Sunday, September 18, 2016

now and forever

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1):
Earlier this year, I bought a pair of Jack Purcells, in plain white weather. No bells and whistles, classic as they come, having been in production for decades.

Last month, I bought a pair of pink sneakers from COS. Blush pink is a pretty understated colour, but it's also a trendy at the moment (everyone is doing pink sneakers), and these shoes owe a debt to a number of brands (Common Projects, Adidas). These are shoes designed to tap the current fad for chic sneakers. 

2):
Recently I bought a plain white cotton shirt from Uniqlo, made of a smooth fine cotton, fairly wrinkle-resistant, with a slightly oversized, mannish fit. Again, classic, basic.

Within weeks I bought a Zara shirt, despite my attempt to stop shopping there  (it's my first Zara item this year, which is exceptional for me, but still). It's blue-and-white striped, but with very on-trend floral embroidery. It's also the first time my mum and I fell for the same item - she being a fan of bright colours and florals; me, well, not usually a fan of bright colour and florals. We bought it promising to take turns on its ownership.

3) I saw this, and thought, why the hell not. It's an easy way of doing something new with things already in my closet. 

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If anyone asked me to describe my style, I would answer automatically: "classic". But when I really thought about it, I realised this is untrue, especially if we go by a traditional definition of what is considered classic - perfect shirt, trousers, jeans, LBD, trench coat, t-shirt etc without embellishment or exaggeration. 

I like all of these things and it is certainly true that I don't like exaggerated silhouettes (wide shoulders, big flares, minis, high waists, low waists etc). But I also like fashion. Yes, there is an entire industry built around fashion, and companies shout trends at us, hoping we'll keep buying and buying. 

But people have always embraced and rejected ideas of how to dress, even before fashion became a thing for the masses. Every now and then, an idea comes along that catches my fancy, and suits my needs, and I partake. It can be a fresh colour combinations (blush pink for sneakers!), or it can be a silhouette (loose dresses over loose pants). 

I guess a better answer when asked about my personal style would be: "classic, but with exceptions". A nice way of capturing the infinite shifts in taste that will happen all our lives, not to mention the differences between one person's tastes from another. 

So right now, I am enjoying a touch of softness (pink, florals) and a more relaxed silhouette (keeping everything loose). 

Monday, August 08, 2016

first impressions

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My last post about jeans got me thinking about the denim styles that made an impression on me while I was growing up, and a standout memory for me would be the various ad campaigns run by Calvin Klein in the mid-90s, especially the ones for the ckOne perfume.

I know these are styled images, photographed by Steven Meisel, but there was something very loose and effortless about the whole thing - the models they used were cool (Kate! Stella! Trish! Jenny! Kirsten!); the clothes were very basic, and the make-up was barely there. I still find these images timeless, and I would wear everything in those ads, even now.

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Admittedly, there are caveats. It's not easy to pull off perfectly straight-leg jeans - they can be hard to pull off for anyone who doesn't have narrow hips, or are short. I like them cropped at the ankle best - I have curvy hips and I that find a cropped leg seems to balance everything off nicely, especially if you wear flat shoes. When I travel somewhere a bit nippier, I just put on some socks - thin wool ones.

(Also, I think I'm past the age where I feel ok walking around in a denim mini, but that's not saying I don't love it on others.)

Below are some more great images - from US Vogue, in 2000 - which made an impression on me, jeans-wise. I hate to be one of those people who talk about how great things were "back in the day", but imagine, 16 years ago, Annie Leibowitz was capable of photographing models for Vogue in all their natural beauty, without photoshopping the images to death:

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My favourites? Shalom's and Carolyn's jeans.

Images from here and here

Monday, August 01, 2016

of a certain vintage

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A few months ago, I bought a pair of vintage Levi's online on impulse. Okay they're not that old, certainly not pre-1970s, but I'm pretty sure Levi's doesn't make them quite like this any more - they're in the kind of thick, sturdy denim now extinct in the mass market, plus they have the kind of high rise and button-fly I rarely see on women's jeans. They remind me of a pair of old Levi's my sister had in the 90s', which is perfect since I had an early 90s' childhood and a late 90s' adolescence, and am a long-time fan of Thelma and Louise and their high-waisted badassery.

