Iris Apfel

Lessons From Iris Apfel

“You’re not pretty. You’ll never be pretty but that’s ok because you’ve got something that none of these other girls have. You’ve got style. And that’s better than pretty.”

Those are the slightly cutting words of one of Iris Apfel’s first bosses and have become somewhat of a mantra to the 93 year old fashion icon. I watched Iris, the documentary about her, at the Melbourne International Film Festival a couple of weeks ago and have been completely inspired ever since. I’ve been mulling over her words of wisdom and these are the lessons that have touched me the most.

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True style is timeless…

With the rise of street style bloggers, it seems those “must-have” cult pieces are more abundant than ever. Iris says you should buy something because it speaks to you personally and because you’ll want to wear it forever, not because it happens to be on trend that season. I have been trying to take this approach to my wardrobe, selecting things of quality that I truly love and will last, rather than indulging in a fast fashion fix that I won’t want to wear next season.

Always be hustling…

Iris Apfel is 93 years old and must be one of the hardest working people in fashion. The documentary shows her flying around the country for interviews and appearances to promote her projects. Even before she became well-known for her style, she set up her own fabric business, where she learned to haggle with suppliers and market herself to magazines and wealthy clients. Iris shows that talent alone isn’t enough, you need to get yourself out there and hustle constantly to be a success. If she can work so hard in her nineties, what excuse do the rest of us have?

Iris Apfel

True inspiration comes from being yourself…

They say that all art is influenced by what came before but I think Iris has a true creativity. She trusts her own instincts and isn’t afraid to be a little out there. Who else would mix haute couture with plastic $5 jewellery from Harlem? As she says herself, “To me it’s not intellectual, it’s all gut”. Sometimes you just have to back yourself, the rest will follow.

Be curious and have a sense of humour…

It’s ironic how for a style icon, Iris doesn’t take fashion very seriously. As she says in the documentary, it’s better to be happy than well dressed. Some of the best moments were when she just plays with fashion, not using it to define her, but having fun and being silly. There’s so much to take from her attitude and not just for dressing. If accessories are a metaphor for life, Iris proves that you can never have too much of a good thing. And who cares what anyone else thinks anyway?

Life is short, buy the shoes

Do you think Iris sweats about wearing her Givenchy shoes out in the rain? Or eating off the fancy china? No, she fills her life with beautiful things and isn’t precious about them. I think the lesson is, if you work hard, you deserve to treat yourself. Leaving your favourite shoes in their box might mean they don’t get scuffed, but nothing can replace the joy of wearing them just because you feel like it.

Healthy Banana Bread

Recipes: Healthy Banana Bread

To me, health is a balance; A little bit of exercise, a little bit of healthy eating and the occasional treat. That’s why I’m really excited to share my recipe for healthy banana bread. Free from refined sugar, butter and white flour, it’s perfect for a weekday afternoon snack. I like keeping some in my desk drawer at work to combat stress eating chocolate!

Ingredients:

4-5 very ripe bananas
1 cup brown flour or another flour substitute (rice, coconut etc.)
1/2 cup black chia seeds
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup coconut oil
grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 tsp ground ginger, nutmeg & cinnamon

Method

Heat oven to 140 degrees Celsius and line a bread tin. Add all the ingredients in a big bowl & mix. I like to use my Kitchen Aid but you can even mix by hand. Pour into tin, bake for just over an hour. Cool in tin for 5 minutes before tipping out onto a wire rack.

 

Healthy banana bread recipe

Travel: My Vietnam Travel Guide

I’d never really considered visiting Vietnam until a couple of friends suggested we meet them for part of their six month around-the-world honeymoon. There’s no particular reason for my lack on interest. I just didn’t know anything about this beautiful country until I started researching. And because it completely blew me away, I thought I’d share my favourite picks in case, like me, you’re still on the fence.

