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The weather is extremely hot; I am travelling with the tube from Oval to Wood Green to meet Maria, thinking of a concept for our photo shoot but my brain refuses to cooperate. It will reveal itself to me, I think and continue to swing the tube map in front of my face in a desperate attempt to get some cool air. When we talked earlier on the phone Maria told me to meet up at her flat near the station and then we would drive to the nearby, Alexandra Park. It would be my first time to visit the place; I have heard of its outstanding views of London and of Alexandra Palace, the venue that holds many of the concerts I would like to go to (but did not had the time to book).
In the car, Maria talks to me about her busy schedule and how she manages to juggle multiple jobs. She is a radio producer for LGR, that is the London Greek Radio and she is also involved in the station's events promotion. She sometimes does the warm up DJ for the club nights she organises and you might spot her at the local gym as the Zumba instructor. Add to this being a school teacher two days a week and you have a very active lifestyle and a strange mix of careers. But for Maria this is her natural state of being.
"I am quite busy most of the day but I enjoy having a variety of things to do. Music has always been my passion, therefore I look forward to my DJ nights but I can equally have a nice time when managing an event or presenting for the radio. In order to keep up with my hectic lifestyle I realised I have to take care of my self. I try to eat and sleep well and I will wear mostly comfortable outfits."
So what is a comfortable outfit according to Maria?
"I think comfortable for me is an outfit that is not restricting me. I will still try to be in fashion but I will not sacrifice my comfort for anything. For example, you will see me wearing a loose top combined with a pencil skirt or cropped jumpers with high waisted skinny jeans and ballet flat shoes. I love cropped jumpers; I combine them with almost everything. Generally, I like to show off my curves but without being revealing and this loose and body-fitting clothes' combination is my thing now. My everyday outfit is a rock and 90s inspired combination, ripped jeans and spikes, but for a night out I will prefer a more sexy look. And I guess when I am DJ-ing I kind of tend to dress according to the music I play, which is mostly mainstream greek and english hits. So I will wear a mini dress with extreme accessories, such as gold waistbelts or gold extra size earrings and necklaces. I mainly buy my clothes from topshop and Asos but I have also bought many items from the Guess brand, which I find very contemporary and the clothes match my body style. "
We are now at the Alexandra Palace parking space and walking towards the sunny west-facing entrance. The view is truly stunning; you can see almost all of London. Maria is posing for me in her eye-catching, patterned dress and black wedges. Her ginger hair and her overall colour choices match that of the building.
"I usually look on fashion websites to get inspired. When I spot something I like, I try to think of ways to combine it with items I already have. I will also, look at what celebrities are wearing. I like Rihanna, I find her style unique. Just love her way of combining a military jacket with a maxi dress and her hair, hence my ginger hair. But the truth is that when I decided to dye my hair red I went to my hairdresser with a Lana del Rey photo. I adore Lana del Rey, her music and her sophisticated and sexy, at the same time, look.
The sun is setting and we decide to take some last photos at the park.
The weather is more chilled now and we take a break, lying on the grass and admiring the city panorama. I ask her one last question.
"So how do you see yourself in five years from now?"
"I wish to be a successful professional in my industry" Maria answers immediately. "That covers whatever it has to do with radio production, event organising and promoting or my DJ-ing. I have no plans of getting married; having a partner, that is fine, but I am not focusing on that. My idea is to improve myself, advance in all sectors and continue experimenting."
It was a joy to meet Maria and hopefully I will be seeing her soon. While travelling back home I was thinking of all the women I have photographed the last weeks and how amazed I was by their strength of character and the way they combine their feminine/delicate side with their strong ambition to fulfil their dreams. And there is only one thought coming to my mind: "Go girls, I am proud of you!"
Beatrice combines beauty, charm and a strong personality. She has a youthful innocence and playfulness, traits that can turn a plain day out with her into an adventure. At the same time she will participate in any conversation and hold her opinions at heart. As a result her style is a mixture of elements that bring together all the different sides of her.
This time we met at Liverpool Street Station. Beatrice was wearing a colourful dress with patterns from the african continent and a short denim jacket; a proper summer outfit in contrast to the winterish military parka and opaque tights she was wearing the previous week, when I last show her. She asked me to take her photo in front of the Love Sculpture, the London's reproduction of Robert Indiana's iconic pop art image and then outside Spitalfield's Market, on the busy road with the imposing facade of Hawksmoor's church on the background, one of these spots that reflect the beauty of old times London.
Thinking about her style, I would say that Beatrice manages to combine the latest trends in fashion with a personal touch. "I don't have a role model or a celebrity that I particularly follow at the moment." she replies when I ask her where she gets her inspiration from. "I get inspired by anyone that I see that looks good and is rocking her outfit. Whether its someone pictured on a magazine or just on the street doesn't really matter. I like to pick new trends and try them on, but I'll never wear something that doesn't look good on me just because its trendy. If I really like a trend, I'll find a way to twist it or combine it with other items so it looks good on me."
