My Granny sent me an amusing article from the Daily Telegraph earlier this week. It was by columnist Bryony Gordon, and she writes about her training for the London Marathon this coming April.
“This might give you some inspiration for your next blog post!” my Granny exclaims in her email.
I will also be running the marathon in March later this year, in Washington DC. And if anything, the article although comical, only made me feel worse about my current training situation. I think I have about 8 weeks until the big day. However, I’m already “carb loading” as I dig into my pasta dinner, and I’m thinking of tapering pretty soon. Which for the non- runners reading this – “tapering” is the act of not running in the lead up to a race to save energy. I’ve been tapering for weeks!
I first got into running when a good friend of mine decided to do a challenge and run 30 races within one year in the lead up to her 30th birthday that December. Crazy I know. Almost all of her weekends were filled up with race after race, which involved eight half marathons, two full marathons, and numerous fun runs, one which included running down the West Side highway in only our underwear, in Mid February. Can you believe I got roped into doing that one? It was only a matter of time before I got hooked into the running world, and my week nights soon became gym sessions of running on the treadmill for 30 minutes, and then meeting the girls on the stretching mats to talk about our day, and gossip. Now that definitely got my heart racing.
You see, I think running comes naturally to me. I am pro at running for the N train in the morning, as I hear it approaching on the tracks above, I have a large coffee in hand, and the latest Time Out magazine scooped under my arm. Or how about running to pick up fabric on 38th Street when the new intern decides to take a long lunch, and I have no choice but to dash out so that production doesn’t stop. Or not to mention this morning, when I woke up and realized we were out of ground coffee, I’ve never thrown on my sneakers so fast to run to the store to stock up. It’s all part of the training.
The race in March will be my second marathon. Once a runner, always a runner, right? I completed the race in Queens last year, and well, it was far from easy. Especially that damn Mile 23. Oh Mile 23. It was straight after my friend Audra (another power runner I look up to) met me at mile 22 with chopped up banana and orange slices. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her in the distance, I wanted to hug her, but then feared of stopping incase I didn’t start again. The fruit she was feeding me was just the icing on the cake.
“Almost there, almost there!” I remember her cheering.
But then it started. The water works. I remember passing the “Mile 23 sign”, blurry, and I just started balling my eyes out. Yes, I was in pain, literally everything was in pain, drunk with tiredness, and I was far beyond “the wall” that runners always talk about; in fact I couldn’t even see that damn wall I was so far past it. Why was I not prepared for this feeling? It was some kind of overwhelming sense of me being in that moment, that I was actually running the race, and that feeling of accomplishment so close, but so difficult to catch. For goodness sake, I only had three miles left, which at that moment I turn the corner to my surprise to see my friend Rita, standing by the Mile 24 sign, and she’s waving her arms in the air with a huge bouquet of flowers, screaming my name. My other two friends Stephen and Augie are there with her, and they start jumping up and down also. It was at that moment the tears stopped, and it was then that I knew, “I got this.”
For some unknown reason, I am not worried about this race coming up. Okay, so of course I’m training, but why am I so cool about this race? Maybe because I have more self-belief this time? Or maybe because I’ve done it before, so I know I can do it again. Even if I do have that fear in the back of my head of that tortuous Mile 23, which until this moment, I have not shared with anybody.
When I have a bad day, I compare it to Mile 23, with that feeling of being lost, perhaps the thought of giving up, or just loosing hope. But then I remember, it doesn’t last forever. You see it was only for that one mile, before my friends met me the other side, and I realized that I am surrounded by the people I love. And suddenly it all makes sense again, and well, you just keep going. Because you know what? “I got this.”
“Awesome.” A word I rarely use, if ever. In fact I try to avoid it. Living in New York City I have learnt that “awesome” is a word so frequent in the everyday American vocabulary, and in my opinion, it is over used to the point where just about anything can be described with that one word.
My new hair color is awesome. A new hair salon, new stylist, and I am introduced to Sabrina. Challenged to control my fast growing hair, and I have a feeling that I am in good hands. Sabrina walks over and has the exact fierce hair style that I want.