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Relax in paradise in Phu Quoc

I have to say, I am really not a beach holiday kind of person. Surfing and water sports, yes please! But laying around sunbathing just isn’t my idea of fun. Seeing as there’s not a hint of surf in Phu Quoc, I was a little worried I’d be climbing up the palm trees after the first day. I don’t know how, but this little island paradise has completely converted me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working so hard lately but as soon as someone put a cocktail in my hand, I just didn’t want to move. I actually had to drag myself to the amazing beach-side yoga classes at Mango Bay Resort, which is so unlike me. We also stayed at Peppercorn Beach Resort and were unbelievably lucky to have the whole place to the four of us, including Auntie 7’s delicious cooking and the fantastic sunsets.

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Vietnam in Focus, Hanoi

Crazy, loud, hot, humid and frenetic, arriving in Hanoi would shock even the most hardy traveller, not to mention two blissed out and relaxed arrivals from Phu Quoc. The honks of hundreds of motorbikes were enough to slam us back to reality in no time. Getting up for dawn was quite a struggle but I’m so glad I did so to take a photography tour with Vietnam in Focus. Colm, the fantastic tour guide, really gave me a lot to think about in terms of my technique and style. Leading us down tiny alleys and along railway tracks, he showed us a glimpse of this hectic city from an insider’s view point. Like any great city, sometimes you need to get off the beaten track to be rewarded with its true beauty.

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Halong Bay

What can you say about Halong Bay? It’s just so incredibly beautiful and I feel so lucky I was able to see these beautiful islands under such great conditions. The thunder storm on our first night was a little bit scary, I have to admit, but what could be more romantic than laying on the top deck of a traditional junk boat and seeing flashes of lightening streak across the wide, open sky. We took A Class cruises if you’re looking for a recommendation but I think they’re all quite similar.

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Trecking in Sapa

Well as fitness lovers, me and the hubby had to do something to burn off all those cheap beers. Taking the night train to Sapa was so exciting and romantic and we were rewarded with these majestic mountain ranges and the beautiful smiles of the locals. We stayed in Topas Eco Lodge and would highly recommend shelling out the relatively high price to stay here. Compared to the rather touristy and busy town, the lodge is in the middle of nowhere and has completely unspoilt views. I can’t imagine a more peaceful, beautiful way to end what was really the trip of a lifetime.

Have you been to Vietnam, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Natalie x

Blue Mountains Hike

Health: Why I Love #Fitspo

I read an article in the Guardian this week got me pretty mad. In it the writer tried to go in for some kind of moral panic about the #fitspo trend, and how it wasn’t too far off from the dangerous, pro-anna #thinspo hashtag. I immediately wanted to write an angry blog post refuting all the article’s points but instead I thought it would be a lot more productive to write about why I love #fitspo instead and why I actually think it’s great for women, if they should so choose to follow it.

Getting my yoga on

My first real brush with fitspo happened around this time last year when I found myself working with a very enthusiastic follower of all things exercising and clean eating. Pretty soon our whole team was sharing mason jar breakfast ideas and protean ball recipes. I live in Melbourne so of course we’re all insufferable hipsters but I was so pleasantly surprised to see a whole group of women banding together over something so positive instead of the usual complaining about our weight and the latest restrictive diet we all wanted to try.

Here’s the thing, I’ve always been pretty slim and pretty fit but I realise now that I never really understood the basics of nutrition and exercise until I started this fitness journey, all inspired by some of my favourite Instagrammers. Where I once avoided strenuous physical exercise in favour of my daily cycle ride and a little bit of pilates, now I’m eagerly running to my boxing and bootcamp sessions every week. Where I once ate an OK diet, now I think about food in terms of how much nutrition and nourishment it will give instead of how many calories. And I’m so much happier for it. I can’t even explain how much my overall wellbeing and mental attitude has changed now that I’m serious about my health and fitness.

Look how high I can Jump!