I know classic 501s look terrible on me, so I bought these with the aim of bringing them to my tailor - I wanted the relatively high waist (just around my belly button), the button-fly (I love ripping the buttons, hah) and tight fit around the butt and thighs, and so long as these bits fit well, the rest is easy.

It's not unusual for me to buy secondhand jeans or jeans on a deep discount with the aim of getting them drastically tailored - most of my old Diesel jeans are altered because when I worked there, it was the era of bootcut jeans and I don't like bootcuts. My "boyfriend" jeans are all jeans bought a size bigger and then taken in at the hip to fit. I read this quote on Jean Stories - "When you purchase jeans, you want them to fit comfortably over your largest body part (be that your thigh, waist, or hip) and everything else can be shaped to your liking" - and I understood perfectly.

I lucked out because these ones did fit perfectly at the waist, hips, and thighs, never mind that it was frumpy as hell from knees down. My tailor easily took care of that and gave me the tapered fit I wanted. He also cropped it a little more so that it hung above my ankles, which I find to me the most flattering length for me, and also quite practical - no wet hems in the rain.

For alterations inspiration, I found some good ideas on RE/DONE, which offers a fairly decent, albeit expensive preposition for those who don't want to hunt for old Levi's and get them tailored themselves: they source and alter vintage pairs in several cuts. They've become quite a thing, and even if one doesn't need to go to such expense to achieve the same thing, I can get behind something that at least makes good use of unwanted clothing.

I was actually motivated to write this post after I saw comments on a post on A Cup of Jo on the non-stretchy jean trend, and I was fascinated by how some people hate them - many swore they would never go back to the discomfort of non-stretchy jeans. I'm not averse to stretch, but I am definitely on the other side of the fence - the stiffness of old-fashioned denim looks better on me and because most of my jeans are non-stretch anyway, I'm used to them and I don't feel uncomfortable at all.

But what does everyone else think? A ridiculous trend or the revival of a good idea?

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

a league of their own

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I caught the Ghostbusters reboot last night, and like everyone I know, loved it. It's not a perfect movie (it's not terribly original, to be honest) but it made me laugh and it warmed my heart to see women being women and doing things and just being awesome friends and having adventures. The women in my circle of friends agreed it was great to see a movie with female friendship at its centre, and just a little sad that it's actually refreshing, rather than something we can count on.

It also reminded me of one of my favourite movies of all time - A League of Their Own.

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I caught this on HBO one random night last year, and spent a happy couple of hours enjoying every scene of a movie I loved as a kid. I'm a sucker for any kind of sports movie, so throw in a group of awesome tomboys trying to make a women's baseball league happen in an era where women belonged in the kitchen and a highly watchable cast (Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell, Tom Hanks, Madonna) and you have a captive audience in me.

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Watching a movie I haven't watched in a while always brings some surprising revelations - in this case it was the fact that the movie also starred David Strathairn, looking Don Draper-handsome.

The other revelation was how great the costumes are - a look I can only describe as "lady-like scrappy". On one hand you had your women in standard 1940s garb, but on the other hand there was the odd baseball cap thrown into the mix, the dirt on their faces right next to their siren red lipstick, the flat-lace-ups shoes with the full skirts. It was still a traditional time for women but these were rule-breakers trying their best to get by. You have Geena Davis in a neat little suit, blouse and hat - and then she's off, sprinting alongside a train that's pulling out of the station, carrying two suitcases and tossing them onto the train, looking grimly determined. She's a heroine, but she didn't need a pair of trousers to prove it. The women wear floral tea dresses, satin slips and curl their hair, but there's a worn, dusty, undone look to everything, because they have other things to worry about.

