Dazed Digital Cultural DNA Top 10
1 1978 ‘The House That Sailed Away’ by Pat Hutchins (1975)
I loved this book so much that I must have read it about 18 times! It tells the story of a family whose house during a rainstorm detaches itself from it’s terrace in Hampstead, sails down Rosslyn Hill and after an epic journey, shores up on a desert island. The characters are hilarious: grandma is a lush and a kleptomaniac flirt: terrified of the shark who follows the house, eyeing her up hungrily though the basement window; mum is an apparently beatific anorexic; while dad in the spirit of tom from ‘The Good Life’, revels in the new challenges of life at sea: fixing, mending with a fine line in mother-in-law jokes.
On the island they find two friends of Grandma’s: castaways from a shipwrecked OAP booze cruise and together ward off cannibals, pirates, returning to England as heroes as they save the crown jewels.
The idea of travelling with your home really appealed to me. Years later I did just that: buying a ford transit for £450 with my ex boyfriend Ben, we lived on the road. With a herb garden on the dashboard, a handmade bed and a kelim carpet on the floor; it might have looked like a generic white van, but inside it was home.
Hampstead is only 15 miles away from where I grew up on a council estate in Watford, but as a child it felt exotic in its moneyed security. Driving home after Sundays in London, I’d peer out of Dad’s embarrassingly flash E-Type Jaguar at the roads leading from Rosslyn Hill, hoping to catch sight of Willow Road, the street the house pulls itself away from and once I did. This pleased me, as though somehow it made those fictional possibilities a reality, that from the most ordinary the extraordinary could happen.
My styling work comes from this place: where the most mundane can be magical; the most surreal ideas come from a very ordinary starting point, creating a magical story which is believable and therefore touches us all.
2 ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush (1978)
‘Top of the Pops’ was a weekly Thursday treat at my house. One night a barefooted girl with saucer eyes, a virginal Victoriana-a-go-go outfit and Nefertiti arm gestures stared back from the screen, wildly wailing for a lost love. I was mesmerised: who was this Heathcliff and what had he done to her to make her so desperate?
Luckily BBC2 showed a series of the book not long afterwards, which Mum as a treat let me stay up late for. This, combined with the children’s abridged version, answered my questions and fed my obsession.
My relationship with Cathy changes: as a girl I didn’t understand why she would want a man like Heathcliff; as a 20 year old studying the book for my English degree at UCL, whilst living with a man I didn’t feel passionately about, I didn’t understand why she would ever leave him. The story always seems to touch me; even the 1939 sanitised version with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier had me in tears when I watched it again last September.
The belief that huge, overwhelming love is rare, but not always good for us; that we can love the most inappropriate people and that there are consequences to our choices, Kate Bush was that first hint of what I know now to be true: there is always a price.
3 2006-now: Grey Nike Jogging Pants.
I took up jogging last year as an upbeat antidote to years of yoga. Running around Regent’s Park, fuelled on chocolate to speed up the rush, I felt like Rocky: shifting from loser to champion, as I became more disciplined, more agile and aware of my breath.
Jogging meant a new wardrobe, I bought a pair of grey jogging pants, finally rebelling from my Mum?s dictate that sweatpants are common. When sportswear first hit style central Watford, while the rest of my class squeezed themselves into skin-tight velour and sweatshirt fabric (and mostly looking hideous) I wasn’t allowed a pair. Did I feel I’d missed out? No, why hide behind the mass identikit Suburban attempt at Brooklyn street-style when I could play with clothes my way?
In Camden, where I live, joggers are the foundation of a kind of uniform. Girls wear them with a harsh ponytail, tight t’shirt and chains; boys add hoodies and boxfresh white trainers. Combined with a space enveloping shoulder sway shuffling walk, this is a kind of class defining style war. Not so much u and non-u, as jog and non-jog?
These are the things I have learnt from jogging:
1 that I can do it ( I was the slowest runner in my year at school ? ha, not any more!)
2 that it makes my legs look better
3 I can eat chocolate and not feel guilty
4 in jogging pants I am visible and invisible to different kinds of people.
4 1977: Rod Stewart ‘Sailing’.
In 1977 my dad in his infinite wisdom spent the money they’d saved to buy a house on an e type jaguar. I can remember my grandparents: poppa in a flat cap and sheepskin jacket combo coming to look at it in the car park opposite the salon; clearly mum had rallied the cavalry. Dad was very excited, showing off the red leather interior, explaining the engine to a silent audience. It’s at this point, I always maintain I’d have divorced him, Dad’s response is to laugh: ‘we were young!’ ‘Yes darling, I was young?,’ I reply, ‘I was 7?’
