Made to last | PYLOT Magazine

A few months ago I wrote a piece about ethical fashion, vintage clothing, and loving, caring for, and passing down treasured pieces of our wardrobes to the next generation for a new magazine called PYLOT. They’ve kindly given me permission to publish the piece here, and if you are an arty type who’d like to explore some Photoshop-free fashion photography and features on the theme of ‘Craft’, you can buy the magazine here.

All the photographs here are by my talented little sister, Rose-Marie Caldecott.

ethical fashion, vintage fashion, PYLOT magazine

When I was younger my sisters and I used to love taking my grandmother’s 1950s ball gown down from its box in the attic. We would reverentially peel back the tissue paper that swathed it, eager to glimpse the constellations of crystal beads lying clustered in pools of gathered black chiffon.

My grandmother, Pamela Crampton, died when I was twelve years old. I remember her as she was in her later years; a larger than life presence in her small Kensington flat, with her overflowing hat boxes, and stories from her modelling days in Paris. With whom, and where she wore the ball gown that she passed on to us are things I can no longer ask her, but wearing it I feel a connection between us more tangible than our shared DNA. This dress links us; the boning in the bodice pressed the same faint lines into our skin, the same chiffon tickled the backs of our knees. This is the magic of passing on treasured pieces of clothing.

When I think about my own wardrobe, I realise that the legacy I leave my daughter is pitifully small. I am part of the fast fashion generation, the generation of Primark, Zara, and H&M. It is a generation of plenty, of quick fixes, and of waste. We buy cheap, poor quality clothing, worn a few times until it falls apart, thrown away without even an attempt at repair – because, after all, the cost of repair is often higher than the item’s original value. According to a study into the rates of supply and demand by Textrend.org in 2008, British consumers now demand roughly four times the number of clothes that they did in 1980. Each person in the UK consumes roughly 20 kilos of brand new clothes on an annual basis, and almost the same quantity is dumped.

The durability of vintage clothing is impressive, aging much more gracefully over many decades than brand-new modern pieces do in a few months. Rifling through the rails at any vintage clothing shop, it is easy to see how prevalent excellent craftsmanship and good quality were before the phenomenon of fast fashion took off over the past thirty years. Up until the late eighties, trends moved slower. There were essentially two seasons that matched nature’s cycles – Spring/Summer for warmer weather, and Autumn/Winter for colder weather. Aesthetics and utility worked in unison, and clothing was an investment. Where once it was a rare luxury for products to be made abroad, it is now a rare luxury for products to be made locally, by hand.

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Somehow, while we were caught up in all the fun of tulip skirts, military jackets, and flowing boho dresses, the fashion industry underwent a radical change. Realising styles that changed every other week and low prices meant that they could get us to buy more, retailers sold us the lie that our wardrobes need constant updating. In the nineties, Marks & Spencer was one of the last major British high street chains left with factories in England before seeking cheaper labour abroad like everyone else.

Where industry dies, jobs are lost and crafts are forgotten; in 2002 Chanel created the luxury embroidery house of Lesage in France, specifically to preserve specialist skills that are under threat from outsourcing to countries such as India. Indeed, France is famous the world round for its beautiful underwear, when in fact these days most of it is manufactured abroad. Etam now only makes 0.02 per cent of its lingerie in France, Lise Charmel and Chantelle produce most of theirs in Bulgaria and Tunisia, and in early 2012 Lejaby announced the closure of their last French factory. It isn’t any better for the workers in the countries that these companies have outsourced to, either; their wages are approximately five times lower, they are forced to work inhumane hours to meet demand, and as the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh a year ago demonstrated, their working conditions are often critically unsafe.

Lucy Siegle and Elizabeth L. Cline write about fast fashion as if it’s an addiction, and they are right; it is, at least, a psychological one. Recently I’ve been trying to change the way I think about buying clothes, adopting Vivienne Westwood’s mantra of ‘Buy less, choose well’. It doesn’t mean spending more money on expensive clothes all the time, but rather resisting the urge to impulse buy and saving for better quality, ethically produced fashion. I’m still struggling, but it helps to think about the long-term, and what I’d like to pass on to my daughter when she grows up.

It would be sad if our generation was remembered for its’ badly made fashion that snagged and unravelled and left nothing behind except an almighty piece of landfill. If we let them, clothes have the potential to become pieces of living history. I hope that one day my granddaughter will take boxes of my dresses down from the attic and have her own adventures in them.