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The movie doesn't overdo the "girl power" message as well, even though it was set in must have been a tremendous time for women, who had to move into the workplace with the men at war. One player has to bring her son on the road with her because there's no one to babysit, but the point isn't overplayed.

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I don't dislike movies about women dealing with relationships and romance (which is usually the case when a movie has a cast full of women) but it's just nice to see us defined in other ways, and in the case of Ghostbusters, having this "normalised" in a straightforward blockbuster. Here's to not having to wait decades to see another film about a group of women doing things.

Which are your favourite movies about women doing stuff?

Pix from here and here

Saturday, July 02, 2016

reverie

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Paris, April 2015

"I found myself walking like someone half asleep up the quai du Lourve, toward Chatelet and the big white Renaissance Revival Hotel de Ville. I walked until my feet hurt and I was soaked to the skin: past the Pont Neuf and the smooth round turrets of the Conciergerie and past the Michelin-starred restaurant that once had been a cheap brasserie. The urine-soaked odour of the metro wafted up through a sidewalk grate. The facades of the 18th century ile Saint-Louis looked luminous against the gray Parisian sky." -- "My Paris Dream", by Kate Betts

I recently finished reading "My Paris Dream", and when I got to this passage I felt such a strong sense of being understood. Whenever I make it to Paris, I find myself making at least one long walk across the arrondissements, letting myself fall into a Parisian reverie. This the the romance of Paris I never tire of - winding my way through the Left Bank and letting the sense of history and now collide and wash over me.

My love of Paris is not always understood, and in fact it amuses my friends that I am such a cliche - the Asian girl who loves Paris! I can only say that the city got me at the right age (when you are 21, is there anywhere else better to learn the ways of the sophisticated?), and having the chance to make multiple visits over the years and slowly getting to know the city has only made me love it more.

The Seine is my North Star. I like starting somewhere near the Grand Palais, crossing over to the Left and making my way down towards the ile Saint-Louis, making long, looping detours as I go, depending on my mood. If I'm rambling without purpose, I love the numerous art galleries and book stores of the area, or the stalls selling books and drawings along the river - I like buying old French magazines as keepsakes and once I found a French guidebook to Paris published in 1955, complete with a pullout map.

For the fashion-minded, you will find the amazing Dries Van Noten boutique, the Golden Goose store, and L/Uniform on the Quai Voltaire stretch alone. The Left Bank is also home to my favourite Parisian department store - Le Bon Marche - and of course once you reach the delightfully posh St Germain-de-Pres area, you'll find a good mix of the major names at a variety of price points, from Hermes to Muji.

For the food-minded, there is of course Poilane and Pierre Herme, and a never-ending parade of bakeries like L'eclair de Genie and others whose names I can't remember. Not far from Le Bon Marche you will find the beloved Mamie Gateaux, and if you are willing to make it far down enough to the Cimetiere du Montparnasse or Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, then I recommend grabbing dinner at La Cantine du Troquet, where the food, atmosphere and service are all excellent - you have to love restaurants where the staff don't mind explaining their all-French menu to you with patience.

The Left is also home to my favourite museum in Paris - the Musee Rodin. Apart from his unbelievable sculpture, the beautiful mansion that houses the museum is also dreamy to wander through, to say nothing of its gardens, which are perfect for picnics on good days. You can also see his drawings, as well as the works of the underrated Camille Claudel, which I love. The Eglise Saint Sulpice is of course also a draw for tourists, as is the wonderful Luxembourg Gardens, the perfect place to unwind after a day of tramping around the Left.

Any any point, it is possible to wind your way back to the Seine, and bear straight down to the ile de la Cite, and any of the bridges that traverse the river is a gorgeous place to watch the sunset, not to mention the people. You may also wish to make for Sainte Chapelle on ile de la Cite, the prettiest church I have ever seen.

