• illustration by MICHAELA MYHRBERG

    Giovanni's Room

    Written by Philip Warkander by Michaela Widergren

    In his classic 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room, author James Baldwin at one point describes the relationship between time and the individual. One of the main characters of the novel, the unfortunate Giovanni, tells the narrator of how he experiences the temporal context of human existence, in which all thoughts, deeds and actions are carried out:

    Time is just common, it’s like water for a fish. Everybody’s in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That’s all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn’t care.

    For some reason I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this brief passage. In a few sentences, Baldwin has captured the sense of anxiety and powerlessness a person experiences when faced with the seemingly indifference of time; we live, we die, but in a larger perspective, none of it really seems to matter. Our existential traumas, struggles and difficulties which for us are a matter of life or death, is of no relevance to the universe.
    Depressing as this may sound, I couldn’t stop thinking about Baldwin’s work, but now focusing on the whole novel, and my reading of it. Originally published in 1956, I read it for the first time in 2012. When I read this text, I see it for the first time, and for me, the text is alive. This way, Baldwin has counteracted the supposed linearity of time and escaped from the demarcations of the indifferent ocean. Through a creative process he has suspended the laws of time, and in a way overcome his own mortality.

    A few weeks after I finish reading Baldwin’s short novel concerning events of Paris of the 1950’s, I am in the middle of a new project; Marcel Proust’s In Search for Lost Time. Based (among other places) in the same city as Baldwin’s, Proust’s work spans over several decades, through winding passageways and surprising twists and turns through time, as elaborated by Proust himself. The taste of Madeleine cookies and scent of hawthorn bushes awaken his memory, making him reminisce over times past. Through a deeply personal perspective, he controls the narrative, filling it with detailed descriptions of sexual escapades, romantic infatuations and social ambitions. Long forgotten incidents and people now dead are brought to life, woven into the fabric of Proust’s imagination. Similar to Baldwin, Proust also takes control over time, questioning its linearity and instead molding it into the shape of his own desire.

    I read In Search of Lost Time while in Marrakech, Morocco. One morning, I visit Jardin Majorelle, former home of Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent. The two were deeply fascinated with Proust, and have even named the guest rooms in one of their other homes (Chateau Gabriel, near Deauville, France) after characters in the book.
    To an almost extreme extent, YSL was inspired by references from his own life in his fashion design. His passion for art and weakness for Arabic aesthetics (which he discovered through his long stays in Marrakech) were articulated in his collections. This way, his private experiences and personal preferences were materialized in commercial products, to be sold and worn all over the world, by people who had no connection to French art of traditional Moroccan style, thus blind to the references in the garment they wear.
    Here, the artistic legacies of Proust and YSL become interlaced. While I read Proust in the former hometown of YSL, I note distinctive similarities in how they operate artistically; using ideas that emanate from subjective and secretive existences, they employ memories and reflections to create a world of their own. This world is open for visits by others, albeit only temporary ones. For Proust, this is carried out through words, while YSL does it literally; designing garments for people to dress up in, wrapping themselves in the worlds of his creation.
    This tactic takes us back at the starting point; the relation between individuals and time, and the possibilities of overcoming the contextual demarcations of our existence. Interestingly, both Proust and YSL were physically weak and neurotic, placing them in the category of the smaller fish in Baldwin’s ocean, easy prey for bigger and stronger forces. However, using the power of imagination, they create their own worlds, inventing personal rules and value systems, thus overturning the logic of the mainstream and the ordinary outside of their sphere. Visibly weak but with imaginations stretching outside of the limits of their place in the ocean, they subvert the order of things and, in this way, cheat the logic of time and death.
    When I visit Jardin Majorelle YSL has been dead for some time, and his memorial is situated in the garden where I spend my morning, now accessible for the public. But, carrying the Proust-volume in my bag, I have a sense of being able, as Proust did once himself, to edge myself back through time, to when YSL and Bergé were sitting in the garden, engulfed in the stories of Paris past. YSL may be buried here, but his notion of upsetting and tricking time is encoded in the structure of contemporary fashion, thus continually living on through the works of others.

  • photography by NELS FRYE

    Leaping Forward into the Past

    Written by Buyun Chen by Michaela Widergren

    When I moved from New York to Beijing at the end of August 2009, I packed nearly every shoe, jacket, and dress I owned. For weeks I had meticulously evaluated each item in my wardrobe and determined that it was absolutely necessary to take everything, only sparing a couple pairs of old jeans. (This, of course, resulted in a hefty overweight luggage fee.) My irrational packing was driven by the belief that Beijing had nothing sartorially inspired to offer me.

