A gold ring that belonged to my mother.

45. The last sport session you practiced?  
Yoga (Vinyasa).

46. The latest song you sang? 
"XO", by Beyonce (I told you I was listening to the album a lot).

47. Your favourite catch phrase? 
"High-fiving a thousand angels" (I am a serious Liz Lemon fan).

48. Have you ever used it?  

49. Your last evening out?  
Last night. Crawled to a bar after work (I work nights till midnight), stayed till they closed at 2am, continued sitting by the river and talking till 4am.

50. Who are you tagging?  
Don't wait to be asked, go for it! I promise it's fun.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

my life in clothes

Weekend = shortsAnother outfit post. Because some weeks you just feel a little happier with what you've got onGoing for a whole solid month of #oldootd to see where that takes me. Fun project that @uboparentheses is doing!
Fridays = canvas, glitter, cotton, stripes for work #oldootdFlip flops - always in rotationEven after all these years, I still hate working on public holidays #oldootd
I just want my day to end. And I only just stepped out.This may be getting boring for you guys but it's driving home how much stuff I own. These are my first pair of skinny jeans, from around 2005 or 2006. #oldootdAnother old denim favourite. These raws faded verrrrry slowly and have a slightly "industrial" feel. #oldootd
Going minimalist for the ballet tonight, giving the jeans a break #oldootdWeekend = again, flip flops for the win. Especially for trips to the yoga studioThere are no flattering ways of capturing bare legs upside down. Anyway, a new-ish striped dress. I always have one or two striped dresses somewhere in the closet.
Not pictured: that this shirt has a soft club collar and a shirttail hem. Also I did a rubbish job ironing it #oldootdTurning an old dress into this blouse is one of the best wardrobe decisions I've ever made. #oldootd #EHCCWhat's the point of ironing if the clothes get squashed against each other and rumple anyway? #oldootd #EHCC
I'm starting to notice I like stripes on Fridays #oldootd #EHCCI don't get sick of these jeansThis was the best angle for this dress, which was a cheap buy at Bangkok's famed Chatuchak market in '09. I've not found a simple jersey dress that fit me well since. #oldootd #EHCC
I have pajamas that look fresher than this worn, old striped top but I can't retire it, love it too much #oldootd #EHCCEvery time I want to wear a silk shirt I have to take a guess on whether the weather will get sticky that day, so I don't buy them anymore. But I love having this one to break out when I think the weather is cooperating! #oldootd #EHCCOne of the last two blouses I own that require a tank too layered under because it's too sheer. After this I decided Singapore was too warm for unnecessary layers. #oldootd #EHCC

So, some thoughts on dressing.

Part I - Me, a Dries woman?

A couple weeks ago, I went to a sale organised by a major luxury retailer in Singapore called Club 21, which brings in a number top labels in Singapore, like Lanvin, Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Marni, Stella McCartney, Carven, Balenciaga, Phillip Lim, Mulberry, Paul Smith, Comme Des Garcons (not mention Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Armani and all the related brands) and many many more. Their clearance sale is held once every two years and it's a notoriously good deal, lots of stuff at 70 to 90% off.

If you love fashion and have a dream designer or two on your list, it's hard to not go crazy at a sale like this and start imagining that you MUST go home with that silk charmuese gown from Lanvin that drapes in the best way possible, or an impossibly chic, sculpted, black brocade cocoon dress from Balenciaga, because they're all suddenly tantalisingly within reach. Never mind that I take the bus to work 5 days a week and consider a weekend not spent in shorts "dressy".

There has always been a huge disconnect between the designers whose runway collections I love, versus the stuff I actually want to wear. I've always loved Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, for example, and I still look at his collections from time to time. My all-time favourite designer is Helmut Lang and I still have all these tear-outs from magazines of his work. But you'd be hard-pressed to spot his influence on how I dress.

Being at the sale was quite disorienting - when things you admire and study from a distance come alive and beg you take them home. You wonder whether they have a place in your life. You wonder whether you're the kind of person that "collects" pieces. You try stuff on and wonder you could become the woman of a designer's imagination. 

I tried on a beautiful inky sleeveless sheath by Dries that could be black or navy - it was hard to tell in the light. It was fitted but not tight, it fell below my knee to something that could almost be called "midi", and had what I guess is technically a peplum, but really it was less kitsch and determinedly feminine than that. It was made of a matte material that felt a bit like silk wool (more silk than wool), something with a nice weight but not too heavy. I was quite transported by my reflection, but I couldn't quite buy it either. The dress had gravitas. It fitted me well, but it also felt a little too serious for me. It was that super cool, elegantly-dishevelled Dries woman who mixes florals and plaids and manages to wear full skirts that fall below the knee and look modern. I wasn't convinced  I was this woman. 

