30 November, 2008

Best Vintage Find

I needed to get out of the house this morning. I felt a little antsy and needed to think of something besides impending deadlines.

I wandered up Brick Lane to the Sunday UpMarket. It was raining and cold, and many of the merchants weren't finished setting up their tables, even thought it was nearly noon. I browsed a bit, nothing really caught my eye. That is until I went to leave and saw these babies shoved underneath a rack of jackets.

How awesome are they? You don't have to tell me, I know.

Best vintage find I've had in a long time!

29 November, 2008


I just splurged and bought myself a gym membership at a small gym 15-20 minutes from my house with a pool, pilates and yoga classes, and a sauna. It's a bit pricey, but I want to try it for a few months and see if I can get myself there a few times a week. It's a nice place, clean, well-lit, and according to a classmate that works out there, it's rarely crowded. I handle stress a lot better if I work out on a regular basis, so I figured if I was going to splurge on one thing for myself this month, this should be it. I even passed up some amazing high heeled boots so I could do this (and if you know me in person at all, you know that this redhead NEVER passes on expensive footwear).

I am going to try to fit a few workouts in next week, because I know I'm going to be a girl-shaped ball of stress come Monday.

And now, back to work. I have an essay to finish- I'm writing about Francis Bacon and the Polanski film Repulsion, and using them to discuss isolation in London. Then I need to finalize my wreck of a dress for the fashion show and find a new model (my model just flaked on me). No rest for me....

27 November, 2008

What's a Girl Gotta Do To Get Some Instruction Around Here?

I knew that moving to a new country along was going to be hard. I knew that the fashion program at St. Martins was incredibly difficult. I knew that I would be lonely, that the weather would be crappy, that I would be a broke student who would have to choose between food and art supplies. But I've run into so many difficult things that I never could have anticipated. It's all of those things that add up when I'm not looking.

I had a complete meltdown the night before last. I swore I was going to leave school and move home. I believed myself as I said it, and I said it a lot. I said to to a classmate. I said it to my boyfriend. I said it to all my room mates, one by one, and then again as a group over dinner. I told them that CSM could go to hell, and that I had known from the moment I was accepted into this school that it was the wrong decision. I kept on saying it until I passed out curled up on my bed. I wanted to wake up back home and pretend this whole mess never happened, because I was so furious at my school and my tutors.

Before I continue, let me explain something that I just figured out myself. Here at St. Martins there is no equivalent to what an American school might call "a teacher". We don't have classes either, instead our schedule is project-based. On some days of the week, we have a tutor in to meet with us individually. Our tutors are the head of our program, and they are not there to teach us, but to offer guidance and critiques on the conceptual/design level. They also grade us. On certain days of the week we also have technicians in. Apparently technicians are either there to assist us with sewing/drafting/making difficult things, or to (get this...)do it for us, if it's too difficult. Yes, you read that right. Technicians are there to help us sew things that we don't know how to sew. Because CSM isn't training seamstresses, they are training designers... That's a mindfuck for me. (At my last school if they found out that another student, much less a hired professional was helping you do your homework, you failed the project.)

So we have Tutors and we have Technicians, but the gap in between that in my experience should be filled by a Teacher is left empty. Instead, St. Martins is all about making the students teach themselves through trial and error.

Ah, the dreaded trial and error...

There seems to be a certain artistic disposition that lends itself to creative experimenting. These are the kinds of people that couldn't think inside the box if they tried. They will try anything to get the look they want, no matter how strange or silly it may sound. These are often the people who make it in a business that is always looking for the next innovative thing. These are the sorts of people that end up at CSM.

I am not one of those people.

I am an idea person. I have no patience for the actual construction of a garment. I hate sewing (I have been known to fall into fits of rage while trying to sew) and I despise the problem-solving aspects of pattern drafting. I understand how these things work, and I am very good at helping others find solutions to the problems in their work. But when it comes to my own work, I have no patience for the process.

Maybe I'm just lazy...?

So to clarify, I am a person who designs, understands how to construct and make the design, but needs help making it, or have someone to make it for me. Because when I run into a problem I cannot solve I am not the kind of person to experiment over and over until I find the solution. When I hit a wall, I call in a specialist (read: a teacher) to help me break down the wall.