That August we drove to Turkey: Dad could show off his beautiful wife, me, the car; the family could believe it was worth leaving home for all this. I was cramped in the back next to boxes of presents for the village: it was sticky, hot, and horrid. Mum took up smoking again, we went through one border with her in tears, and in Germany the police mistook us for the Baader Meinhof gang. I’d stare longingly at camper vans, dreaming of more space, more logic, and air-con.
Mum had brought one cassette with her, a Rod Stewart compilation, light relief to Dad’s Turkish folk music. ‘Sailing’ became our anthem, past perfect Austrian wooden houses, through communist concrete Bulgarian cities. Easy to remember, perfect to put our own versions to: ‘This is boring, I am boiling, I am dying?’
5 1978 ‘Black Narcissus’ (1947)
At school periodically we’d queue up for our lice inspection by matron. One afternoon they took me aside to quietly tell me I had the telltale signs of head lice eggs. I was mortified: my parents owned a salon; this could be dire for trade. I was even more perturbed when Mum told me that Nana had cut off her hair when she’d got lice as a girl – but not to worry – she’d not do that to me! Armed with the stinky shampoo, the torture chamber lice comb and the sense of going into battle, Mum painstakingly went through my hair picking out the eggs: it took hours. Late night TV was the only foreseeable treat in this indignity, through my hair, neck aching, ‘Black Narcissus’ came on. What should have been really boring suddenly became the best treat ever. In the most beautiful Technicolor, India came alive for me, who cares if it was really a suburban garden in Surrey combined with Alfred Junge’s backdrops? I was entranced.
Cries of ‘Sister Ruth, Sister Ruth!’ became a family joke; her red dress hot desire possibly went over my head (I think I thought how could she compete with Deborah Kerr anyway? Stupid woman!).
That night was the start of two love affairs, which carried me through into my twenties: –
India: I don’t care that my first view of India was a film shot entirely in England, that half the cast had gone to RADA, it felt and feels entirely authentic to me. As authentic to me as my literal experience of India was: equally as magical, equally as lurid. You fall in love with a feeling.
Powell and Pressburger: I went on to write my finals dissertation on their films. Their world of flawed innocent love affairs, redheads, arcane mysticism and fallen morality captivated me that night and has held me ever since.
6: 1989: ‘Dirt’ by The Stooges (1970)
The only society I joined during Fresher’s week at UCL was the Psychedelic Society.
This was the period of the first incarnation of my Sicilian widow wardrobe: 60’s black cocktail dresses, worn with lace-up boots, velvet boleros and a silver nose ring. As term progressed the skirts got shorter, added to this was a hat bought at ‘Planet Alice’ on Portobello Road, which I?d have to hold up each time I crossed the street, as it nearly caused several accidents due to peripheral blindness on my part from it’s brim.
I saw so many bands in that first year: from Nirvana to Dinosaur Jr, from the Lemonheads to Spaceman Three; had I failed at college, I could have made a glittering career as a groupie, so knowledgeable was I about waah-waah’s, Chelsea boots and (my particular penchant) bass players.
But it is ‘Dirt’ by The Stooges that is my anthem for that year; it predates all those bands, all those pretty boys by a generation, yet it still sounds utterly modern.
Iggy’s simple sentences: taunt with howls and taut derisiveness. You never know whether his hates you, is seducing you, or fucking you. Precisely like those boys I was surrounded by then; except he was so much more: more crazy, more flawed, more brilliant, just more.
I’d play this song repeatedly in my room in halls, God knows what the other tenants thought; none ever complained, perhaps they were too scared, perhaps they felt it too, or perhaps in that hat I just couldn’t see them.
7 1993-1996: DJ Tsuyoshi
If you asked me to name you the music I danced to at techno parties around the world, I’d draw a total blank; this memorable time in my life, had an utterly forgettable soundtrack. Leaving my boyfriend on a whim I called love, I ran away to meet the latest soul mate in India, only to end up in Goa. I was not dressed for Goa; I was dressed for India. Enhanced by a trip that only a chosen few were in fact medieval; while others sported neon lycra in fractal patterns, I went barefoot in floor length skirts, black and sari tops, with colours vibrating their essential deeper meaning to me.
Bike rides at night took us to secret party destinations, flagged by fluro painted trees, lit by oil lamps, music pulsating into the forest. Secret, but somehow everyone knew: the chai mamas already set up, each with their mats tribe of dissolute wasters to pet, feed and cash in on. The police already bribed. At dawn the sacred cows would entrance the dance floor with the best costumes. The music was a ceaseless flow of techno; I longed for disco, for anything without that repetitive drone. I may have been dancing to techno; but I was hearing soul. Now when I hear techno my body beats me to the rhythm, still the speaker girl, my right leg kicks out, head swaying, I am in the beat before I wake up to myself, laughing.