“I work in the image driven prestigious fashion industry,” I explain to her. If you can make my hair look half as good as yours, I will be your happiest client ever,” I think were my exact words. Looking
through the mirror at me, she smiles. Someone switched on the cold this week, and the sharp icy New York Winter has officially arrived. The door slams shut behind me as I enter the cozy restaurant on the Upper East Side to meet my good friend Augie. We sit at the far corner table, away from the cold. So excited, Augie presents to me his brand new photo book. A project that he’s been working on for some time now, and it’s finally completed. It’s a beautiful coffee table book containing all of his photography taken all over the city. A tribute to his very impressive Instagram account of breath taking photographs, and each one filled with so much emotion, so many stories. The book is awesome. I want a copy I tell him.
Come to think of it, this actually reminds me of a book that I just picked up and started reading a couple of weeks ago. “Just Kids.” A biography of the American musician Patti Smith, she tells the story of coming to New York at 17 years old, where she met the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. It beautifully describes the creation of their Bohemian lifestyle in the heart of Brooklyn, living off next to nothing, and the struggle to make art in this romantically written hazy New York setting. Well written, and I am falling in love with Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautiful and quiet character of aspiring to become an artist, and the first of his kind.
I’m in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn today, wondering. Feeling a slight creative block this week, and I need the air. The cold has taken a break, just for today, and the pace of New York has been turned down a notch on this particular Sunday, with the lead up to the holidays just around the corner. I am exploring new places on Bedford Avenue, and every street I discover is a new Instagram picture in my head, no filter needed. That Brooklyn rawness is very noticeable to me today, people selling their clothes in little boutiques, artists wrapped up in the cold, whilst making pieces on the streets, musicians playing on platforms, even aspiring dancers swinging on poles in the train carriages on my subway ride here. People are creating. Everywhere.
How about Sabrina giving me an incredible new hair makeover yesterday morning, or Augie with his completed photo book. New York is full of artists, each with their own unique talent, passion, and all striving to be noticed and making money with the skills they have to offer.
Then it hits me. Just like that New York air as I step out into the cold and quickly clasp my new black beret before it blows away down Bedford Avenue. I realise that the possibilities are endless in this place. Just create.
And now I know what I’ve got to do. And it’s going to be awesome.
“Designer studio seeking young enthusiastic fashion design intern. Must be hard working, presentable, and able to work in a fast paced environment. Flexible schedule is preferred, and above all, must be hungry to learn.”
As the year comes to a close and we turn over to a new season in the fashion calendar, and it can only mean one thing. The hunt for new interns is on.
“Tell me about yourself”, I ask her. It’s the beginning of the summer. She’s sat across the table from me, and she’s shaking. As she swipes through her portfolio on her Ipad, I can tell she is just so nervous from the moist imprint of her finger on the screen as she turns to the next page.
That was me in that same seat. Exactly 5 years ago. Fresh off the plane from England, I had my long hair in a braid and I was wearing a white jersey tank top. Told I had one week to show what I could do, I had never worked so bloody hard in my life.
You see, if I hadn’t made that leap back then, I’d still be managing the fitting rooms at Zara in my hometown. Not that there’s anything wrong with a start job in Zara, however I had just completed a three year university degree in Fashion Design, and nothing had prepared me for the real world. What to expect? Where to begin?
I remember my first internship extremely well. It was in the basement of this fashion accessory silk screen print company in East London. I was folding scarves. Literally. Me and three girls, it’s all we would do all day. Kept there until 8pm every night, unpaid, folding away. I wish I were kidding.
That flash back of the folding silk scarves pops into my head as I finish up the interview with her. Already I know she’s a keeper. From the firm handshake, her up right posture across the table, the perfect red lipstick she’s wearing. It’s really hard to believe Victoria is only 19 years old.
The laws recently changed in New York and that interns doing full time work must be paid. And I second that. Every candidate I hire I do my absolute best to ensure that they are learning to the fullest. To this day, I still hear mixed stories of the life of the fashion intern in New York, depending on the company as to how they are treated, however when they’re under my roof, I make a point to be the best teacher I can possibly be.