    In my mind, the ever-changing metropolis was littered with fast-fashion empires and luxury retailers disseminated across sprawling malls and outdoor shopping pavilions. This image, perpetuated by articles with titles like “China’s taste for high-end fashion and luxury brands reaches new heights” (published in The Guardian in April 2011) portrays the shopping scene as a playground for the foreign luxury market. One of the oft-cited statistics claims that Chinese consumers will buy over 40% of the world’s luxury goods by 2020. Yes, wealthy urbanites are shopping – but what are their young, financially constrained counterparts buying? As a recent transplant to Beijing, I was particularly invested in learning where the clothing-obsessed twenty-somethings – like myself – find the good stuff.

    After about a month in Beijing, I was desperate to shop – or at least, browse. I had heard that the Gulou (“Drum and Bell Tower”) district located in the east part of the inner-city, home to trendy but tourist-filled hutongs (narrow lanes), was a good place to start. On my search, I passed countless shops selling socialist propaganda T-shirts, floral patterned totes, and embroidered silk shawls – each trying to capitalize on the tourist’s imagination of an authentic Chinese past. Tucked between the traditional yogurt vendors and scattered in the side alleys, however, were small, unassuming boutiques that catered to a different consumer. Carefully curated, these shops offered modern silhouettes done in limited palettes with quality fabrics by local designers. My curiosity was piqued.

    While the figures of luxury consumption are striking, they eclipse the emerging local fashion design and retail scene. Many of the young designers have studied at elite fashion design schools in Europe and then, return to Beijing or Shanghai to launch their own lines. They belong to an exclusive group of tastemakers who are working to carve out a space of their own in the domestic and international fashion markets. But their shops and the independent boutiques that sell their collections remain sparsely populated. The pricing of these designed wares was far beyond the reach of my pockets and I suspected that the same must be true for my fellow Beijing shoppers.

    Several failed shopping trips later, I chanced upon a closed vintage shop in the Gulou district late one night. I peaked through the windows and discovered racks and racks of liberty print skirts, stonewashed denim, and flannel. Pressing my nose against the metal shutters, I spied leather satchels and tasseled brogues, enough to send me into a state of euphoria. I quickly took note of the name: Mega Mega Vintage.
    Located on East Gulou Street, the store holds odd hours. Only after a few unsuccessful attempts did I realize that the store was unlikely to open before the early evening. When I finally gained admission, I was surprised to find that all of the goods were imported from America, Europe, and Japan. The slightly claustrophobic space was decorated with old British and American paraphernalia, complete with a red telephone box in place of a fitting room. Owned by Liu Ke, M&M Vintage was one of the first vintage shops to open in Beijing. In interviews, Liu has described vintage (or guzhuo) as a culture that not only values the history of fashion, but also ascribes new meaning to the remnants of things past. For Liu and his customers, arming oneself in vintage is to confront the homogenizing force of fashion trends.

    Over the past few years, Gulou has transformed into the destination for vintage shopping. In addition to M&M, Tiger Vintage, Old News, DDR, and a handful of other stores offer vintage clothing, accessories, and home goods to a growing population of young urbanites seeking to articulate a unique identity in the age of disposable fashion. Like Beijing’s elite designers, these vintage sellers have studied abroad, traveled, and returned to China to start their businesses. The vintage phenomenon is an outcome of the mobility, both physical and cultural, afforded to a generation of affluent youths who came of age during the China boom. By wearing vintage, these identity-conscious shoppers can boast authenticity and distinction. By buying and selling vintage, shop owners lay claim to a culture that pre-dates mass production, fast fashion, and most importantly, the “Made in China” trademark. They stock their stores with European and American vintage, avoid most merchandise produced after the 1980s and instead, opt for trends from the 50s through 70s – when the market had yet to be saturated with products manufactured in China. Whereas goods made in China represent the regime of readymade appearances, vintage goods are viewed as containing intrinsic worth by virtue of its limited production, workmanship, and novelty.

    Their affinity for vintage, perhaps, bespeaks the backlash against waste and obsolescence that is gaining traction across major cities. Some critics might dismiss the proclivity for vintage as an instance of random cultural borrowing premised on an imagined past – yet another manifestation of the global fashion system. Or they may just be accidental bricoleurs playing in the storehouse of nostalgia, working to humanize forms of wear.

    Before I left Beijing, I went to a vintage and secondhand flea market hosted on the roof of Triple-Major, a concept store that carries obscure labels from across the world. The event was as much of an opportunity to purchase imported vintage leather pumps as it was to get acquainted with a community of locals and foreigners invested in the fight against the ephemeral. In a city so intent on erasing the vestiges of history, wearing vintage has become a battle cry that calls attention to their appreciation of the past.

  • photography by LENA MODIGH

    Ulrika Lundgren, RIKA

    Written by Mari Florer

    “I love biker jackets, that’s my thing.”