And this is where all the trouble started the day I nearly got into a fight with my tutor.

At our last meeting, my tutor had suggested that I try a brand new technique to make my design. Excited at the suggestion I immediately went out and found five different books at the library on the topic. Over the weekend I browsed the books, bought supplies, did a series of tests and experiments, and felt confident that I could make this crazy idea happen. All I needed was some help coming up with a way to work around one problem I couldn't solve.

I went into the classroom that day with some very specific questions. I wasn't entirely sure where to begin with this project. I asked the pattern drafting technician for some advice, and that is when the trouble began. Her answer was, "I don't know. I've never done this before."

I couldn't accept that solution so I reworded my question to be more specific. She told me that she had no idea and that I should go buy supplies to experiment with.

Frustrated but determined, I spent the next three hours running around the city blowing my food budget on supplies. When I came back to school and began working I was optimistic. But each technique I tried was failing and I wasn't sure how to proceed, and every time I asked someone for help I was given nothing but suggestions on ways to spend more money on things that may or may not work.

All I wanted was some god damn help from a teacher. I had done all the research and work to teach myself how to do something new, and now I wanted some educational support from the institution that I pay huge sums of money to. But no!

Through this ordeal what I discovered is that at CSM, they do not teach you anything. No, at CSM they assist you in discovering things on your own.

So I stormed out of the classroom feeling as though I had just moved halfway around the world to attend a school where they do not teach us anything. And now that I have finally made a pathetic excuse of a home for myself, I was going to have to pack up my whole life AGAIN and move back home to finish a degree at a pathetic technical school.

I was so furious and miserable that day. I needed to talk to someone who would understand where I was coming from- someone who wouldn't try to solve the problem for me, but sympathize about how much effort it takes to just LIVE sometimes when you've just moved to another country. I wanted someone to agree that the whole CSM system was shit and that I had left everything to come here for no good reason. I wanted someone to agree with me, and to come fly out here to help me move home. Or maybe I wanted someone to just fly out here to give me a hug and let me cry on their shoulder for a little while. I just needed a friend. But I don't know anyone in London well enough to show them this raw, exposed side of me.

I wanted to call my best friend back home, but it was the wee hours of the morning. I don't have an international calling plan on my new phone yet, and I haven't been able to talk to her since I moved. I didn't want the first conversation we had to involve waking her middle of the night to cry in her ear. So I texted my boyfriend, who listened to me bitch and cry and swear that I was moving home for hours, until he decided I'd indulged in enough of a pity party to need a verbal slap upside the head.

I wish I could say that he shook me out of it, but he didn't. Instead I curled up on my bed and hugged my knees, sobbing until I passed out. I woke up an hour later shaking from the cold and crawled under the quilt, feeling ashamed of myself and miserable.

Needless to say, not my best day.

But I did learn something about how I have to approach my education here. I realize now that if I am this stressed about a single project, I need to rethink my approach even if it means I fail again. I decided to scrap everything my tutor suggested and do something entirely different, whether or not he likes it.

As a result of this decision my mood has been much more upbeat. I am incredibly stressed for time as I am starting over on a project most people began a week before, but I feel better about what I am trying to do. I am experimenting with fabric and trying to teach myself some new things.

And as a sort of penance for being such an emotional mess the day before, I went into school and spent a lot of time helping many of my classmates with their patterns. As one of the only students in the class with any drafting experience, word has spread that I can offer some sort of advice. It made me feel better to know that although I am struggling to keep it together, I do know something about fashion.

More than that I realized that I love to teach. My classmates suggested that I look into being a class helper for first year students for pay. I would love to do that, if I could. It's so satisfying to work with someone and solve a problem. Although I do not know the conventional way to do things, CSM shares my opinion on pattern drafting: if it fits, and it looks the way you want it, it is correct and bugger the rules.

So teaching is good. But I've found that what I like best about it is working with another designer to make something. Which made me think that I would like to try my next project as a team project. I plan to find a partner to design with before informing our tutor that we are a design team for this round of the game. That sounds like a recipe for success, in my opinion.