That jump into the real world is just so important, and I really don’t think university prepares students for that. At least mine didn’t. I was stuck in a hard place either taking an unpaid internship folding scarves, or earning money in a retail store, which was not what I wanted to do. It’s hard. But you’ve got to go for it, otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.
We only had the pleasure of lovely Victoria for that one summer. Probably the best intern I have ever worked with. So professional, so on point. One day I hope to be as elegant, smart, and sharp as herself.
It’s Victoria’s last day in the studio, the day we were all dreading, and I come back to my desk to find a beautiful handmade card resting on my keyboard. I can tell instantly the card is her own design. I turn it over, on the back is a note in her tiny neat Italic handwriting.
“Dear Sophie, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your guidance, support and patience during my time here. I have learnt so much because you are so amazing at what you do! It has been a pleasure working with you and I will miss you. I hope to stay in touch!
Designer studio seeking young enthusiastic fashion design intern. Must have a dream, and not be afraid to go for it.
“We’re coming to New York!” The email pops up in my inbox on Wednesday afternoon. It’s my university professor. She’s writing to tell me that January 2017 she will be flying across the pond with 35 inspiring fashion design students, ready to explore the big city.
“Do you have any recommendations for us?!” she asks. “The students are starting their final collections and we would love to get as much information as we can to plan the trip.”
“Say no more.” I tell her. More than happy to share my knowledge of the jungle that is the garment district, and so here it is.
The List. My list.
Let’s start by talking fabric. It is my specialty after all. ‘Mood Fabrics.’ My favorite retail fabric Aladdin’s cave. They seriously have everything. From Oscar De La Renta novelty boucles to your basic silks in every shade possible. Upstairs, a huge selection of gorgeous wool crepes, double face cashmeres, cashgoras. Even a hidden leather corner in the back. Happy staff, student friendly, and if you’re lucky, they’ll kick you out so that they can film an episode of project runway in the store.
Then there is ‘B&J Fabrics’ off 7th Ave. Don’t tell anyone I recommended this place. Okay, so you’re definitely going to get ripped off with their insane prices, however it’s filled up with the most beautiful cloques, intricate fil coupes, not to mention the $300 embroidery cuts. You see this is the place where the European mills sell off their past season fabrics at retail price. I mean truly beautiful Italian silks, however just be prepared to put down three months worth of rent. As I said, don’t mention that I recommended it. But definitely a must.
Talking of embroidery, you need to head over to 6th avenue. 34th street right up until you hit Bryant Park there are endless bead stores, one after the other, each one as good as before. From your classic bugle bead to unusual coral pendants. It really is bead heaven. A particular favorite of mine is ‘Tosu.’ Their selection really stands out and the cute Asian girl that always helps me is part of the wonderful experience.
That leads me on to trims. ‘M&J Trimming’ and ‘Pacific Trimming.’ Let them feed all your trimming needs. Ribbons, buttons, threads, literally everything you can think of. They will trigger inspiration, for all the finishing you could possibly want. Did I mention the zipper store within Pacific Trimming? A whole store dedicated just for zippers. Okay, so you spend $14 on one zipper, but let me explain that this is no ordinary zipper. This is a RiRi metal industrial zip, cut to any size of your desire on the spot. The best zipper brand universal in my opinion, and it’s worth every dime. I am committed to RiRi, and I have never looked at a zipper in the same way again.
If you need leather, you’ve got to go to ‘Global.’ Situated the dodgy end of 8th avenue on 35th street. Get the elevator to the 9th floor, and my one piece of advise it this. Go in knowing what you want. Even if you don’t know what you want, pretend. Be strong, be confident, and you will go far. So the staff can be a little cold, but this place is really cool. Exquisite lambs skin in every color, pig suede, foiled perforated pieces, and the most exciting exotic skins. That pungent smell of leather once you leave will linger for a while. Just so you know. It’s part of the experience.