Sunset parties, full moon parties, squat parties – there’ve been a lot of parties! Tsuyoshi’s is the only name I’ve been able to remember; so what can I recall? Well, he was mellow, didn?t talk much, had a nice girlfriend, was entrusted with our trip, our night and was consistent. I’ve listened to him play for days in several countries and that’s it…
8 2004-now: ‘Boudoir’ eau de parfum by Vivienne Westwood.
When I first wore ‘Boudoir’ at least 4 people would tell me that I smelt nice on each outing. This reception pleased me, so it became my signature scent. The first perfume I wore was ‘Eau de Gucci’; aged 16, it saw me through early kisses, church hall dances and adolescent crushes. Wearing it made me feel adult: it gave me an aura, it gave me an allure. The anti-hero of Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’ has no smell and thus is unlovable. His quest for love unites with his intense sense of aloneness, as he destroys, murders and catalogues to create the perfect blend. Personally I disliked the book, but the idea that we are haunted by fragrance is a resonant one.
An ex-lover wore ‘Comme 2’ and though he was not the great love, whenever I smell it on someone, I’m thrown back into that moment, that desire. On other men, their armpit, enveloping my face: slightly sweaty with an undercurrent of beer, exertion and warmth, has felt like home, utterly magnetic. I wear ‘Boudoir’ because I like its blend of rich tones and velvety scents; but equally because I enjoy the reflection it sends back to me from others. Who doesn’t want to be told they smell good, that they’re desirable? Without it I feel naked, my own scent laid bare and that is private. ‘Boudoir’ is then also my armour, my protection.
9 1988-now: Ecover cream cleaner
My first taste of alternative living was aged 17 when I went to visit a boyfriend’s family at the Camphill Rudolph Steiner community outside Aberdeen. After the epic 12-hour bus ride from London, I entered the doors of the large house where his parents were ?houseparent? and immediately noticing it smelt different, entered a different world. Communal meals of the most indigestible food were blessed before eating: lumpy porridge, soggy bowls of brown rice, inedible stews – you needed religion to be able to eat them I thought. I was so starving I lost weight (perfect I thought); eventually eating pies from the local shop to assuage my hunger. Washing up was a ritual taking hours, doors were unlocked, and money of no value as everything was bought by Mario’s mother from the Steiner shop. Cupboards revealed cavernous stockpiled provisions of pulses, muesli and Ecover products. I’d entered an alternate reality. Ecover was new and news to me: products that didn’t harm the earth, which were biodegradable; that smelt nice naturally and did the job. It seemed so clever, so simple; like a lot of what I learnt from my trips to those Camphill communities.
10 1995-now: Blackberry – T mobile
When I came back from travelling in the van, Mum announced she was buying me a mobile phone: ‘So you can be contactable.’ My hippy friends (the same ones who now have at least one) all mocked me, as I’d step on tip-toes or go near the window to get better reception; I was in the company of drug-dealers and yuppies, the only other people I knew had a mobile number. It was deeply temperamental: it didn’t like Muswell Hill, most of Bristol, or coastal areas. But it loved Camden where I live and I relished the freedom it gave me: the sense that I could be on top of things, without being tied to a landline. I could still go off for trips in my truck and pitch for a job – perfection!
My Blackberry is an extension of that: this summer on a boat off the Turkish coastline, I was emailed for a job, able to respond promptly and days later was poolside at the Istanbul Hilton being paid to sunbathe, while using my Blackberry to approve the next job.
Fear of not being reachable seems to be a modern drug: watch how many people in the street are grabbing hold of their phone: the fix of the next call, hustle, row or inane conversation holds us all in it’s sway. But I have lived with nothing: with no phone, no mobile, Jesus, even no shoes and this to me seems to be the happy medium: to be reachable, but able to screen my calls; to be in touch, but know who is there.
Wig Magazine Fashion Forecast
I live in Camden, as a teenager I’d trawl the market wearing my favourite outfit: think a black and white op-art jumper, black corduroy mini skirt, lace up chunky Victoriana boots, shawl collared dinner jacket, snood, ribbed tights, hundreds of bangles and the hugest pair of costume jewellery earrings. Lunch was spaghetti bolognaise with Diet Coke at ‘The Goodfare’ on Parkway. While my taste in cuisine may have changed, ‘The Goodfare’ remains gloriously unaltered: it’s Technicolor Venetian mural and glamorously bouffant head waiter, my Italian Elvis, both still vibrant, if a little frayed around the edges. Kirsty Mccoll sung of Presley working down her chip shop; I like to believe that his Mediterranean doppelganger lives on, serving cappuccinos and chat in a corner of North London.