So CSM and life in London is turning out to be a lot more difficult than I expected, in ways I couldn't have anticipated. It takes so much out of me just to stay afloat that I feel very brittle of late. But I am trying to stay optimistic. I've spoken with a counselor at school about my concerns, and she informed that almost every international student at CSM starts to feel this doubt and depression at the three to five month mark. She also assured me that it will get better.

It will get better.

I was worried that going home for the Christmas holiday would make coming back to London harder. But now I cannot wait to go home and I wish I could change my flight to go back next weekend instead of the 16th. I am hoping that being with my friends and boyfriend and family will recharge my batteries for my next round in the ring against CSM.

I just have to keep reminding myself that it will get better.

18 November, 2008

I Hope Nostalgia Makes This All Seem Better

I really truly hope that a year from now, I will be able to look back on this quarter and sum up the horrible experience in a few sentences that sound nonchalant and wise. Maybe something like, "during my first quarter I failed every project. My ideas were laughed at by my tutors, and any teeny tiny shred of confidence I had in my ability to design and communicate visually was shattered. Wow, I sure learned a lot, darn skippy. Those were good times." And then I could nod sagely, pat a first quarter student on the head, and go back to work.

Yeah, I hope hindsight makes this all seem like a good ol' learning experience. Yup.

17 November, 2008

And Once Again, I Am Not Okay

I hate to admit it, but I am having a really tough time with the long distance relationship again. I thought that I pretty much had a handle on it after The Boy left London and went back home, but it seems I am falling apart yet again. The little congratulations I was giving myself for finally being a more independent woman were a little prematurely given, I think.

I hate being in a long distance relationship. I love my boyfriend, but I am not built for this kind of situation. It is fucking with my head and my heart every second I let my guard down. In order to survive it I must keep myself tightly wound up and securely locked down, carefully avoiding anything that will remind me of the life I don't get to have with him.

Burying feelings is not a good way to deal with anything, especially something as explosive as this, so I have to be very careful to not put myself in a situation that would loosen me up. One glass of wine and I am online begging my boyfriend to move here, and considering dropping out of school to go home to him. It's pathetic, but it's my reality at the moment. Despite all my efforts I haven't found a way to make the sadness of missing the person I love into romantic melancholy.

The last few days have really brought all these feelings to the surface again because I expected to be socially busy this weekend. Three times I got dressed up to meet classmates for some work and fun and three times I got stood up. (They had good reasons, and I am not mad at any of them.) So instead of having a nice time developing new friendships, I once again found myself alone in public, with nothing to do but hunch over my sketchbook and order another coffee so as to appear that I had intended to be alone all along.

See, I have no friends yet. I have a boyfriend thousands of miles away, eight hours behind me, who I cannot see or touch, or go to when I need comfort. I am trying to fill the spaces left by all the people I care about, but I've had no luck. Each day I socialize in class, but have never found myself invited out to any of the events I hear about later.

When I am in class I feel a huge sense of relief because I am around people I like who seem to like me too. I am not hiding my sadness, I am actually pretty happy when I am at school. But I must be keeping myself isolated from all the people in some way, because I am not being invited into their social lives.

I love London and school is keeping me very busy. But I am slowly sinking into depression. I'm not exercising, I'm eating like crap, I stay at home alone, awake all night and when I do sleep I don't sleep well. I'm desperate for friends, someone I can talk to. My best friend back home hasn't been able to talk with me since I moved, and she has always been my companion in my most difficult times. I am so utterly alone, in a city full of people, full of life. I've never felt lonelier than my time in London.

So yeah, things are fine. I'm fine, everything's fine. School is fine, life is fine. Everything is just fine. I'm not dying, I still have all my limbs, the world isn't ending. But I'm not happy, and I don't know what to do. I can't move home and leave my career behind for a boy. But I can't live like this much longer.

I can't deal with being alone every day anymore.

