Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Cheekbone Magazine - Brands and Bling - overdoing it

This blog - first published at cheekbone magazine
In 4000BC, Tutankhamen died, and contrary to the “Two Ronnies” sketch (two old men watch a funeral procession with about 8 limousines, and one asks “how much do you think he left?” and the other says “all of it – you have to”) he took a large proportion of it with him. In 4000BC gold was wealth, so to show your wealth you wore your gold.
Wind forwards by 6000 years, and has anything changed? The idea of the status symbol is still with us, and we choose different ones to show (or enjoy) our wealth. A big house. A nice car. A massive TV. All very well, but if you are walking down the street (and not therefore in the car/house at the time) how do you show your riches to the people you meet?
Big question – why would you want to? How others perceive us is an important aspect of our self worth. It is only human nature to want to be as good as we can be, and there are only so many ways we can do that.
When I had my first tattoo done, my mum didn’t speak to me for a week. Never mind any other aspects of my life (I’d passed my degree, got a job (it was a terrible job) and was generally happy) but a small, easily hidden logo on my shoulder for some reason made me a colossal disappointment. I’ve had two more since, and she actually likes the third, so hopefully she’s realised there are more important things in my life than the indelible scrawlings of a Welshman on my arms.
As you might have noticed from my tweets, and you’ll soon realise from this blog, I like to look my best, whenever possible and I don’t see why you shouldn’t too. It is only in the last 5 years that I’ve felt nature has given me the chance to do so (I grew up very spotty, I’ll tell you about the cosmetic surgery next time, and a lot of running has finally got my body looking passable – although the grey hairs might need sorting pretty soon) so what do we do?
We dress and we accessorise. It would be a very strange world if we all made like Adam and Eve, so we put on clothes, make up, product, shoes, and jewellery. With the right mix, we can look pretty awesome, but it doesn’t take much to overdo it and look terrible.
Think of the brands we associate with chav culture. Burberry, Von Dutch, Kappa, and to some extent, D&G, Calvin Klein, (depending on how they are worn) all have one thing in common. The brand is the first thing you see about them. Burberry’s ghastly beige check, Von Dutch’s Signature, Kappa’s reclining pair...
The reason people are wearing these brands, is so others can see they are wearing the brands. There are far nicer clothes out there, just as well made and just as expensive, which in this reporter’s opinion (not being someone that I imagine these people are trying to impress) would look so much better.
Vicky pollard is wearing that track suit because it shows that she can afford that track suit. Maybe this will impress people, but she isn’t exactly aiming particularly high. The same goes with “box fresh” shiny trainers – you keep them looking new, so people think you can afford a new pair of trainers every week.
Jewellery is another example - I’ve seen boys on the bus wearing earrings, which I would imagine are vying for the world record of “largest cubic zirconium”. What this might mean to his 14 year old mates, is that he can afford about 10 quid’s worth of earring, what is says to me is that he’d love to have a Beckhamesque diamond earring or two, I have a good feeling (based on the fact that he’s not being mugged, and most tellingly, he wouldn’t be riding on the bus if he could afford the real thing) that it’s the Zircon he’s gone for.

Next example, the Bluetooth headset. You don’t look cool – you don’t look popular as you need to be able to answer the phone to any of your 250 friends – you look like you have a lump of technology hanging off your ear. Are you are a paramedic? Are you on call to avoid nuclear meltdown? Are you Alison Lapper? You don’t need to be able to answer the phone that quickly. People seem to think that a Bluetooth headset shows status – what it shows is that you can afford to go down Carphone Warehouse and pay 15 quid for a Bluetooth headset. You look like an idiot.
Finally we come back to King Tut.
There seem to be a lot of people who choose to wear all their jewellery all the time. Looking like Mr T is only cool if you are Mr T. No one thinks you are a better person because you weigh yourself down with heavy metals
There are others who'll take it another step further and think that wearing heavy gold earrings is so important, they’ll destroy their ears in the process.
I’ve seen women re-piercing higher and higher as the original holes have extended so far the earring has eventually fallen all the way through. Not an attractive look.

