We're all mad, but some of us are more mad than others
It’s my theory that all of us are mad. Some of us area just more mad than others, that’s all.
No one else, for example, would endure five hours in a sub-zero overnight bus and three hours of waiting for the sun to rise in a bus station, only to change their mind and jump on another two buses for a total of eight hours to get to their next destination. But then, it seems that Xilitla is the kind of place that inspires such madness - the reason for my visit, after all, was Las Pozas de Edward James, the world’s largest piece of surreal art that cost over US$5 million to build in the middle of the Huastecan rainforest in north- eastern Mexico.
I arrived at my destination at four in the afternoon, desperate to get off the bus and move my legs! My first priorities though, were food and accommodation. Luckily, neither was too difficult. Fruit and vegetable vendors squatted by the curb along Xilitla’s streets, most likely indigenous farmers who had from the surrounding Sierra Madre mountains to sell produce from their farms: corn, tomatoes and fragrant, verdant bunches of coriander. If I wanted anything more, behind them were tortillerias, carnicerias and pollerias, although with the latter two showcasing their dead animal carcasses in the shopfront, I wasn’t sure if I wanted that.
Dying of hunger, I bought some excessively ripe cherries that I hoed into without washing (I’m still alive! Although I did pour some water into the bag and rinse the cherries briefly after eating a few and deciding I was hungry, but not hungry enough to get diarrhea), before following the map* to Lonely Planet’s recommendation of Hotel Dolores, a cheerily orange building set in the side of the mountain.
The hotel and most importantly the bathroom looked clean so I dumped my stuff and hightailed it out. I desperately needed a stretch.
Unfortunately, the town itself wasn’t all that interesting. I spent my time wandering the streets and going to two museums that were disappointingly closed. One had actually been closed for two years (thanks Lonely Planet) but at least was still open as a restaurant that contained pieces from the museum’s collection, so a friendly waitress let me have a look and even explained some of the pieces.
For dinner I had a delicious fillet of fish fried just so - crispy but not oily, and covered in a garlicky sauce with a touch of smokiness and chili, accompanied by one of the saddest looking salads I’ve ever seen in my life. After dinner, I went to an Internet cafe to let my Mexican family know I’d arrived and then perched myself in the plaza, where some youths were practicing traditional dance for an upcoming competition - information I gleaned from the friendly and good-looking Jehovah’s Witness guy who started talking to me. He was from Chihuahua, and had moved to Xilitla to proselyte in the surrounding indigenous villages. Bet he never thought he’d meet a Mormon there though. The dancing itself was fairly impressive - the girls twirled traditional rainbow-colored maxi skirts around them, while the guys jumped around and clashed swords for a startling rhythmic effect.
After that, I headed home, jumping slightly when a convoy of brand new Beemers drove past blasting dance music because logically, I thought they might be narcos. But it was nothing. At my hotel, I plonked straight onto the bed. It had been a long day and I was damn straight ready to sleep to get ready for Las Pozas the next day.
Las Pozas was the reason I had come all the way to this side of the country. Built by British aristocrat Edward James, an eccentric who seems to have taken his wealth and ran away to the Mexican rainforest in the name of art and existentialism, Las Pozas is the product of his imagination and pure, utter craziness. It’s 36 hectares of concrete structures, soaring arches and random platforms; eery and nonsensical sculptures that mimic, albeit in sad, faded colour, the incredibly mad world of Alice in Wonderland; and twisting staircases that dance upwards around each other only to end at nowhere. And all this in a lush setting reminiscent of the world of Avatar, complete with oversized vines, people-sized ferns and a soaring mountain backdrop - but without the gigantic fauna, thank goodness.
It took me about 20 minutes to walk there along the dusty Paseo a Las Pozas. Although I had seen pictures, I was still amazed when the slender arches of the first building reared out of the rainforest like some sort of concrete monster. I paid my 50 pesos to get in and was directed off to the right. But passing under the staircase of the first building, I was intrigued by the fact that there weren’t any signs saying ‘Do not climb’ or similar. Did that mean I could mount those crazy stairs? I decided to try, crouching down so the entry staff wouldn’t see me and slowly and quietly placing my hands and feet one after another, up one level and then the next.