I remember the first time I went to ‘Tender Button’ on the Upper East Side. It was back in my intern days, and a VIP client had lost a button on her cashmere coat, and we had to replace it. A button emergency. Stepping into the store, which is no bigger than the size of a generous Manhattan kitchen, and the décor is just amazing. A whole wall full with vintage looking individual novelty buttons. The woman serving me was probably as old as the antique toggle I found for the coat. You must go, even if it’s just for the experience. But remember to dress well, it’s the Upper East side.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in the city, and you’ll find me hidden in the back of ‘Around the World.’ Probably in between Sportswear International, and Men’s V Magazine. This overwhelming magazine store in midtown is on 37th Street off Fashion Avenue, and boy does it live up to its name. Issues of Vogue from every country you can think of, and great discounted publications on past season trend magazines, bibles I like to call them. The only down part is two hours later when I have to decide which magazines I’m taking home with me. Talk about Sophie’s choice.
Well, I think that’s about it for now, and you are now ready to take on the jungle that is the garment district of New York. Remember, if you’re handed a sample sale flyer, take it and go. Discounted $15 cashmere sweaters do exist in the real world, and get one whilst you can. That’s my last piece of advice, for now.
My phone storage is full. Absolutely no space left. Ask any of my friends, and they’ll tell you that this is a constant problem of mine. Just when I am about to take a picture, those distressing four words pop up on my screen. “Manage your storage settings.” To date, I have about 15,428 photographs stored on the phone, and I’m realizing that my passion for photography is starting to damage my relationship with my apple device.
It was a documentary we watched when I went home to England after my first summer in New York. My dad had actually already seen it, and he was waiting for me to return so that he could watch it again.
“The many lives of William Klein.” An iconic photographer from the 1950s, the documentary focuses on the life of William Klein in New York and how he pioneered the art of street photography, making him one of the most influential photographers of his time.
I met him off the Broadway stop in Astoria. It was mid June, two summers ago, and it was one of those unbelievably warm days. I took him straight to this stretch of graffiti I had discovered just a couple of days ago on a run. Only a block away from my apartment, and he stood in front of the huge American flag painted on the wall. I was quite shy at the time, with only my Iphone camera to hide behind. However, the image I had just captured was, for me, iconic. It was exactly the image I had hoped for. This was my very first photo shoot ever, and I knew it was the start of something.
Klein worked for Vogue. However he had very little interest in Fashion. His home was Paris, before he moved to New York. As the documentary unravels, I can tell that he actually has a dislike to New York. I notice that the photographs he takes are more about the connection with the subjects, the excellent quickness of each shot, the playful “in your face” composition. There is a scene from the documentary, and the interviewer is in the back of a yellow cab with Klein.
“Do you like New York?” he asks Klein, as they drive through Times Square at night, lights flashing. There is a long pause, and Klein’s response as he looks out the window is,
“Well, I love Paris, and I tolerate New York.”
This is funny to me, and now explains the ironic title of his photographic book, ‘Life is Good and Good for you in New York.’
Lost in China town. We’re somewhere down one of those small alley ways off Canal Street, that is filled up by the pungent smell of seafood mixed with garbage. Federico is hanging out in the doorway of this run down grubby apartment building. He’s wearing the classic “So New York” t-shirt. As I get closer to capture the shot, suddenly this old man carrying groceries walks right in front of my camera. Federico starts to laugh and I manage to capture his smile as he looks down to try and hide it.
Klein’s warmth and closeness of his photographs as he explores New York is most fascinating to me. I distinctively remember some images he took of some kids playing outside a barber shop in Harlem in the late 50s. The images are bold, with a sense of action that are so powerful, particularly one image of a kid shooting a pistol right down the lens of the camera.
There’s a parcel waiting for me when I get home from work. I open it, and I don’t believe it. It’s the book. “Life is Good and Good for you in New York” By William Klein. Falling from the front page, there is a note from my dad, in which he explains how this is actually only a book about the original photographic book. To get a copy of the original photo book is proved very difficult to get hold of. But it doesn’t matter, I have already been affected by his work, and the book is merely a reminder of that. And I will treasure it.