A vast swathe of the Left Bank is dominated by the Sorbonne, which seems to add to the area's tradition and history, and slowed the tide of commercialism somewhat. Yes, there are chain stores and pricey boutiques, but you only need to cross the river to the Marais area to see what "commercialised" can really mean. The Left Bank isn't the haven it was for artists, writers and philosophers in an earlier era, but the romance remains, which isn't easy for such a storied district.

Yes we travel to open our eyes, but sometimes we also travel to dream. Paris, for all its changes, remains very much a dreamscape for me. I leave to a fellow Francophile (or shall I say, Parisophile) to say it best:

"Behind me, a breeze suckled the blinds from a large open window. The view spanned Paris, one of those views that came with sunshine and clarinets, from the Eiffel Tower to the Grand Palais, to the fondant of the Sacré Coeur.

I wanted to levitate right out of the room." -- "Paris I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", by Rosencrans Baldwin

Saturday, June 25, 2016

back to bkk

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As a child, visiting my father who was posted there several years for work, Bangkok was an assault on my sheltered senses - it was hotter, wetter, noisier, dustier and sprawled in a million directions. The language was wilder - complicated, and melodic and piercing at the same time. The food was spicier, sweeter and saltier. The temples were grand and mysterious. Even the cars, with their dark tinted windows - something we didn't have in Singapore - seemed exciting. Bangkok was intense. I loved it all.

Long after my father no longer worked there, Bangkok remained a mainstay as a holiday spot. For Singaporeans, Bangkok is a land of inexpensive thrills - shopping, food, and massages mainly - even with the strengthening baht over the years. The city, just two-odd hours away, is a popular option for a budget getaway, and you'd be hard pressed not to run into a Singaporean at any of the usual tourist hotspots.

As a university student I visited Bangkok regularly for the same reasons, and never tried too hard to explore any off-the-beaten-path spots - I ate street food on Yaowarat and near my budget hotel in Sukhumvit; I shopped and ate my way through Chatuchak (it never gets old), I became addicted to Thai massages at Healthland (also still good), I people-watched in Siam Square. Every now and I then I looked for a Wat or a food market I hadn't visited, or did a short trips to places like Ayutthaya, Bang Pa In, Kanchanaburi, and Hua Hin. It was predictable.

My last visit to Bangkok was some 5 to 6 years ago. A couple weeks ago, some friends and I got it into our heads that we needed to go - I believe it started over a lament on how hard it is to find good Thai food in Singapore. We didn't have too much time to think about it. We found cheap flights. We picked a neighbourhood on Airbnb (Thong Lo). And figured things out from there.

My trip centered around one thing: food. And so this post is mostly a quick and dirty guide how to to fill your stomachs if you have 72 hours in Bangkok.

Soei
I wanted to eat at at least one amazing "zi char"-style place, and found this by Googling. In Singapore, zi char refers to Chinese family-style dining, comprising dishes eaten with rice, and often seafood-heavy. Apart from not being Chinese, this place was essentially it. Because it was featured on a popular food blog about eating in Bangkok, Soei gets its fair share of tourists and it has an English-language menu with the dishes usually featured in write-ups about the place. It would have been fun to go with a Thai friend since the Thai-speaking staff aren't especially helpful if you want to order outside of this menu, but we ordered almost everything on it and I can't say we suffered for it.

The standouts for me were the tom yum mackerel soup (deceptively clear-looking, searingly spicy), the fried mackerel heads (so popular every table only gets one order), and the mackerel curry (yes there is a pattern here).

I love mackerel because it's such a feature of the home-cooking I grew up eating. It is "fishy" and flaky and not for everyone, but it does lend itself to a wide variety of cooking styles. Soei is clearly an expert at preparing mackerel because whether cooked in fiery tom yum soup, deep fried, or stewed in coconut curry, the fish was always tender yet firm, and the fishy oils a nice, sweet foil to the spices. I loved that they used fish with the mackerel roe still intact for the soup and the curry - that extra kick tasting of the sea did it for me.