It turned out I needn’t have bothered with crouching, because the place was apparently open to curious members of the public - the only sign I saw said the structures were fragile, so only 10 people at a time were allowed. You have to love Mexico’s concept of OHS: the whole place was actually pretty precarious, with no railings, guards or banisters despite some of the bridges being 20 or 30 metres in the air. It’s nice to know some countries still trust you to take care of yourself.
The place was a bit of a maze and a mess - I needed a map! Several times I trekked off into the forest only to have the path suddenly end. Once I stumbled upon someone’s camp. Most of the time I just found myself going round in circles - after a while, all the crazy structures started to look the same. After plugging along in this vein for about two hours, I gave up and followed a path to las pozas themselves - the name means ‘the pools’ - where several people were enjoying themselves in the series of clear, aqua ponds situated at the foot of a tall but gentle waterfall. Although I’d forgotten my swimmers, I sat down to dangle my feet in the chilly water and enjoy the tranquility after the madness.
Walking back up to Xilitla, I passed several people running and thought ‘good on them’ for running on this hilly, dusty road. They too looked at me curiously. I’m sure they were thinking, ‘What is this random Asian doing here?’ A fairly valid question, given the remoteness of the town. Was it worth the trek? In retrospect, no. But sometimes, as Edward James showed, you have to put the madness into practice. Otherwise it’s just your imagination then, and where would the fun be in that?
*Okay I lie - someone did help me out. The map was pretty useless and anyone who’s ever travelled Latin America knows an address is the last thing you can rely on when looking for a place.
“there is no ritual. everyday is different for me. the fun part of fashion is that you can be doing something different even when you are designing a collection. each dress has its’ own individuality.”—carolina herrera (via sarazucker)
Rewind post: I'm off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Mexico
Disclaimer: I don’t normally write about my personal life on this blog, but I’m going to make an exception. I’m in Mexico, for goodness ’ sake.
You know that saying ‘I love … like a fat kid loves cake?’ Yeah. Mexico is my cake: fun, always up for a party and guaranteed to clog my arteries (except in a savory manner; their desserts aren’t very good, unless you count ate, that sticky, sweet paste made of guava , quince or tart apple which pairs beautifully with the mild, soft flavours and crumbly texture of panella cheese). last time I came home from Mexico a bloated, fat whale. This time… Well I’m only there for ten days. Here’s hoping.
But I really do love Mexico. There’s something about it, that vibe, that energy, the spirit in the air. I’ll be based in Guadalajara, the second biggest city in Mexico, nearly the size of Sydney, and no one knows where the hell it is (four hours east of Puerto Vallarta for the gringos; eight hours east of Mexico city for everyone else. ‘In the middle of Mexico’ if you really have no idea.) Guadalajara’s really awesome - the centro is marked by wide open plazas, fountains, cathedrals and super friendly people who lack the sense of hurriedness and closed nature of big city folk, possibly due to the fact that Guadalajara’s population and size stem more from its sprawling network of pueblos, rather than its nature as a big business or industry centre.
Sitting in the dark shivering and waiting for the sun to come up because I smartly caught the overnight bus from Guadalajara to San Luis Potosi to save money, and stupidly caught the overnight bus from Guadalajara to San Luis Potosi to arrive at 5:15 am.
Never heard of either destination? Shame on you if you’ve never heard of Guadalajara, or Gdl for short (Guads if you’re Aussie). I have to apologise: I would describe this lovely city but I’ve actually done so on another post and don’t want to repeat myself yada yada but it’s stuck on my iPad so y’all have to wait. In short it’s the birthplace of los mariachis and tequila, and despite its population of approx. four million (think Caracas, Guangzhou or Sydney), its skyline is dominated by the twin towers of the Spanish-built catedral as opposed to blocky office buildings, lending it a somewhat old’school but pleasantly relaxed feel.
San Luis Potosi, on the other hand, is… well I’m not sure why I’m here, other than the fact that it’s busing distance from Gdl and I’d never been here before. The city itself appears to be yet another colonial centre, complete with the requisite plazas and churriguresque architecture*; nearby Matehuala, on the other hand, is the absolute scourge of any national pride my Mexican friends had* Ah, yes. TheMatehualan pointy boots: the epitome of naco-ness (tackiness).