14 November, 2008

Structure, and A Change in Perspective

I am applying for a job at the CSM library. My job, if I get it, would only involve working for an hour each day, but it would do me some good having to be in the library each day. Not only will I be surrounded by all the pretty books, but it would provide me with some structure in an otherwise unstructured school environment. It would force me to go to school every day, which would in turn help me focus on working on my projects a lot more. And it would give me a little spending cash to help at the end of the month when I am super broke. So, let's hope I get a job!

Speaking of unstructured learning, I am writing to you from home right now, and it's Friday morning. See, I should be at school. Well, no I shouldn't, because today's tutorial would have been a waste of my time. I have more important projects to spend my time on. This week has been a series of tutorials on basic sewing. So basic in fact I could have taught the classes, and I am not by any means a talented seamstress. I have been incredibly bored these past few days. So instead of sewing a basic cuff on a basic sleeve all day long, I am working on my fashion show project.

I plan to hit my favorite coffee shop up Brick Lane and spend a few hours trying to focus all my energy into 100+ rough sketches of clothing ideas, one of which will end up being brought to life and shown in two small runway shows in four weeks.

Coming from a school where you had less than a week to make each garment, the idea of having four weeks to work on a single outfit is THRILLING. I have to make something amazing this time. Not only do I have to recover from a failing grade on my last project, but I need to show people that I am not The American Girl That Sucks At Fashion School. No, fuck other people- I need to show MYSELF that I am not that girl. I feel like that girl a lot these days.

I was e-catching up with a very dear friend of mine from San Francisco yesterday, and I mentioned that I failed my first project. He congratulated me. He said, "I wish our last school had failed me more. I turned in total shit sometimes, and they still passed me because they were afraid of giving real criticism. You used to bitch about the lack of honest grading all the time, remember?" I do remember. One of my biggest complaints about my last school was the lack of constructive criticism. What I turned in was always above average (because our average was so low) and so I almost never got any sort of feedback about how to improve my work.

In fact I have found in the past week that failing my last project has been freeing in ways I could never have anticipated. I am not a model student here, I am not a shining example of anything. I tried, and I failed. Suddenly I am not in a guilt-ridden panic about skipping sewing class. Suddenly I am not terrified of disappointing my teachers. Suddenly I find that school is no longer about grades and doing well by any traditional standards. School is now about Me, and What I Get From It.

Many of the major fashion designers to come out of CSM (Alexander McQueen, Galliano, Stella McCartney, Zac Posen, Gareth Pugh, Hussein Chalayan, etc) have stated in interviews that they didn't receive high marks at school. I've heard that some of the tutors downright despised their work. Yet these are innovative designers at the top of their field.

It's funny that a failing grade should grant me an entirely new perspective on school and my role as a student. School is no longer about getting impressive marks from my tutors or trying to be a shining golden student at the top of my class. I now see that my tutors are there to inform me, to assist me in making the things I see in my head come to life. I am not beholden to them or their opinions of me or my work. I am the one in control. This is my education, and it is their job to facilitate my learning. If they don't like my aesthetic, so what? I'm not here to please anyone but myself. So anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell.

13 November, 2008

High Heels and a Short Short Skirt

Today I wore black high heeled boots, gray tights, and a very short black dress under an "old man" sweater. I live in a devout Muslim neighborhood, see. I got this look a lot today:

I think people thought I was a stripper all day. Also, the heels made me about 6'2", so that didn't help me blend into my surroundings, either....

12 November, 2008

Redhead At Work

The Beatles playing loudly; sunlight coming through the gray clouds in blasts and spurts; a cold breeze reddening the tip of my nose; the smell of paint and gesso drying... Lukewarm tea with milk and no sugar; shreds of fabric and used sand paper littering the floor; fingers covered in dried acrylic; using the hairdryer to dry clumps of paint...

I took the day off from class to work on homework.

11 November, 2008

Nothing Special To Say

I feel a bit crap.

The sleep deprivation has finally caught up to me, and I left a tutorial early today to lay in bed and half-nap while watching Mighty Boosh for a few hours.

I think I might skip my sewing tutorial tomorrow (I already know everything we are going over) and spend the day in the library working on my research paper and design project. I think it will be a better use of my time, and allow me to sleep in a little.