I notice a snake-shaped double ring that unites her index and middle finger. "This ring belongs to my mother and she was wearing it in the 70s. I used to play with it when I was a child and I rediscovered it in a recent trip back to my parents' home. Rings and necklaces are my favourite accessories; and loads of headbands that I buy but never wear! Generally, I find all fashion eras from victorian to the modern time are fascinating but the ones I would choose for me are 20s and 90s, I guess. I was a kid in the 90s, and back then we were not updated with fashion as kids nowadays. When I was growing up I was feeling a lot of peer pressure. We were all dressed the same at school. There was a time when i was influenced by the music, I was into indie rock, so I used to wear skinny jeans and flat shoes (although now it's normal, it wasn't that common in early 2000 when 70s fashion was mainstream). Now I have my style but I also like to dare a little sometimes so I may change it again. The one thing I keep and will keep forever is a little Chanel bag my dad got me one Xmas;I think I was 9.... I know, crazy? Wise man looking at the future! I didn't want to wear it back then but now I do and will always look after it!"
A man passes by while we talk and we comment on his outfit. I ask her opinion on men's fashion. "I like the classic style. He can obviously wear jeans or converse. But I like a casual or elegant style. I can't stand men wearing rings or deep V necks. I couldn't stand dating a man that has a top with a V neck deeper than mine, showing his chest. God forbid necklaces too!"
Before we stop for a drink at the White Hart pub I take some more pictures of Beatrice at the nearby area. Every time I photograph her, she looks back at my shots and requests new ones, with a specific background and angle, making any changes that will bring the picture closer to what she has in her mind. And this is another side of Beatrice I have just discovered and like; her being an enthusiastic perfectionist.
And as evidence to how unpredictable the weather in England is, I add this last picture of Beatrice, from just a week ago, during the biggest day of summer, when I photographed her on the windy millennium bridge, looking cool despite the bad weather.
It has been a long time since I have last seen Mufadzi. Now we met at a chinese restaurant in Elephant and Castle with 20 other people, therefore it was difficult to engage into one of these long, creative conversations we are used to. We only managed to exchange a few words and at the end I seized the opportunity and took her photo on this bright blue wall. She was chilled, smoking her cigarette and there was a slight breeze moving her scarf; and I actually think that this picture is a good reflection of Mufadzi's personality; She seems calm but there is a a constructive tension hidden behind her still image.
This uneasiness and longing becomes visible on her creative projects, which include a movie about her homeland Zimbabwe. Her movie script, which was based on her personal story, was awarded a prize and gave Mufadzi the opportunity to realise it. Since then Mufadzi has had her two lovely children and therefore paused her film ambitions. But now that she was telling me how excited she is with a creative writing course she undertook, I got that feeling that she will be soon coming up with new projects. And, yes, I do look forward to seeing her unfold her storytelling talent once again.
It was a rainy, dull day on Saturday. I thought that my camera would not be able to capture Elizabeth's beautiful colours but I was wrong. Elizabeth is so photogenic she would shine under any circumstances. I met her at the local library but I wanted to do the photo shoot outside, regardless of the heavy rain. We ran towards the nearest building looking for cover and that's were I took her pictures, in the base of these alien looking tall tower blocks that surround Kennington Park.
It was fun photographing Elizabeth; I also had the chance to have a small chat with her about style, fashion and afro-textured hair. The following is part of what we talked about:
"My style is a girly and urban mix. I will often wear long and fitted maxi skirts in many colours. I buy most of my clothes from Magenta, which is in Lewisham, or Primark or TK Max. One of my best fashion designers is Stella McCartney because in her clothes she fuses sporty with womanly shapes, like putting long and short dresses together. I also like Victoria Beckam. My inspiration comes from me and my environment; what I see in the magazines and from other people. I believe London has one of the best crowds of stylish people. We mix edgy, urban and chic kind of fashion styles. Every one loves London style; people come from everywhere to shop here. My favourite accessory is head bands. I always have my hair up, because it is fun and makes me feel free. My hair is curly, coarse and thick but I would prefer a different texture and more flow. "
When I asked Carl to pose for me in his favourite London spot, he immediately thought of Robin Hood Gardens. We were in the middle of a long conversation regarding the vision that inspired architects, such as the Smithsons in the 60's, to build the future through large scale housing developments and the way the public engaged with that vision. Apparently, their option of the future was not received well, since forty years later the experiment is denounced as a failure and one of the two examples of the famous architects' brutalist style in London, is soon going to be demolished.
Walking around and inside the imposing two buildings of the complex was quite an experience. Jimmy the maintenance man, helped us in and gave us an idea of how it feels to be living there (he was a resident from the day the estate was first introduced to the public). He talked about lack of maintenance but also, of major failures during the construction. He said he liked the sense of community and the beautiful garden in between the two buildings. While the media cultivated exaggerated fears about criminality in the complex, he insists he enjoyed a peaceful leaving there.