Saturday job money then university grant funded this sartorial second hand love affair: one which seems to have been the most constant source of pleasure through several relationships, a couple of decades and numerous homes. Here my passion for vintage clothes began: Victorian jackets, tartan minis, 1960’s cocktail dresses, cropped leather jackets, mod skirts, utility wear, costume jewellery and high waisted skinny trousers. These pieces, many of them still loved and worn, feel so perfectly stylish and utterly covetable; they tie in perfectly with this season’s collections and hint at the silhouettes and moods of the catwalk.
Christopher Kane’s girl felt distinctly Camden Goth: russet toned crushed velvet a’ line mini dresses strode out next to soft leather rocker twin-sets of button down jackets and mini swing skirts. Politics and fashion is not an easy mix, yet using shows as a springboard for review, comment and expression, several designers created urban warriors, whose outfits combined veils with cool combat gear. At Bora Aksu this season, Bora used custom-made armoury pieces to accessorise the show.
La Petite Salope had their debut show off schedule during London Fashion Week this season. Known for dresses which hug the body in all the right places, making you feel glam and effortlessly cool, this show was a celebration of the coquette: flirty French music guided the models as they bounced down the catwalk in a capsule collection of perfect cocktail dresses. The muted palette of blacks, greys and dark green, worn with red seamed black stockings was refreshingly simple. Flattering tulip shapes, chiffon dresses and matching velvet coats, ideal for hot dates or fancy parties.
Alexander McQueen’s show, might have met with mixed reviews, but it was my Paris highlight. I bow down at the altar of his talent to fuse cool with couture, creating women I fear, admire and aspire to be. Charlotte Tilbury’s make up, with Cleopatra kohl rimmed eyes and neon shades was again a celebration of rock goth-fabulous; while Eugene Soulieman’s hair took graphic blunt fringes, mixed with Rapunzel locks and insect shaped buns, to create a look which was at once space age, yet warrior woman: familiar to my Camden muso local, yet terrifyingly new. Girls strode out in a star formation, criss-crossing in outfits of skin-tight leather trousers, egg shaped dresses and padded coats; which at once hugged the body, whilst redefining its shape. As the finale music sang out Nina Simone’s ‘I put a spell on you’, the stage lit up with a neon red pentangle and I knew that yes, this season McQueen had.
Isabella Blow his long-time muse, a woman I remember from my internship at Vogue cajoling him to realise his dream, when he was just another St Martin’s graduate with big dreams, a helpful mother and strapped for cash, would be proud of this show. As clever, and open as she was apparently eccentric; Isabella once described the Sir John Soanes museum to me as ‘sexy’. She had the vision to celebrate the new, the bold and the fabulous. This show was all those things. He’s come such a long way and it is thanks to Isabella’s eccentric eye and Medici-like patronage that talent such as McQueen’s, or Philip Treacy, has flourished. Her unmissable presence at shows and belief in nurturing talent, art and design will be sorely missed in a sea of normality calling itself fashion. The world is a duller place without her and sadly shows will be a blander place without her.
My condolences to her family and the hope that her vibrancy, colour and wit will be remembered and survive in shows to come.
Allotment writing for Guardian Online: click on the links
Purple Magazine Q&A with Natasha Khan a.k.a Bat For Lashes
Natasha Khan is a beauty, she has the makings of a muse: a woman whose face,
conversation, body or lovemaking inspires the creative talents of a Picasso or a
Balenciaga. But this is the new millenium and Natasha is herself the artist, moulding
these dreams to create her own body of work. Harpischords and hip-hop, Medieval and
modern musical forms, collide in rhythmic harmony through her band ‘Bat for Lashes’ new
album. Dreamscapes which draw the listener into a new world, like Alice tumbling down
into the rabbit’s hole, we awaken into a whole new world of kingdoms and quests where
it’s a woman’s voice who utters the battle cry.
1 Tamara: By using dreams as an influence on your songwriting you’re allowing your
personal totems and symbolism to become motifs in the songs. The lyrics sound quite
haunting, yet also haunted.
Do dreams become nightmares do you think? Or is it just a question of how you look at
Natasha: I think that if you’re in touch with your subconscious there are elements which
are always considered positive. In dreams there are no rules or logical explanations.
the beautiful things are in the invisible. Everything is an illusion; the reality of
what you’ve been drawing on in dreams comes out much later but it is always coming from
a real place.