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I also liked a grilled prawn dish that was dressed with chilli, garlic, sweet onions, shallots, basil and probably other things I couldn't identify -

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From left, clams cooked in a spicy sweet sauce and basil, and grilled river prawns 

I wasn't so impressed by their raw prawn salad (goong chae nam pla, below) - usually its dressed in chilli, garlic and lime juice bit at Soei they add wasabi to the mix. It's still yummy, but it overpowers the natural sweetness of the raw prawns more than I would like -

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This was a nice counterpoint to the strong flavours, like a very eggy and garlicky pad thai but cooked with glass noodles -

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Eat it all with rice and wash it down with beer. Finish your meal with some shaved ice in drizzled with palm sugar and something that looked like frog spawn but were some kind of seeds. Sit back, and enjoy the trains rumbling by.

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Soei:
Kamphaeng Phet 5, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai (right next to Sam Sen railway station)
Dress casual - it gets pretty hot, both because of the location and the food

Paste
On the other end of the spectrum, we wanted to give the "modern Thai" movement a try, and so we landed on Paste. I was a little nervous because modern takes on Asian cuisines have always been more miss than hit for me. But Paste, thank goodness, was outstanding. Thai food is a complex mix of flavours and it's pretty for one thing to overpower everything else. But the dishes were beautifully "layered" - every bite was a delight because you're experiencing a riot of flavours but they go together wonderfully. For example, the mud crab curry (curry with black pepper, pennywort, samphire and hummingbird flowers) was piquant, sweet, smoky and delicate at the same time.

And this isn't one of those places where you're expected to be wowed by flavour and presentation alone. Fine dining places usually leave me hungry (I'm a comfort food girl at heart) but the food at Paste is substantial and satisfying. Even the rice was a delight - jasmine rice isn't exactly a rarity, but the rice they served was wonderfully aromatic and cooked to a perfect texture.

The menu is a little overwhelming because of the sheer number of choices, and I think this place would be more fun if there were at least 3 to 4 people, so that you could try more things. For 4 people, you could skip the starters (which were good but not the highlight for me) and just order a bunch of "mains" to share and eat with rice. Something like 5 mains would be enough, I reckon, as the food is rich and it fills you up quite a bit even though the portions look manageable.

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Paste
3rd Floor, Gaysorn Plaza, 999 Ploenchit Rd., Lumpini, Bangkok (if you are taking the BTS, stop at Chit Lom)

Dressy, but not formal 

Som Tam Nua
Considering that it's smack in the middle of Siam Square and provides menus in English, you might be a little wary that the food here might be too tourist-friendly and lacking the powerful kick of Thai cuisine. But fear not, the food is consistently good (I don't find it toned down at all and I've had some very spicy things in Thailand), well-priced and an excellent option for the location.

Som Tam refers to the ubiquitous papaya salad, but don't limit to yourself to that. They do a nice version of larb pla tod, which is basically a fried whole fish topped with red onions, chillies, herbs and dressed with lime juice and fish sauce and dried chilli flakes and things I can't quite identify.

Staff are brusque and don't entertain questions much but I live in Singapore where this is considered normal, so I'm not too bothered, especially since the menu is easy to figure out.

Som Tam Nua:
392/14 Siam Square Soi 5
Casual, good for a quick bite

Tep Bar
Tep Bar is a beautiful space in the Charoenkrung with a range of cocktails made with local liquors, which were nice, but I prefer my drinks stronger. The food was actually pretty good and reasonably priced, and the place has a nice buzzy atmosphere that isn't too loud, with great service. It's located on beautifully crumbling street - the tall, shophouses are elegant and beg to be restored to its glory days.

We found time to check out another bar called Teens of Thailand - just steps away from Tep - which claims to be the first real gin bar in Bangkok. The drinks have a good flavour, but again, I just like mine with more kick. It's a noiser, more casual spot - fun if you find a place to sit (it's tiny), less so if you have to stand because it's just awkwardly configured. Again, great, friendly service.