But did he like the style? He said he did, but I still don't think that he and the other residents we talked with, understand the importance of the building, what made Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid to support the action of saving it from destruction.
To Carl there was always a certain romanticism involved in the idea of the estate; his early memories of the big city were based on images of the large scale complexes, that featured in popular TV science fiction series, such as Doctor Who, and mostly of the material they were build from; the council estates had been there for a long time but concrete was something new in the 80's, when he was growing up.
"There is something wrapped up in the early '80's, the cold war, the atomic bomb; all this destruction and isolation is reflected in the material. If concrete had a sound it would be the cold sound of the synthesizer". He links his fascination of this retro future world with his own music "for me this era was always a source of inspiration" he says, unlike today where the new buildings that replace the old ones lack of style and character. "At the time the Brutalist style was much talked about, hence the demolishment of the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth which was voted the ugliest building in UK. I never show it physically, I wish I did, but it was a building really fought out and that's the thing. The new buildings are just blunt, responding to the people's style. Brutalism is not in vogue now, they are going to keep some examples of it and sadly this is not going to be one of them".
After going up and down the 8 and 6 storey buildings several times, we decided that it was time to take a break, so we went near Carl's old house to his fav chinese street food place. The conversation switched to fashion and since Carl was working for 15 years for a famous fashion store, he had plenty to say.
"When working for a fashion label you have to make sure that you project the image of the company. I was working for Paul Smith and I loved the brand, was wearing it a lot, especially the suits because they fit me very well. But I started having to many clothes; when you work for fashion it is very easy to be to much into it, spending your wages back into it."
It seems that over the years Carl has managed to built up a great wardrobe and gain a vast knowledge in the field; he mentions designer names and outfits he has worn, describing details that cannot be seen by the untrained eye. " There used to be this great, independent fashion shop in Floral street, Jonas, and I would buy clothes from the Miu Miu, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela collections they had. Back then, in 2000, these labels were much cooler than now that they are established. The staff I had bought from Vivienne Westwood in the nineties were of unique style and quality; they had taken care of every detail. The label was nice and you had a picture of her inside the jacket. But if you have been a customer for a long time you will notice that the shape of shoes will change, the trousers and the shirt shape will go narrower but in general I would say for some items that I've got something like that from 10 years ago, not the same but a similar idea. The people who are making it obviously come in cycles and if you look at certain brands for a decade you get to see the same staff again. Obviously you cannot reinvent the wheel and it is not going to be dramatically different overtime. Martin Margiela, for example, has left the company and sold out to Diesel. Although I still like his staff, I wouldn't get crazy about them. I did like his H&M's collaboration because they were going through Margiela's archives; they actually redesigned his clothes using probably cheaper material. I preferred this concept than if he was designing something from scratch."
I suppose there is a point in most people's lives, especially when living in a big city that you get excited about fashion. But what happens after that period? "I used to get excited but not any more. I would go to Harvey Nichols, where they have all the brands under one roof, and shop everything that attracted my attention; I had no restraints. Now, I feel it was wrong the amount of clothes I had. But I enjoyed wearing a new outfit everyday. Once I bought a turquoise two pieces outfit from Miu Miu that looked like a hospital uniform. Or I would wear a Paul Smith purple cricket jacket with crazy checked wool trousers and beige loafers. I liked making fashion statements. It was kind of like Diana Ross going through costume changes. When you grow up in a small place and you have a certain mentality and then you come to the big city and realise that you don't have to be caged by this mentality then you just go for it; particularly when you work in a fashion environment where you are inclined to do so.
Now, I wear this Van's everyday. I love the design of them, I also like the colour; I have a blue, red and white pair. My trousers are from Vivienne Westwood, I bought them in the sales, in Selfridges. My friend spotted them and suggested that I should try them on; it was something different from what I was used to. In 2010, I went to visit my friend Marian who is working in a wholesale in Kingsland road; she showed me around all the brands that she is selling and I found this nice cotton hoodie which was from this brand called Silence. I had never heard of them but a couple of years later and while the brand became more successful I found out that this was actually by Damir Doma, who is at the moment a very trendy designer. I didn't know this when I got the top; it was just something I liked a lot.
I am very happy now to go vintage shops, such as Beyond retro in London or Beacon's closet in Brooklyn and buy mostly t-shirts. But, I repeat, I wouldn't buy a full price item anymore. On the contrary, I started shelling some of my clothes and it was quite a relieving experience. I have kept some items but still when I wear them I wonder why, since I have changed a lot from the time I had bought them. Do I want to wear something I wore when I was 20 something, do I identify myself when I am wearing it? "
We kept talking about clothes until the sun set and then we separated. When I returned back home, I put on Carl's inspiring music and while listening to his calm voice from the recorder, I thought of Robin Hoods Garden with a feeling of nostalgia. Soon it will be gone, I said to myself.
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