For me, it will always be about the clothing. However, I believe that my photography plays a very important role in my work. Whether it be a cute guy I found online that’s waiting for his break to start his modeling career, or perhaps it’s a friend posing for me as a favor, or even an ex boyfriend, being playful on a Saturday in the city. Ultimately, it’s about capturing real New York people, in real New York location. And having fun. Having a moment. A moment that can say just about everything.
Okay, so I gave in. Asking the guy at the store for the biggest back up system he had, and you’ll be pleased to know that I am now fully compatible. Freed up with more space on my phone than I ever thought possible, and I am now ready to continue my photographic journey of New York City. One photo at a time.
Because life is good, and good for you in New York.
The “Many Lives of William Klein” documentary can be found through the following link.
I have a problem. And I believe that admitting it is the first step. The realization of this problem actually happened one night last summer. During my sleep my clothes rack attached to my bedroom wall collapsed on top of me in the middle of the night. A rack full entirely of coats, almost killing me. Wow, that would have been a way to go.
Everybody remembers their first. And I sure do. My quilted black Barbour coat, it was the real deal, and my first proper coat. A gift from my father for my 18th birthday, which we spent the day in London to carefully pick it out. With it’s beautifully stitched finishes, shiny gold snaps, and thin fleece lining. Every time I throw it on I am reminded of my British roots.
They say when you’re not looking for love, you find it, and it’s true. Rummaging vintage stores every spare moment I had back in my first year at university, I was a student with little money, the days with my hair tied up in a messy bun on the top of my head. But that’s when I found it. Hidden on a rack in the back of the store. It was a beautiful rich dark brown sheepskin coat with a classic fur collar, and even before trying it on I knew it was going to be a good fit. It had a rustic used feeling that was so attractive to me. Spending the remainder of my monthly allowance on purchasing the coat, and I remember that evening going home to my dorm, and sewing on the extra button I had found inside one of the pockets. With a bit of love, and a good clean, who said you can’t change a coat?
My first Winter in New York City. A cold that I have never quite experienced before, ever. So sharp, so strong. I remember that morning walking into the studio at work, I was frozen, and my boss tells me off. Told off that my $40 H&M coat I was wearing was much too thin for this weather, and it just would not do. It was at that moment we met. Transformed from a girl to a woman, just like that, and I was handed my brand new charcoal grey double face cashmere coat. With an asymmetrical collar that wraps perfectly around my neck, done up with two glass horn buttons on the side. I guess working with a high end designer has it perks. The cashmere was my armor for that bitter New York cold. And I knew we were going to be serious.
After the coat rack incident last summer, I knew I had to make some changes in my life. The problem wasn’t them, it was me. And I wasn’t prepared for the reality of counting how many I actually owned. And so one Sunday afternoon later that same summer, I decided to go through and edit the collection. The oversized fur jacket handed down from my sister, my army green quilted farm jacket, my special sheepskin beauty, traveled with me all the way from North of England. All these coats I hadn’t touched in over three years, and instead I was holding onto their sentimental value, but completely untouched. I knew it was time to move on, and so I took them to the local thrift store around the corner, for a better life. We wanted different things. My life was different now. Our lives were different now.
Fast forward, and it’s early one morning of just last week, and I’m late for work. Wrapped up in my favorite double face cashmere armor shielding me from that strong New York wind. I turn around the 30th avenue corner, juggling my take out coffee in one hand, and my sunglasses that are falling off the bridge of my nose, when I suddenly notice my brown sheepskin coat on the center mannequin in that same thrift store. My stomach flips. Just when I had forgotten all about it and thought I had moved on, there it was staring at me in the window, conjuring up all of these memories. And it still looked as beautiful as when we had first met.
You’ll be happy to know that on that same day I dared to walk home back past that very same thrift store window. Can you believe that the coat was already gone? Nothing left but new memories waiting to be had.
