I have loved R&B and hip hop music since I can remember (partly under my mother’s tutelage, although I took it to the next level as she has never had a taste for rap beyond the Black Eyed Peas), but I know that I really fell into it at about the age of 11/12. I started buying VIBE magazine, religiously watching MTV Base every morning before school, and living in the urban section of all the music stores. I was there during the rise and fall of bling culture (well, by “fall” I mean that nowadays, really flashy bling is a sign of bad taste and the only people who use the word “bling” these days in any seriousness – unless they’re writing a fashion article or a long rambling blog entry – are those who are quite outmoded and not in fashion at all), and succumbed somewhat. In addition, I have always enjoyed the texture of soft, fluffy things (and I have a weakness for plush teddy bears in all shapes and sizes), and to this day I like a luxury fur-lined hood, or clothing with tasteful fur accents. My bracelets acquired rhinestones, as did most things I designed in the backs of my exercise books at school. Like a jackdaw, I was attracted to shiny. I pierced one ear and got some appropriately flashy earrings (I got my other ear pierced a couple of years later, because I bought some Armani earrings and wanted to be able to wear both of them – £89 for one earring + one spare didn’t make sense to me), including some giant diamante squares from River Island that I believe were intended for girls, but I would wear them square-on like Cristiano Ronaldo (I still don’t mind this look, though I don’t adopt it anymore). But over the last couple of years, I have tried to be more classy and classic with my jewellery. I saved up and one by one, bought a designer watch, ring, earrings, necklace and bracelet, and I am very proud of my jewellery collection which I hope to add to once I eventually have money again and have paid off my debts. Ideally, I would like a collection of gold jewellery to add to my silver jewellery ensemble so that I can choose the appropriate colour combinations to complement outfits and moods alike. Because I have constantly worn jewellery since I was a child, I therefore feel naked without it, and people notice if I’m not wearing it (e.g. if the clasp on my necklace is broken and it’s at the jeweller’s being repaired, as happened recently), because it’s such a rare occurrence! For our 6-month anniversary, Toby bought me a Thomas Sabo silver ring studded all the way round with three rows of tiny black crystals – it’s doubly precious to me because not only is it gorgeous (and totally fits my style), but it has romantic, sentimental value. That’s another reason why I adore jewellery – not only does it have one meaning to an outsider, but it has another deeper and more symbolic meaning that’s just between you and those closest to you.
I have always known instinctively what colours go together when it comes to clothes (and I never really have much problem with this because my clothes are fairly simple), and it was only as I grew older that I became aware that a lot of other people didn’t have this skill. I have already covered my affinity for black, but I also learned that a yellow that really pops is great for the summer, while a deep red in wintertime or of an evening can be very sophisticated and just as sexy as black, if it’s worn right. My first awareness of luxury fashion brands came as a child, when I saw a box with a bottle of perfume in it, on the bathroom shelf.
I asked my mother “what’s the box of Channel Number 5?” My mother firstly corrected my pronunciation, and then explained it was a ladies’ perfume that she sometimes wore. Later on, I was about 17 and my father went through a phase of shopping at Makro and Costco. On one occasion, they had some extremely bargainous Versace jeans (and in retrospect, I appreciate just how much of a bargain they were!) and so I got those, along with a plain red t-shirt with ‘Calvin Klein Jeans’ emblazoned across it in white for my birthday from my mum’s catalogue. I don’t know what it was about those clothes, but they fit better, looked better and made me feel a little bit extra-special; just like jewellery does. It gives you that inner sparkle that translates into outer confidence (even when you don’t necessarily feel it). During my undergraduate degree in French and Spanish at Oxford, we were told to read French newspapers and magazines. Of course, I therefore started reading L’Officiel Hommes (French fashion magazine, in French, with some excellent photoshoots and fabulous articles) to fulfil that quota!
For the most part however, I really deepened my understanding and love of fashion, designers and luxury brands through working at the Perfume Shop. Now I know that this sounds a bit of a mismatch (the Perfume Shop is hardly an upmarket retailer – although in Broadmead in Bristol, it’s one of the higher-end shops!), but bear with me. We sold (and to my knowledge, they still sell) Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, Guerlain… It felt like an exquisite dream when I started working there, and was also such an education. Not only in fragrance, where I now appreciate what is genuinely good, genuinely stylish, and what is tat wrapped up in a fancy box with a designer name stamped on it. But simply going by the brands behind / in front of the fragrance, I confirmed that in terms of fashion, Italians definitely do it better: Gucci, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana were the most ‘me’. However, my absolute favourite fragrance to date is by Dior (Dior Homme, which is beautiful, sexy and not too commonly worn) – and I wore this even before I started working at the Perfume Shop. Thierry Mugler’s A*Men is a close second, so I also appreciate the French fragrances too. My first and only purchase to date from Harvey Nichols was Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, which I find heady, intoxicating and darkly alluring. Now that I am based in London, and with one of my closest friends Nick being a fragrance guru and working for Les Senteurs which stocks a lot of niche brands which specialise in proper fragrance made with passion and artistry (rather than focus-tested into oblivion), I now find the department store fragrance counters overwhelmingly bland and exhausting all at once. But there are some gems there, and I freely admit that my nose is not as nuanced as Nick’s – so sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than a blast of Halle Berry, summery-sweet as Black XS for Him, or comforting as Mariah Carey’s début scent. Another valuable lesson the Perfume Shop taught me (although by this point I was fairly secure in my sexuality) is that fragrance has no gender. Social conditioning, advertising and gender stereotyping tells us that florals are for girls, and woody/spicy/oceanic scents are for boys. Nothing could be further from the truth, and staying within these boundaries is not only boring but stifling. As adults, not only should we urge ourselves to experiment in order to find out what we like and dislike, but we have to be confident enough in our own skin to wear what we like and be proud to like what we like. When we can wear an outfit (whatever its message or purpose, deliberate or incidental) with honesty, it is that much more powerful.