Could some women, particularly those recovering from eating disorders take #fitspo too far? Of course they could and my heart goes out to anyone suffering like that. But fitspo has some great positive messages that the majority of women really need to hear. We’ve been (mostly) raised in a society where being skinny is what matters and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a female friend say they’re worried that too much exercise will make them bulk up and look unfeminine. Fitspo empowers women to take control of their own health and to question the ridiculous skinny aesthetic that is pushed on us by fashion companies and the media. And of course the whole movement has come from social media. It’s made by women, for women and we get to choose what messages we want to see by voting with likes. Are the incredibly toned bodies on Instagram also unrealistic? Yes perhaps they are, but I personally think it’s a lot better to strive for a strong and healthy body rather than try and look like a 14 year old runway model.

Another thing that makes me sad is the incredible negativity put towards bloggers like The Food Babe. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to people who have harassed her so much, they’ve been banned from her page. Vani Deva Hari is an American blogger who campaigns for cleaner eating and gets constantly derided for her unscientific, unprovable claims. I don’t understand why some people are so insistent on tearing someone down who is just trying to challenge the additive-filled, junk food diet that is being pushed on us by food companies. OK so she’s not a scientist. I don’t think it takes science to see that eating natural whole foods is best and that big food companies care about profit more than our health. Anything that encourages people to think more critically about the foods being pushed on them and making more mindful decisions about their eating habits it a great thing in my opinion.

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And I love headstands!

Anyway I did promise that this was going to be a positive article so thought I’d end on a short list of the biggest things that have made a difference to me health this past year:

  • Ordering a weekly veggie box. Not only is my fridge always full of healthy food now with no extra effort from me, I actually help stop waste in the farming system by buying the misshapen veggies that supermarkets refuse. Oh and local farmers get a fair price for them. Double bonus!
  • Working with a trainer. I now attend an outdoor fitness group along with my husband and some friends. Having someone to push you and the support of your peers really has a huge effect on how hard you work.
  • Eating more mindfully. My diet has changed so much now I think about what I’m putting in rather than what I’m cutting out. Brown rice, pasta and quinoa have replaced those low fat rice crackers and bread. And I treat myself regularly too!
  • Paying attention to my stress. I can now see that stress was the number one barrier to better health because when you’re body is wasting energy on worrying, there’s not enough left for anything else. Regular yoga, meditation and more smiling have helped me let go of all that worry and focus on the positive.

Natalie x

Film: Dior & I Review

Dior & I Raf Simons

As a ridiculous Raf Simons fan-girl, I’ve been waiting to see Dior & I since it’s initial release in 2012. How appropriate then that I should go and see it the same day as I happened to stroll around an exhibition on the power of film at ACMI in Melbourne. That’s the most wonderful thing about a great movie, it can completely transport you; have you fixated until the final credits. From Simons excited and nervous arrival 8 weeks before the Fall 2012 Couture show to the final moments of scrambling to finish these incredible looks, the audience was taken on a journey of nerves, excitement, frustration and an irresistibly French sense of humour and stoicism. “It’s never over until the last girl is on the runway.”

In a world of countless designers, artists, writers and culture makers, it takes something extra special to be an icon. Coming from Jil Sander, not many people saw Raf Simons, with his famed minimal aesthetic, taking over from the flamboyant Galliano at Dior. “But I’m not a minimalist. I simply worked for a minimal brand.” Simons says exasperatedly in the documentary. Looking back at Dior’s celebrated mid-century aesthetic, Simons says it’s the excitement of the future that captivates him. Christian Dior wanted to take women out of their war-years uniforms and into a new femininity with his New Look, and there’s nothing retro about that. It’s pure optimism. Similarly, Simons was determined to take the best of the past and push it towards something completely modern.

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The only small thing standing in his way (but really of course helping him) was the eye watering amount of time and man power it takes to make a couture piece. “How soon until we can have this jacket in black?” he asks of an iconic bar jacket at the first fitting. “Possibly Saturday,” is the answer. “But can we spray paint it now?” he asks. His premiere thinks for a second, “but of course, it’s toile.” And out into the garden with a can of spray paint it goes. It’s this kind of thinking, an outsider’s thinking, that is able to take the beautiful and treasured art of couture and breathe fresh new life into it. And there’s something so inspiring about a leader who doesn’t need to yell, who does’t get overtaken by his own insecurities, but who trusts and values his team.