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The magic Caldecott chocolate cake | Recipe

French style chocolate cake recipe

Comfort eating, French style

Do the French comfort eat? They certainly make some of the most delicious and beautiful sweet morsels in the culinary world, and are the masters of chocolate. I suppose in so far as their motto when it comes to food is ‘everything in moderation’, perhaps they have mastered the art of drawing comfort and inspiration from food without binging. I admire their ability as a nation to enjoy food and respect their bodies; the two things should naturally go together, of course, but so often get unbalanced.

I recently realised that my mother’s tried and tested old chocolate cake recipe (the one that, to me, just is the taste of birthdays and celebrations) is pretty similar to the ‘moelleux au chocolat’, the simple, dense French chocolate cake that you’ll find at patisseries, cafés, and even motorway stops all over France. It’s not too rich or heavy, it’s quick and easy to make, and while it’s rugged cracked top might not appeal to aesthetic purists, to me it is the most beautiful and most comforting of all cakes. I find myself making it almost once a week, these days – it’s just a lovely thing to have to hand at tea time.

Ingredients:

– 5 oz (140g) dark cooking chocolate

– 4 oz (110g) butter

– 4 eggs

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 10 oz (280g) caster sugar

– 4 oz (110g) plain flour

Melt the chocolate with the butter in a heatproof dish over boiling water. Set this aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Beat the eggs with the salt, vanilla, and then the caster sugar. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the eggs, and mix well. Now add the flour, and mix in gently.

Pour into a large lined/greased cake tin and bake for 30 minutes. The top should have a fine shiny crust that will have bubbled and cracked slightly. If you like, you can whip up some buttercream icing for this cake, or you can just dust it lightly with some icing sugar and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Captain America and the heroism of empathy

CapForStrat

Some of the beautiful pictures you guys sent, made into collages for dad. There’s a whole lot of love glued to these cards!

What an amazing – and surreal – few weeks it has been! The week that #CapForStrat happened, I rattled off three blog posts without thinking too much, carried on the waves of energy that the joy from the outpouring of support from you guys gave me. Since then, I’ve been meaning to write again to update you and thank you properly, once more, for everything you’ve done in being a part of all of this, but for some reason the right words have been coming to me slower, recently.

That, and life has been crazy busy with work, baby, family stuff, and multiple journalists getting in touch wanting to talk about our story – which is fine, and I understand that it is a lovely heartwarming story about a bunch of strangers helping a family out, but there just isn’t a whole lot of spare time or space on my ‘to do’ list at the moment. That is why I wrote a blog post requesting a little sensitivity and privacy – it was just meant as a gentle reminder to people writing about #CapForStrat of the fact that we were never seeking publicity, and that, um… it’s a pretty hard time for all of us at home right now. Obviously.

All of the media coverage and interest has been an entirely separate entity from the mission to make it possible for dad to see The Winter Soldier and to gather some cheering up pictures for him, all of which it took under 48 hours to achieve (amazing, right?!). That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, at all – I’m very glad if our story can help raise prostate cancer awareness, and warm some hearts. But it’s really made me appreciate those journalists (like this lovely lady from the Denver Post) who have been particularly sensitive in their write-ups of it all to how time and energy poor we are all feeling at the moment, and how we’d really like all the unexpected global attention to go towards prostate cancer awareness. We’re trying to hand over any momentum left from the campaign to Prostate Cancer UK and Sobell House (the local hospice that has been so great in their care of dad over the past few years).

Anyway, dad asked me to post a short message from him to thank you all for everything. You made it possible for him to see the film by helping us make our request heard by the right people. Marvel have been so very kind, and sent someone round to the house to show dad The Winter Soldier last week. Needless to say, he loved it, and has appreciated every one of your pictures and messages that you’ve been sending in – we’ve been sharing as many as possible with him, and the collages I’ve made with them are just about the most beautiful and happy-making things imaginable. You are all so awesome. So here’s dad’s message:

StratForCap

Watching The Winter Soldier again, this time with dad (without a doubt the most special film screening I will ever experience), made me realise the reason I love Captain America is because of his heroic capacity for empathy. Yes, he’s all about the pursuit and protection of moral goodness, truth, and justice, but he’s not blindly idealogical about it. He really looks at people and tries to understand where they are coming from and why they’re acting a certain way. SPOILER ALERT for those of you who haven’t seen the film yetHis empathy for the ‘Winter Soldier’, who acts for all intents and purposes like an empty shell of a man, a mere killing machine, and gives Rogers no logical reason to believe there is any hope left for him, is a beautiful example of what Mark Manson is saying about the importance of empathy in this article about high school shootings in the USA.