I set it aside, and went with another Dries dress that was more recognisably me (simple straight-cut shift in a wonderful textured material with sleeves to the elbow). I also did buy that navy blazer from Stella McCartney, because when something that fantastically tailored happens to you, and complements your slightly fraying "I am a professional woman" jacket, you buy it. 

I love the "Dries woman", the "Lanvin woman", the "Celine woman", but from a distance. Maybe I haven't grown into a life where these personas make sense (my October outfit diary on IG should be prove that I'm not quite there yet). 

But I feel a pang whenever I think of that Dries dress. I have a feeling I would kill for that dress about 10 years from now. One of the things I like best about getting older is that the confidence that comes with it, and I suspect 10 years from now I would be a lot more comfortable with dressing with a bit more drama, a little more regally.

Does anyone feel like that? 

Part II - Those #oldootds, and shopping

So, coming back to the outfits above. One word to sum up my style - repetitive. But the monotony was also comforting - having your tastes affirmed and remembering what works, what's easy. It also made me a little sheepish to realise I hardly had to repeat things unless I felt like it - proof that I ought to give it a rest with the shopping.

The problem with figuring out what you like and what works for you is that you become really good at it - you become an expert at spotting and honing in on things that fit right, look right, feel right. And then it's hard to say no. Because you know it's going to work.

In the past I was trying to not buy stuff that I loved but wasn't going to wear because it didn't work for my lifestyle, or just wasn't all very me. Now, it's about trying to not buy so much stuff that I know are perfect for me, because I already have a lot of good stuff.

Certainly a good amount of my shopping this year is due to stress - and shopping is such an easy, instant way to cheer myself up. But it's time to say "enough" and find better ways of relieving the pressure. Exceptions made for holy grail items, of course. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

notes for september

tommy ton for style.com

Haven't done this in a while, dedicating this one to interesting reads I came across lately:
  • "But it can sometimes feel as though there's a serious surplus of first-person writing by women who assert, often indirectly, that materialism is all right so long as its object is archival, or foreign, or handed down along the maternal line—that clothes-related joy is admissible only if it's a symptom of something more substantial: an appreciation of history, an ambition to travel, family pride...Just as Top 40 critics ascribe nonexistent intentions to the work of Katy Perry, many otherwise self-assured women seem constitutionally incapable of allowing a pretty dress to be just a pretty dress." - Alice Gregory on "Women in Clothes" (I like what I've read of the book, but I get what Alice Gregory is getting at too)
  • "Of course before you go to the very top, you may want to run it by your assistant, to make sure you haven’t lost your mind; you may want to run it by someone in sales, since they’re going to have to sell this thing to booksellers. At some houses the editor of the paperback division needs to read the submission; and why not show it to your spouse, whose judgment in other matters has been sound?" - Keith Gessun on the business of publishing in Vanity Fair (found it via Jessica Stanley when I looked up Chad Harbach)
  • "In Mississippi, he says, they don't make you redo the ultrasound. In other states, they make you point out the fetal parts to the patient. It's pure harassment. The purpose is to 'heighten the dilemma'." - Profile of Dr Willie Parker, who works in the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, in Esquire 
  • "Can everybody not give Lee any drugs?" - heartbreaking read about Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen in Vanity Fair
  • Also, Lauren Hutton. So awesome.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

the short list


I thought perhaps it was a good time to bring back the "what I bought so far in 2014" exercise, since losing track of what I buy makes me dangerously deluded about how much I shop.

A summary -

Sensible classic purchased for work trip:
Beige trench coat from A.P.C. (second hand)

On sale and too good to pass up:
Dusty pink suede oxfords by Margaret Howell
Navy and green shirtdress by MHL
Camel leather ankle boots from Hope

Because I should rock a crop top before I'm past 30:
Tropical print cropped top and skirt from Zara

How did I manage without these:
Navy knee-length shorts from Uniqlo
White and navy striped cotton short-sleeved tee from Muji
White cotton t-shirts from Uniqlo (x2)
Navy midi-length dress from Uniqlo
Grey cotton high-tops from Bensimon

I worked hard, dammit:
Celine Trio in burgundy leather

Psyching myself up for my holiday:
Jade green sunglasses from Massimo Dutti

Pretending I'm still on holiday (also, 40% off sale items sounded so good):
Seersucker one-piece swimsuit from J Crew

Cute but I think I'll give it to my mum (again, those promo codes):
Navy cotton blouse with sleeve cutouts from J Crew

So, what can we take away from this?
1) I love sales
2) I shop when I am stressed or tired to reward myself
3) I still occasionally can't help buying things for fun
4) Basics rock. Also, they tend to fall apart all at once and need to be replaced in bulk