The way that I look, and the way the world sees me is important. I don’t mean to be shallow, because I believe fashion is more than mere vanity. Part of me, and indeed everyone around me, is defined by the clothes that they choose to wear.
As a Brit, I have been lucky enough to travel across Europe and America, and visit places including Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, and Thailand. I am endlessly fascinated by the individual personality of each place, the food, architecture, climate, lifestyle, and of most interest to me, how these differences are reflected in the way people dress.
Running down the back garden as I trip over my long flowing bright pink floral dress is probably one of my earliest memories. Feeding the chickens, picking apples off the muddy ground, climbing trees, with the English countryside as my playground, I lived in that dress. It was my favorite.
I guess I haven’t changed much.
Climbing the subway stairs, and I am careful not to trip over the front of my long floral printed maxi skirt as I reach the top step, my heavy suitcase dragging behind me. Which at that moment I regret bringing half the stuff in it. However, it’s not until I land on the huge sidewalk, that I suddenly have the biggest culture shock of my entire life. I remember it like it was yesterday. Towering above me, I am met by walls of bright multi color graffiti that border the oversized street. Miles and miles as far as I can see. Small cafes litter the avenue, people outside chilling, hanging out. It’s the heat of the summer, and I’m in East Williamsburg, which I quickly learn to be the “cool side” of Brooklyn. And it’s at that moment when I realise I am not on the farm in the English countryside anymore.
Of course I get lost and walk four blocks in the wrong direction before I find the small hostel I am staying at off Montrose Ave. I make friends, with only my British sense of humor to offer. And it’s not long before the night falls, it’s Saturday, I’m in New York, and I am taken out by the locals at the hostel. My first night in the city. We go around the corner. Down some uneven wooden stairs, and I enter the underworld. I make out a pool table in the corner, which looks like it needs a good make over. A duke box. A group of guys my age are hanging out at the bar. One is wearing an effortless crew neck plain white t-shirt, his rusty blonde hair peeping out under a backwards cap, jet black skinny pants, which I can only assume are ripped at the knee intentionally. His friend, in slim Adidas track pants with the classic luminous lime green triple stripe down the side of the leg, and a black tank, which is cut perfectly which shows his thick tribal stamp tattoo encrusted over his right bicep. I was in Hipster Paradise. That’s for sure. And before I can take in anymore, a $3 PBR beer is placed in my hand.
“Describe your personal style,” someone very recently asked me. Quitting school at 15 years old to go study fashion, before going on to persue a course in Fashion design at university, followed by intense internships in London and LA, and eventually arriving in New York to work for a top couture designer, and launch my own fashion label. It‘s a difficult question to answer. However, what I can say is that living here in the wonderful city of New York for four years now, has triggered my absolute love for modern street wear. For me, a t-shirt is not just a t-shirt. It’s so much more. It’s about the person in the t-shirt, it’s about how the t-shirt is worn, the setting in which it’s being worn. I could go on. It’s about visual expression. It’s about identity.
Fast forward, to this past weekend . It’s Saturday night again. I’m in New York, and I have nothing to wear. I’m late and my friend Stephen calls me to find out where I am. I tell him I’m on the subway, but he knows me too well, I am lying and in fact I have not left my apartment. But instead I am in a heap of my clothes on the floor.
“Meet me at the club,” Stephen says, and of course he means our spot downtown in the East Village. We’re going dancing, and he tells me that our friends who are meeting us tonight are already there.
What the hell, I think to myself. And in a panic I throw on my brand new blue and white porcelain print floral dress. Picked up from a discount store on my recent trip to London; I love it. To the knee, and it hugs my figure in the best way, if you know what I mean. Grabbing my leather jacket, and I run out of my apartment, being careful not to trip over in the tight dress as I go down the front steps.
The way that I look and the way the world sees me is important. Yes. But staying true to who I am is more important. The places I go, the people I meet, the cultures I experience will alway mold me to the person I am today, and to who I am becoming. However, I guess what I’m trying to say is this. In my case. You can take the girl out of the English countryside, but you can’t take her out of her floral dress.
Article By: Sophie Kemper