    Ulrika Lundgren is a Swedish born fashion designer, stylist and business woman - she’s the woman behind the international fashion brand Rika.

    When I got in touch with her for this interview she told me she only had 30 minutes to spare. One hour later I felt a smile spreading over my face when the thought hit me; “She likes talking to me”.

    Listening to this truly enthusiastic woman describing the start of her project is pure enjoyment. It is also clear that the trademark Rika and the person Ulrika Lundgren are synonymous in spirit.

    Looking at Rika’s collections it is no surprise that biker jackets and classic French style female chic are personal obsessions of Ulrika.

    From interior stylist into fashion designer
    After graduating from her interior design studies in Amsterdam she began to work as an interior stylist for magazines like Elle Decoration and Casa Vogue and travelled globally. Slowly as more people appeared in her photo shoots the clothing became more important and her interest in fashion grew from there.

    “In Spain I made a leather bag with stars, mostly for fun, about 100 bags for close friends… and I invested all the money I earned from my photo sessions in my brand Rika, which I started in 2005” she says.

    The star-bag was a hit. It has been carried by many famous fashionistas all over the world. Alexa Chung, Scarlett Johansson and Kate Moss to name a few.

    Rika Maison guesthouse, Amsterdam
    Today Ulrika resides in Amsterdam. The city has a nice touch of small village and the child friendly environment makes it an ideal place to live in. Also the geography is right.
    “I work a lot in Paris and London. Amsterdam is in the middle”, she says.

    Her Rika boutique, in Oude Spiegelstraat 12 in Amsterdam, has grown into a Rika Maison guesthouse. She designed the rooms herself.

    “It´s decorated like my home.”
    “And, your home. What does it look like? “ I ask.
    “We live in an old school house rebuilt by a Dutch architect. It has black floors with white walls, ceramic vases, velvet pillows. Simple. Just like Rika Maison.

    “So where do you see Rika in the future? For example do you want to design a line for men or create a children collection?” I ask.

    “I did try to develop a children collection once but in the end it turned out too expensive.
    I will keep focusing on the Rika collection, the Maison guesthouse and my Rika magazine and developing that. “

    Swedish or a Dutch?
    I tell her that the Swedish department store NK in Stockholm, Sweden is promoting her as a Scandinavian designer but when I read about her in Elle, they present Rika as a Dutch label.
    Does nationality matter?
    “I feel like a Swede. But my brand feels neither Swedish nor Dutch. For me it is of great importance that my mission is connected to my brand identity and not a place on earth. But I am inspired by girls in cities like Malmö and Copenhagen. I like the Scandinavian style. Not too dressed up - just good looking.”

    The spirit of Rika
    It is not only money she invests in her company. Ulrika Lundgren is personally involved in the styling of every collection. Her creative capital is the essence of Rika. I tell her that I think the pictures in the look book are lovely.
    “Yes, that is where I leave my hallmark and there is where the collection is presented.”

    It’s easy to imagine that she has given full attention to every little detail concerning Rika.
    Speaking to Ulrika I must admit I sometimes get a glimpse of a perfectionist or even a control freak. Have you ever found yourself dressed all wrong in a situation when it wasn’t really appropriate?

    “No, I am cautious. I analyze things. I Save my thoughts in my mind a while. Then I make a decision. But I like challenges. At one time, five or six years ago, I made bags decorated with bugs and spiders. Most of the people thought it was weird. Today when the jewelry designers uses such motives all the time it would probably be a success.”

    What is the most rewarding thing with being a fashion designer?
    “To see young women wear my creations… and that they are satisfied and want to buy my clothes. Appreciation.”

    Can you name a Dutch designer and a Swedish designer you like?
    “Well. I do wear Acne sometimes. But I don’t wear any Dutch designers. My favorite brand is Céline. I love it - classic French Parisian girl style.
    When I dress I always wear something timeless. I am 40 years old - not 20. Black is classic”
    “I always spend a little extra money on shoes, bags, jackets and trousers. Today I carry a blue bag, a Marc Jacobs cardigan and a couple of Acne trousers. I like it simple.”

    She tells me she’s going to attend a Vogue event soon and doesn´t yet know what to wear; maybe jeans, a shirt and a biker jacket. To her it is crucial to feel comfortable. Girls are most beautiful that way, she thinks.

    The conversation is interrupted. She calls me up in a few minutes.
    “Are we finished?” she asks.
    Just one more question I say.
    Do you have a male styling icon?
    “Elvis”
    The smile returns to my face. That I had figured out.

    photography by LENA MODIGH

    stylist MEGHAN SCOTT / Magnolia Agency

    hair & make up ELIN TORDENLIND / Magnolia Agency

    model LINNEA / Stockholmsgruppen

                        / www.rikaint.com

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