So the message is simple – less is more. Keep it classy, and take this advice from my step mum – the classiest person I know:
On choosing a new car, she went for the Si (sporty model – but not the most expensive) over the Ghia. She could afford the top of the range, but looked at the badge, the chrome and the logo, and told the dealer “it’s a little vulgar”.
She was quite right.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Happiness in Magazines

In a fortuitous bit of eBay bidding, I am now the proud owner of a magazine rack. I also owe a friend at work about 19 cups of tea. When you get the chance to buy a “designer” magazine rack for 99p, you take it, but then you have to pick it up from Sevenoaks, but – hey – Al lives there! I’ll drop him a grovelling email while he’s on holiday, and before I go on holiday, and forget a few pertinent facts (like how he might have a life, be on holiday for longer than I thought (he wasn’t but I didn’t check) live in a completely different part of Sevenoaks, (the magazine rack was actually in a village where Sevenoaks is the nearest town), and hopefully when I get back from holiday there it will be, all chrome and shiny and waiting for me.

The plan worked beautifully. It sat on my desk all morning, and drew a few comments, and I explained to the office that we have a problem with magazines. That sounds like I’m referring to magazines like the man who hangs around outside the tube station has a problem with cough medicine. This is actually as true as the original meaning I had when I wrote that sentence, that we have too many magazines for our (yeah right) minimalist lounge.

Lisa the hardcore runner, and me the casual runner and potential triathlete, means we have plenty of copies of Runners World, Running and Fitness, Triathlete’s World, Triathlon Plus, Triathlon 220, Cycling Plus, Lisa’s gardening fixation (in combination with my sister-in-law’s) means we have a pile of Gardeners Worlds, I enjoy Empire, and generally have a few months worth hanging around, as by the time we get round to watching a new film, it will be because it is out on DVD, Lisa was given an Okapi at London Zoo, so we have their magazines, and finally I subscribe to FHM.

It was the admission to buying FHM magazine (I know that would make “For Him Magazine magazine” – kind of like when people refer to their PIN number but I think FHM has moved on since when it launched, as pretty much the first proper magazine for us guys) that raised most eyebrows in the office. The question asked was “how old are you?” My reply was that “I’m 32 and I like Girls Aloud” which is both true, and a damning review of FHM magazine. Maybe a couple of years ago, but not anymore.

Back in the day, FHM was to men, what Cosmo was to girls. As likely to have a picture of a guy on the cover as a picture of a girl, the articles ranged from cookery, books, investigative journalism, and fashion. Yes – there would be photo shoots of the model or singer of the moment, but it was all part of the mix.

I probably started buying FHM a few years in, and I’d occasionally buy the competition – GQ (for richer men) esquire (for older and richer men) Loaded (for men who only bought magazines for the photo shoots) and then, a few years ago, a couple of weekly magazines came out – Zoo (from the makers of FHM) was originally a quarter of FHM (literally – the same stories, often the same photos) for a quarter of the price and Nuts (from the makers of Loaded I believe) was Loaded’s equivalent. Very quickly, both degenerated into a cacophony of girly photos and unpleasant pictures of people with skin missing (who wants to look at that?) with a TV guide and some out of date sports news thrown in. One stand up comic described them as “porn for men who are scared of vaginas”. They are both still around, and I guess they are doing ok. In London we have a couple of free pretenders – Shortlist (which I never pick up) and Sport (which I do if it doesn’t have cricketers on the cover), but I have no idea if they are making money yet.

FHM went a little down market for a while, moving further into the “Loaded” territory of page 3 type shots, celebration of laddishness (drunken stories, confessions from girls, verging on porno mag letters page faire and sex tips (and not a great deal else if I remember correctly). I’m guessing that it is this FHM that my work colleagues were referring to, and they would be right to mock my continuing devotion to such a publication.

Just over a year ago, FHM realised that its readership had grown up. Nuts and Zoo and Loaded were still bridging the gap between the adolescents realisation that girls aren’t smelly, and the ability to actually see real ones in the nude (or buy proper pictures of them from the top shelf – although they all have access to the internet, I’m sure there are some pictures of nudey girls there somewhere...) I think it started when one of their regular columnists left, and as his parting shot, he confessed to all the things he did on the expense account (including getting a Ukrainian prostitute to give him a receipt saying “taxi - $100” while researching Chernobyl) and FHM realised it should grow up too.

I’m just the kind of guy who grew up with FHM, through my university years, sharing the purchase with like minded 19 year old blokes, and can now afford my own (although I always share my used up copies with those less fortunate), and FHM have realised this, so they have grown up with me. I’m probably still a bit old for FHM, but then, I recently watched and enjoyed High School Musical 1 and 2 (three was bloody awful though), and – as previously stated I like Girls Aloud (good songs, great production, and yes – 5 pretty girls (even the ginger one)) and I like FHM’s interesting mix of serious articles, reader interaction, jokes, heroes, fashion, reviews, cookery (yes – they get a chef in each week), gadgets and yes – Pretty girls.

But no nipples.