I loved this collection since the first time I saw it, but getting an insight into the thought and work behind it just makes it all the more sublime (Simons’ favourite word). And photographs can’t do justice to the way the fabric moves on film. I just hope these looks end up in a museum one say soon so I can see them in person. If this movie doesn’t make you want to move to Paris and go and work for a couture house, then nothing will. You’ll have to excuse me, I’ll just be over here practicing my French.

Natalie x

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Travel: The Best Walks in the Grampians

What is it that makes us want to climb mountains? It’s a really universal urge, I feel. I’m getting really into hiking lately, partly inspired by my fitness focus (I’ve been all about the bootcamp, surprisingly). Not to mention that I happen to live in such a beautiful place, surrounded by gorgeous walks. This weekend was my second trip to the Grampians and this time we focused on staying to the south and centre, rather than the north.

Grampians Mt Rosea

On Sunday we spent the day clambering up Mt Rosea, which is one of the longer and more challenging day hikes in the Grampians National Park. I’d really recommend this for anyone looking for a more challenging walk away from the crowds. We started by heading up Stony Creek Road from the Mt Rosea carpark, which is definitely the best direction to challenge this loop as you get to clamber up and then take an easier walk down again. It should take around 2 hours to reach the top via the Gate of the East Wind. Any aches and grumbles will soon be silenced by the unbelievable views that greet you once you reach the top. These are widely agreed to be among the best in the Grampians and the great news is that the difficult climb means you’ll get to enjoy them in peace, without the crowds of families that can be found on some of the easier walks.

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From the top, you need to make sure you turn left from the summit towards Burma Track, an old 4WD track. Be careful though as the signage isn’t great and the path itself is a little overgrown. Just make sure you turn left at any intersection and you’ll reach your original destination eventually. Also I came pretty close to being bitten by a snake, so watch your feet! After jumping at a noise, I turned to notice a large black snake slithering in the other direction. I couldn’t help but wonder how far away the nearest snake bite kit would be.

Other walks I really recommend include:

  • Mt Sturgeon for panoramic views to the south
  • Wonderland Carpark to the Pinnacle for iconic views and a challenging climb
  • Mt Difficult for a really challenging walk with waterfalls

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Photography: Finding Vivian Maier

maier 2What if you spent your whole life perfecting your craft and creating heart-achingly beautiful pieces but you never showed anyone? Would that make your work ‘art’? That’s probably a question that we don’t ask too often. If someone’s good enough, they’ll make it eventually right? But what if we stop for a second and consider that greatness and success aren’t necessarily the same thing.

The case of Vivian Maier is one of those rare events that completely flips our notions of what an artist is. And if it wasn’t for an amateur antique hunter discovering a box of undeveloped negatives in a random auction one day, we probably would have never heard of her at all. Uncovering Vivian Maier tells the strange story of a nanny who spent her life taking hundreds of thousands of photographs, which she never developed. A woman who travelled the world and pioneered street photography long before it became fashionable, Maier presents a bizarre, inspiring, brave and quite troubled picture of an artist. One stripped of the benefits of wealth, fame and privilege.

Vivian Maier collageI have to admit that I went into the film not really expecting her work to be that good, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Armed with a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera and an unobtrusive, low-key demeanor Maier was able to get so close to her subjects, catching them in beautifully unguarded moments, with all the pain, beauty and messiness of their crazy lives. It’s really sad that this complex, trail-blazing woman was never able to claim her place in the photography canon alongside her male contemporaries. Even now, with issues over copyright, lots of galleries are refusing to hang her pictures despite this whole fascinating story coming to light. I guess it makes me wonder how many other great artists or writers we’ve missed out on.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Maier, I highly recommend reading the New Yorker article, Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women.

May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL

1954, New York, NY

July 27, 1954, New York, NY