My class went to the final year student's summer project show today. It was both inspiring and intimidating. I want to make these things, but I also feel that I am way out of my league here at CSM. Ugh.

But I am trying to remain optimistic despite a number of disappointing realizations in the last two days. I will see these three years through and I will do fabulous things if it kills me.

And now, to bed. This redhead is tired and sickly and needs a good night's sleep.

10 November, 2008

Catching Up: Everything Else

In the last week and a half I have been in a minor car accident in a cab (yes, I am alright), invited to a high school reunion of sorts, got my sleek white G1 phone that I LOVE (which thankfully allows me to feel connected to the world again), bruised my right hand to the point of sporting a purple egg-shaped swollen thumb for a few days, given directions to IKEA delivery people, carried huge heavy boxes all the way to my dorm room before building all the furniture, and found out that my older brother is getting married on April 1st (no, it's not a joke).

On top of that I took my friends from out of town to see Roger Hiorn's Seizure, began wearing hats, learned that leather boots do not protect your feet from the rain, and have been in good with the gods that decide who gets a cold from the constant chill of London.

I currently have two plants that will undoubtedly die at my hands in the coming weeks, and a new set of red flannel sheets (thank you boyfriend!). I have FINALLY fixed the broken item that arrived in my moving boxes, and have unpacked the last box of stuff I've had sitting around for weeks in my dorm room. I am in the process of setting up a claim to get back all the VAT charges customs threw at me last month, and assisted our pattern drafting teacher last week with teaching the class (which was so much fun, I will go into more detail later!)

Obama won the election and I almost cried from happiness when I found out. For the first time in my adult life I don't feel the need to apologize for being an American. I see people on the train reading the paper with a huge picture of Obama on the front and I feel like telling them that I voted for him, that I was a part of that. It's a good feeling, and I am still thrilled every time I think about our next president!

So things are busy, things are good, and I have five weeks to make something amazing and beautiful before I fly home for the holidays. Whew! So much to do....

Catching Up: Boyfriend Visit

The Boy came to visit me on Monday and left this morning. We had a very full week of activities around the city while I played the role of utterly unprepared fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants tourguide girlfriend.

We went to the British Museum and looked at the mummies (did you know the Egyptians even mummified fish?) and went to Burough Market to buy delicious Turkish Delight. We walked along the south bank and rode on the London Eye. We walked a Jack the Ripper tour around my neighborhood (I know so many distressing facts about Spitalfields and The City now) and tried lots of yummy Indian food along Brick Lane. I showed him the Splendor that is Top Shop, and we wandered all around Soho in the rain. I took him to Forbidden Planet, and I took him to Camden. We saw Quantum of Solace (which isn't out in the US yet) and had salt beef bagels on Brick Lane. He found some super cool clothes, and bought me some awesome boots. We went to the Francis Bacon exhibit (which was AMAZING and has inspired me on two different projects for uni) and he saw Big Ben and Parliament and Westminster Abbey. We had disappointing fish and chips, many gin and tonics, delicious burgers, and lots of Indian sweets.

We slept in and snuggled whenever the morning schedule permitted it and we walked around holding hands, especially when it was cold and neither of us had gloves. And there was sex. Thank god almighty there was sex. Fucking hell, there was sex. Thank you, jesus. I owe you one.

So all in all, I would say it was a very busy and very good week. It was funny, though. I am so used to our life in a San Francisco context, that seeing him here made me fall back into old patterns. I kept catching myself expecting to go back to his place, or thinking it was garbage day at my old apartment. It was very easy to forget that I was in London now, and living the lonely, poor, and cold student life. I felt a little on edge the whole time my boyfriend was here because I was never quite sure where I was.

But one very important thing happened when it came time for him to leave. I was okay. There were a few tears but I was, and am, fine. As I watched him leave on the train I knew I would be alright because my life in London is all about me. In these last few months I have managed to carve out a tiny, boring little life that is all mine. London is my city- a place where I am going to figure out who I am and what I want. My life here is completely and totally my own life.

So I realized as his train disappeared into the tunnel that my boyfriend is a wonderful addition to what is already a very full life, instead of a boyfriend-shaped hole that subtracts from my life in his absence. So I kissed him goodbye and went to class, and although I miss him and will sleep fitfully for a few nights, all in all I am okay.