I promised my family to buy them some boots if I saw them.
*The colonial cities of Mexico are beautiful, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all… and I’ve seen more than one.
**Like Aussies, Mexicans very much oscillate between cultural cringe and understated pride.
Can you tell me about what you’re wearing? Okay, I’ll tell you a story. I went to Brisbane in… oh I don’t know, when I came back from New York and I did the Mercedes Benz Fashion Festival, and this outfit - the skirt and the top and everything - was part of one of the looks. I remember being backstage and saying to the stylist, ‘Please! Let me know what that look is!’, and I went and found it straight after.
It [also] just so happens that was the same time colour blocking came in. I was like, ‘Oh my god! I can get away with wearing a lot of colour, and don’t have to worry about it!’ Before, you’d be on the edge if you were wearing too much, like, ‘Who’s that rainbow?’ But now, it’s like ‘Yay!’
It’s a lot of fun. So how would you describe your style? I like being elegant but I will push things as long as I think I can pull it off. And if I see something really well worn, whether on a catwalk or in a magazine, I will pick up pieces that I think I can work.
Do you follow other fashion shows and magazines a lot? Yeah, yeah. I’m always on models.com for instance.
Are you a blog person? Yeah! My friends and I, we’re always comparing and chatting like, ‘What did you think about this look?’
How about Tumblr? No… but my friends do send me a lot though. They’re like, ‘Oh Renny, look at this, look at this!’ So usually I spend more time with my friends doing it because I work as well as model so usually I don’t have time. But for sure, I definitely do a lot of models.com and 2threads and things like that. And I like to see all the different magazines. I flip through on my break.
Do you have any labels or designers you like in particular? I have fallen in love with Alexander McQueen. I was in New York and I went to Savage Beauty and oh god, I was in tears.
I did a show, not for him, but for [the label] Alexander McQueen and it was a benefit, the curator of the Met was there and also [Sarah Burton and] they were talking about all the different designs and why each piece was chosen for Savage Beauty. I was so in awe, I just can’t believe how amazing that guy is. To have the main curator of the Met to be there and talk about each piece – it opened my eyes because… [they explained] the history of the whole collection and what Alexander’s mind was going through at the time too.
But you know, I will wear anything. I don’t mind how expensive, or how cheap it is. As long as it’s going to fit in with whatever I’m picturing. I’m not somebody who goes and buys everything, I need to be like ‘Oh, that will go so beautifully with this piece’, based on what I’ve seen on the catwalk or something like that.
My trusty companion - part guide-book/travel journal, it has all my notes, cards and random flyers and is probably more of a record of my travels than any other “journal” I’ve attempted to keep/not keep.
“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.”—Eve Ensler (via delicatesoundofthunder)
Putting to bed the notion that Melbournians only wear black, strong, vivid neons were a running theme across the concrete expanse of Melbourne’s Docklands.
Model Alice Burdeu wore it best, pairing her flaming red hair with an equally incandescent coral skirt and tan-and-pink leopard print shirt, both from Melbourne label Kinki Gerlinki.
For the men, stylist Tine Vu looked dapper with his bubblegum-pink hankie, casually tucked into the breast pocket of his metallic suit jacket.
And while model Claire Quirk and blogger Anne Anchor represented a return to true Melbourne style in outfits that channelled edgy noir and indie cool respectively, blogger Lisa Teh showed up in a fabulous fringed cape, a headband of army figurines and a skirt composed of feathers channelling the colour scheme of the Care Bears, putting the fun back into fashion. It was a festival, after all.
So… I’m not really a big Hollywood fan. Red carpet glamour is all very nice, but seriously, who the hell are these people? And why should I care about what they’re wearing, when it’s not particularly stylish or interesting anyway? (The answer to that, of course, is because Tom & Lorenzo care. Duh.)