For my last album i was channelling dreams, and I see looking back at them now, that
these relate to issues from that time in my life. This changes for everybody. When I
delve into my dreams, like the one I had of Joan of Arc which I used for my first album,
she is very symbolic archetypally to all of us, we all draw on an ancestral and
historical reservoir, but at the time I dreamt those things, I felt the responsibility of
the work I was about to undertake.
Learning lessons from our subconscious is a constant process, now I am learning a new
lesson as I am at a different stage; as creativity is a spiritual journey, it’s only
after the event that you can understand the lessons. Transformation means moving on.
2 Tamara: I saw you playing at the ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ festival which Devendra
Banhart hosted last year. Do you guys hang out, share ideas and enjoy a cup of tea? Is
it like the 60’s Californian folk scene, all sharing influences, ideas and ideals?
Natasha: My work is definitely not folk. It draws from eclectic influences, such as
hip-hop, Medieval, Kate Bush and The Cure. Musically it is separate, but spiritually I
am connected to that scene; Devendra is like an older brother, he is very championing
of friend’s talent. It feels like an extended family, a community of bands such as
Spleen, Espers, which is effortless and real.
3 Tamara: Do you think that magic is everywhere? Did you feel that growing up in Watford
(like me-North London suburbia)? Your recent video for ‘What’s a girl to do’ for
instance, has that suburban Donnie Darko bmx bike riding teen dream vibe, yet then the
weird couple and the animal heads leap straight out of an Angela Carter novel.
Natasha: The leafy suburban mundane routine bored me, so I’d escape to Rickmansworth
lakes and and watch the full moon and bats coming out. Then I related these to religious
subjective influences, like in the film ‘The Virgin Suicides’. Gaston Bachelard said:
‘The house is a shelter for dreaming’; and I feel that growing up in the suburbia did
give me hours to dream, as it was a shelter for my cocoon to make the discovery of magic
within the small microcosm I lived in. I had hours to dream and create through escapism,
this trained my imagination to be strong. Too much stimulation overwhelms me, I need
nature and quietness to connect.
4 Tamara: I wonder how conscious you were of being mixed race as a child? And if so, was
that easy or difficult? I ask because as you know, I come from the same hometown and am
also from two cultures. Though I am older, I experienced a degree of racism, which adds
a layer of isolation, which then leads to dreaming…
Natasha: I can agree with that. when I was younger I was gawky and not cool. I suffered
from a bit of racism, or what kids use against one another which is different. so I
developed humour and became a bit of a joker at school.
Having mixed race parents means I grew up in a world of extremes with constant cultural
conflict. As a child there was a constant pull: which parent do you side with, because
you can understand both points of view? It does cause pain and it did lead to me
escaping for time on my own; but I see the positives in this, now I can identify with
lots of people and I have an eclectic taste, such as in music, listening to Dad’s tabla
and sitar music or Mum’s cheesy Fleetwood Mack songs and appreciating them both. There
is a pain in being fragmented, but I have drawn on this and see that there is no right
or wrong, no limits.
5 Tamara: Remember I described that Turkish word ‘huzun‘ to you – it means an enjoyment
of a melancholic memory from the past – kind of loving the pain, the sadness? You said
that’s me and my work. To those who are perhaps more light-hearted, would you explain
what you mean?
Natasha: laughs. I love that word! Definitely there’s a magical element from childhood,
and what I call the hoodie 80’s films, like ET; but it’s not necessarily self-pity, it’s
more seeing a beauty in the darkness. When you strip back what it is to be human, it’s
terrifying and beautiful. I love to dance and enjoy being happy; but at the moment, I’d
say it’s the root of my influence, definitely on this album. I don’t think you ever
forget those moments from childhood, there’s an absolute beauty in the terror of stepping
out from childhood.
6 Tamara: You also create the artwork for your record sleeves, why? What does it mean to
Natasha: When I was little, I played music but it was only in my foundation year at
college that I combined music with visual art. I see music and art as twins, it is
important to me to create a world which I am inhabiting in any given album. In the
record contract I said that I want control visually and musically to how I look and the
artwork. I need to give justice to the totality of the universe I am creating. I’m
happy to open up to other people’s expertise, but I need to see that it is a part of the
overall image of the world I have created at that given time and for that particular
The music is like my children, I have a responsibilty to protect it.
7 Tamara: Where would you like to go next?
Natasha: I am quite superstitious, so I don’t want to open up too much to upset
them(sic). But as I become more confident, I see the productions as becoming more
theatrical. I am in the process of recording a new album which is exploring this, in
terms of performing and being theatrical.