Catching Up: My First Failure

I failed my first big project.

But it's okay. Surprisingly, I don't really care. When I began classes I decided to not let my grades matter as long as I felt I was learning something new.

I can shrug off the pathetic grade I earned, and I would have forgotten about the whole thing already had it not been for one issue that is nagging at me, and my entire class...

Our complaint is that we did not receive ANY feedback from our tutors on our projects. After many of us had pulled all-nighters, we all arrived early last Friday to turn in our projects. Our The tutors arrived to send us away for a few hours while they reviewed our work. By the time we were allowed back into the room (some four or five hours later), they pointed out three things they liked on three separate projects and then said, "see you on Monday," and left.

I was furious! I felt like my project was terrible, but I couldn't figure out exactly why it seemed so terrible to me. I wanted some direction. I wanted some guidance from my teachers. Honestly I would have been happy to have my project ripped to shreds publicly, as long as they told me why they hated it and how to make it better.

But we were sent home without any sense of what they wanted, or how to improve our work. When our grades were posted a few days ago two of the three projects they had pointed out and liked did not even receive high marks. We are all very confused and angry.

So far, our complaints have fallen upon deaf ears. Our tutors seem reticent to give us any feedback whatsoever. But my classmates and I have decided to get together and go over each other's work and grades and see if we can acertain what it is they liked based upon who got good grades.

We have already begun our next project, and I have GOT to figure out how to focus, kick my own ass, stretch myself in every way, and create something incredible.

03 November, 2008

Bang Bam Boom

It began when I was building a set of drawers I bought from IKEA.

I had to hammer in some nails, but being that I did not have a hammer I found a good hard book and began pounding in the nails with my fist, through the book. I thought nothing of it until someone banged really hard on the floor below me.

Oh my god, I completely forgot that someone was living below me! And here I was at 12am making loud banging noises. No wonder they pounded on the ceiling. I felt like an ass!

I really didn't want this to become "a thing" between two faceless people with a growing resentment of the other, so I owned up to my mistake and wrote the person a note, which I slid under the door to their flat. It said:

"Dear (Room#),
I am so sorry about the noise last night. I really hope I didn't wake you up, but if I did I owe you a good strong drink. It's the least I can do.
Love (my Room #)"

That whole day I hoped that they got my note, and that this person wasn't seething in their room, sleep deprived and cranky. But I got no response from the resident of the room below me.

However the next morning, I found a note slipped under my flat's door. It read:

"Dear (Room #),
Haha! You did wake me up, but it's okay! I just had to bang on the ceiling, though. So I will take you up on that drink sometime!
Love, (Room#)"

I was relieved that the person below me wasn't pissed and evil. But I realize that I had just asked some unknown person out for a drink. Judging from the handwriting, I suspected the person below me was a girl, but for all I know some huge, sweaty, pimple faced boy was happily accepting my offer of a free drink. So I wrote one more note:

"Dear (Room#),
So uh, who the hell are you? I just realized we've never met and I have no idea who you are. My name is Rachael, and here's my email if you want to look me up on facebook or something. Or just stop by!"

Yesterday, two very sweet girls showed up at our front door and introduced themselves as our downstairs housemates. The girl below me is REALLY cool, and I really want to get to know her better. She asked about what I was doing that made so many loud noises and I told her about the IKEA stuff, which inspired her to look them up online and consider ordering some drawers too. I offered to help build them for her... it's the least I could do, right?

"I am so glad you're a girl," I said to her. She laughed,
"Yeah, I could have been some big scary guy who came up here to yell at you for making all that noise."
"You could have paid some guy on the street to come up here and harass me, you know..."
"Oh my god, I should have done that," she said. "Hm, will you be here tomorrow night around, say 6? I mean, no reason, just asking..."

And so what could have been a silent hateful situation turned into what I hope is a potential friend. (As an aside, she's really cute and is kinda my type too.) And FINALLY we know some other people who live in our building. So I guess in a way, it was a good thing that I decided to build IKEA furniture at all hours of the night.