Tep Bar:
Room 69-71, Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Road (if taking a cab, tell the driver it's in Charoenkrung or near Yaowarat) 

Casual, but style-conscious

Teens of Thailand:
76, Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Road

Casual 

Street food
I'm fairly casual where street food is concerned - I don't try to find the most famous places or the "best" because I think that rather defeats the point of something that's meant to be eaten on the go and delicious in an "everyday" way.

The great thing about Airbnb is that if you pick a residential area to stay in, you'll have no lack of street stalls to pick from. I had stewed pork noodles, mini crepes topped with coconut cream and palm sugar, green mangoes (eaten when it's relatively unripe and shockingly tart), all at unassumingly stalls scattered throughout my street (Sukhimvit Soi 55). I had some very nice fried squid eggs from a stall near the Thong Lo BTS station. I had a whole fish baked in salt from a stall in Ekkamai.

They might not be the best of the best, but they were very good, and 100 per cent satisfying. Street food just isn't fun when you overthink it.

Getting around:
Take the BTS or MRT whenever possible, to spare yourself the pain of being stuck in 40-minute jams (for 10-min distances), even though taxis are plentiful and cheap. Around the train stations there are always, taxis, or guys in orange vests riding scooters, who will bring you to nearby destinations in a jiffy. Very reliable and quite fun! Doing this lets you stay in Airbnbs in residential neighbourhoods without worrying about getting around (it's easy to flag one down or get the guards at the condo to call one for you).

But do take a metered taxi from and to the airport - it doesn't cost much at all

Stay:
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I use Airbnb a lot when I travel and so far it's been more of a hit than a miss - find the right place and you feel like a local, living in a neighbourhood full of things you might not seek out as a tourist.

Thong Lo (sometimes spelt Thonglor) is a gentrifying neighbourhood, full of old nondescript buildings transformed into stunningly refurnished clusters of cool cafes and shops, like The Commons - go to the "market" in the basement and grab a bite from the Soul Food Mahanakorn stall, which does a comfort food take on Thai food (they have a full fledge restaurant in Thong Lo itself). I was also impressed with the craft beers on tap from The Beer Cap (and I am extremely sceptical of any place that touts craft beer generally because it's usually a letdown), and the bar staff were extremely friendly and helpful (they let you try all the beers in shot glasses to help you decide).

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The Commons

We also liked having a relaxed, fun bar like the Iron Fairies within walking distance, and we had a rather good, affordable meal at a restaurant called Suppaniga Eating Room (I found out later it has pretty mixed reviews on TA, but I liked it). Again, it does a "modern take on Thai food (from the Isaan) region and I like that you get to try dishes that aren't so easy to find if you're new to Thailand.

But the area is still homely with plenty of street food options for quick bites (as I described above). It's also relatively close to the city centre but far away enough to feel relaxed.

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The Commons:
335 Soi Thonglor 17
Klongton Nue, Wattana
Casual 

Suppaniga:
160/11 Soi Sukhumvit 55 (Thonglor)
Klongton Nuea, Watthana
Casual 

Iron Fairies:
394 Thonglor Road, Sukhumvit 55
Casual 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

forwards and backwards

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Ever since I bought a simple midi-length dress with a skirt that billows two years ago, I've been quite in love with the ease and elegance that comes with a long-ish, full-ish skirt, especially when pockets are involved. A full skirt is more comfortable than a pencil skirt, and the midi-length is practical as you're unlikely to flash anyone. It's retro in silhouette but modern in spirit.

Watching Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash gave me the same vibes. The 1950s roots of the costumes are obvious but there's nothing dated about them; they have a rumpled, laidback ease. There are subtle, sculptural details in the tailoring - literally classics with a twist - but it doesn't feel forced. It's Grace Kelly loosened up with edge.

It's been super warm, making it very tempting to spend my days lounging around in shorts and loose tank tops. But A Bigger Splash is inspiring me to seek a little elegance in the everyday.

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Photos: Paris Vogue