Empathy is probably the most important quality for anyone who is suffering in any way, and it is also so easily misunderstood, or replaced with something subtly and yet crucially different. It is vital to get empathy right, as the video, above, and this recent article from Verily about being a friend to someone with depression, explain. When faced with someone else’s suffering, it can be so tempting to give advice, or to try and ‘fix’ things. I do it all the time. But we have to try and avoid that temptation, and put empathy first. To do that is to make yourself extremely vulnerable, like Rogers when he refuses to fight Bucky back in The Winter Soldier – a tough ask, but an important one.

‘When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.’
– Henri Nouwen

Last week I asked team #CapForStrat what, in their experience, were the most helpful things people had done for them and their loved ones when they were going through a hard time. I wanted to start that conversation because the avalanche of passionate support from people who know our family, and also from total strangers, has proved how much pent up frustration we all have about the fact that we want to help cancer patients but more often than not don’t know how. I really think that the energy everyone attacked mission #CapForStrat with shows that everyone really just wants to know how they can help.

Unfortunately, all of us know someone – more likely several people – touched by cancer, so I’m hoping that the conversation we started here can be useful to everyone who comes into contact with #CapForStrat. As I said, it all comes back down to empathy – listening, often silently, and being truly open to the needs of the person/people you’re trying to help. When you really empathise and put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you suddenly become aware of all sorts of little practical things that you can do to make a positive difference, without just sweeping in with your preconceived idea of what will help and actually causing more difficulties and stress in the process. I’m still learning all about this, and make mistakes every day, but I feel like the experiences people shared on Twitter really helped me, and I hope you find it helpful, too, whatever situation you’re in.

I asked:

How to help someone with cancer CapForStrat

And people replied:

How to help someone with cancer CapForStrat

How to help someone with cancer CapForStrat

How to help someone with cancer CapForStrat

How to help someone with cancer CapForStrat

How to help someone with cancer CapForStrat

We have been so very blessed with kind and empathetic friends to help us through this difficult time, bringing food and cake, driving us to the hospital sometimes when we need that, and all kinds of things – and I hope that one of the good effects of our story going viral can be that it inspires the sharing of that kind of support to other people suffering in similar situations around the world. I think the key really is empathy, and not thinking that you know what is best in a situation but listening to what the cancer patient and their primary carer/closest loved ones are really saying that they need.

The best bit of all of this for me, apart from obviously making dad smile with the pictures and the film, has been seeing on that stats page of this blog that people are clicking through to read about the symptoms of prostate cancer. Hard, concrete evidence that because of everything that has happened with dad, people are informing themselves about what this cancer looks like, so that they can be aware for themselves and/or for the men in their lives.

Before dad had cancer, I used to kind of wonder what people meant by ‘cancer awareness’ – I mean, everyone is ‘aware’ in a vague sense what cancer is, and that lots of people are affected by it. But awareness is a far more practical thing than that. Prostate cancer was just not on our radar in dad’s case. He was checked for bowel cancer, because that runs in his family, and we breathed a sigh of relief when he was cleared for that. It’s not a case of becoming a hypochondriac, but healthy awareness means taking the signs your body is showing seriously, being aware of what could be an issue for your age/sex, and having the right tests done in good time.

As I’ve said before, we didn’t know that blood tests don’t always show that you have prostate cancer in time. If enough people know that, perhaps some lives can be saved. And, if I dare generalise a little here, it seems to me that men are a little behind in the health consciousness game. Prostate cancer is an awful disease to get; even if it’s caught in time to save your life, the treatment means that your life will never be the same again. Perhaps this is why men are so reluctant to think about it. But it’s better to catch it early than to stick your head in the sand and risk catching it after metastasis has occurred and the cancer has spread too far to be stopped.

A Better Place logo CapForStrat cancer environment

I’ve been rambling on for far too long, but I just wanted to mention one final thing. Some friends and I are working on creating a new ethical lifestyle website later this year that will be dedicated to dad, who always taught my sisters and I to try and leave the world a better place than we found it. We believe that every little choice we make each day has the potential to change the world, and that by choosing ethically produced products we can harness the power of consumerism and use it to make a difference.

I really think that the extreme rise in cancer rates in modern times must be linked with all sorts of environmental factors, and I hope that this project can contribute in some way to that conversation and enable us all to find lifestyle solutions that don’t have such a negative impact on the environment and our own bodies. The blackberry motif is inspired by dad’s love of the autumn berries, and sweet memories of foraging for the fruit in the brambles together. If you’re interested in following what we’re doing here, please ‘like’ the Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter.

Thank you, once again, from the bottom of our hearts for all your kindness, interest, and support! Sophie x

Iron Man CapForStrat cover Marvel fan cancer hero

Posted by someone awesome on Twitter with the caption ‘A brave man deserves a cover’. Thank you, friend!