That said, it wasn’t like I was going to say no when I had the chance to speak to Aussie designer Johanna Johnson. It’s the second time I’ve interviewed her - last time I trekked out to her Paddington studio to speak about Christina Hendricks’ stunning art-deco gown at the Emmy Awards - and if someone’s going to get me to care about the brouhaha on the red carpet, it’s Johnson. Because seriously? I love her. Not only is she classy and beautifully posh without being pretentious, she also produces some of the most stunning bridal work I’ve ever seen in my life. Her designs display a kind of dedication to workmanship long forgotten, and her approach to customer service and just her overall business display some serious work ethic. Respect.
Hollywood stars have been snapping up gowns by Australian designer Johanna Johnson, thanks to her talent for translating old-school Hollywood glamour for modern sensibilities.
Felicity Jones, Maya Rudolph and Siedah Garrett all wore designs by Johanna Johnson to the Oscars and Vanity Fair Oscar Party this week, while former Victoria’s Secret angel Marissa Miller was also spotted at an Oscars viewing party in a gold vintage-finished silk georgette gown by the Sydney-based designer.
“I think [celebrities] like the fact that it’s made in Australia [and] the fact that we’re doing all the old-world hand-finishing,” says Johnson, whose main line focuses on red carpet-worthy bridal wear while creating personal relationships with customers. “We’re trying to give a very high-end product and service different to what’s out there.”
Johnson’s presence in the US has skyrocketed since Christina Hendricks wore one of her gowns to the Emmy Awards in September last year, as women stateside fall in love with Johnson’s almost artisanal approach to design – a typical Johanna Johnson dress often features meticulous embroidery and Swarovski crystal detailing, hand-finished in Johnson’s Paddington studio to her exacting standards.
No wonder Johnson says that each piece is “all a little bit a part of me”.
“They’re all beautiful to create,” says the designer, who personally searched for “the right leather, as soft as I could possibly find,” for Felicity Jones’ Vanity Fair Oscar Party dress and who worked with her team in Australia to turn around a custom Italian silk wool gown for Maya Rudolph in eight days to wear to the Oscars.
“[Maya’s team] approached us – they had seen a gown in our collection but wanted us to make it custom and in that particular colour [claret].
“I actually had to ask my staff to come in last Saturday and work all weekend; my team are so, so wonderful,” she says.
Johnson, who has held annual presentations in Los Angeles for the past four years, will be taking more frequent trips across the Pacific this year – she is hoping to open a head office in New York soon. “It really helps to be on the ground. I can approve fittings over Skype but it’s not the same. I like having my hands on them and doing the fittings myself,” she says.
But despite the time away from her husband and two small children, she won’t be regretting the extra travel.
Referring to the endless meetings, fittings and lack of sleep as she helps women, famous or not, look their most glamorous, she says: “This is what I really want to do. This is what our brand is all about.”
Summing up the ridiculousness and fabulousness of fashion:
If spending a bundle for your own train, as well as a collection of bejeweled clothes in rich fabrics, suggests imperial tendencies on the part of Louis Vuitton, you are quite correct. But Vuitton is in the business of creating preposterous fantasies around an object really just meant to hold your money and house keys. You could carry your stuff in a paper sack. But, ah … why would you when you can have a bag covered in what looks like the beard of a pink goat?
This is what separates fashion people from mere mortals. They know all about the beard of the pink goat. And those new petite valises and green hatboxes ….
There are, I’m sure, a limited number of people out there who would look at Sarah Burton’s latest collection for Alexander McQueen and think, “Ooh! I would wear that!” But wearable is possibly the last word one would use to describe the clothes seen on a McQueen runway anyway. Wearable they are not; what they are is a brilliant manifestation of the intersection of artistry, drama and the form of the human body.
Romantic, feminine and striking, for autumn/winter Burton took the darkness of the McQueen aesthetic and imbued it with a sort of nostalgic fantasy that manifested itself in dusky autumn flora. Close-up shots revealed the embroidery, the deft way in which the collars fell to subvert our notions of tailoring, and the intricate layers of chiffon that seemed to revel in artistry. This was fashion literally rendered as beauty. Methinks Alexander McQueen would be proud.
Some totally incongruent but standout looks I love from the Hermès show: a bouclé men’s suit, a scarf tied à la sexily undone tie, a peek of a leather collar and some crazy-ass prints in appropriately autumnal colours.