Monday, September 08, 2014

Gisele Bündchen Takes Aim At Critics In New Ad Campaign

Originally published on Marie Claire Australia. View it here.

The critics may be tough, but Gisele Bündchen is tougher. 

When the supermodel, and Forbes’ highest earning supermodel , was announced as the first non-athletic spokesperson for American active wear brand Under Armour, Bündchen was ready to prove herself to the haters. The ad for the “I Will What I Want” campaign premiered on Thursday, showing Bündchen kickboxing as negative comments like, “Stick to modelling sweetie,” canvas the walls around her. 

Visibly puffed and sweaty, her athletic prowess could not be doubted. The deeper the insults, the harder she punches. But given Bündchen’s incredible abs at least, was there really any doubt about her ability?

According to Under Armour, there was. The brand seemed to be prepared for the controversy of signing a model over a traditional athlete to its brand, with Leanne Fremar, Under Armour's creative director of its women’s division telling The Cut, “We are expecting that there will be people that question the authenticity of our choice and the authenticity of women’s choices. All of that commentary will be there for the audience to see in real time.”

The “I Will What I Want” campaign aims to celebrate powerful women and strength, with ballerina Misty Copeland and skier Lindsay Vonn having previously been featured.

Bündchen says of her attitude, “Having the strength to tune out negativity and remain focused on what I want gives me the will and confidence to achieve my goals.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interview: Pepa Knight of Jinja Safari

First published in BULL Magazine - check it out here or pick it up on campus at The University of Sydney
When I speak to musician Pepa Knight, he is sitting in a tipi. Assembled in his Long Jetty backyard from poles he bought from the Hunter Valley, and large enough to fit a Queen sized bed, a small table and pillows, he now calls it home. “Me and my girl are living in there at the moment, and it’s such a good place – like it can get cold obviously, but it’s so nice.” It becomes clear that Knight is anything but a conformist, which doesn’t come across more clearly than in his music.
Forming Jinja Safari after meeting fellow musician Marcus Azon at a beach campfire party in 2010, Knight soon became the face of the ‘forest rock’ band. Their worldly sounds, and so-called ‘ugly dancing’ drew audiences in, and made them a staple of the Australian music scene.
Though Knight had been working as a solo musician before the band came together, his solo attempts this time round have been bolstered by his increased profile. His music has similarities to the band’s well-known sound, yet it’s more raw and edgy, drawing on the intensity of his eccentric global influences. “With [Jinja Safari’s] last album, I did touch on some of those world sounds, but I feel like I got to go full throttle on those sorts of influences with this project.”
When he speaks he goes on continuous tangents, with every story leading to another. However his tone remains calm and casual, similarly to the construction of his music.You never know where a song will go or which instrument from a harp to a sitar will be used, but the music is still subtle, relying on the movement of sound rather than vocal intensity.
From his stories, it seems that it’s the world around him that creates this dichotomy between vibrancy and minimalism. He wrote and recorded the majority of his new work in India, drawing on the sounds and voices of the people he met. He describes one song he created during the Hindu festival of Diwali: “It’s this festival where they just have fireworks everywhere, endless fireworks in the street, and I recorded these samples of the fireworks, made a drum beat out of it and turned it into a song. I think that’s one of my favourites.” It’s clear he isn’t appropriating sound or tradition from Indian culture, but instead he finds music out of the ordinary everyday sounds he hears.
Indeed, on top of a fort in Rajasthan one morning sitting with a Sadhu (or Holy) Man, he created his first single, ‘Raah!’ Immediately inspired by his surroundings, with permission he recorded samples of the Sadhu Man’s voice and beats from the town to make the backbone of the song. He hesitated when trying to describe the gravity of the experience. “For me, I just wanted to escape everything, what was going on at home, and just live this crazy Sadhu life, so that’s basically where the song came from.” The rhythm and melodic focus of Indian music was drawn out in his songwriting over there, and in the creation of his album.
Upon returning to Australia with new music in tow, disaster struck. This time last year, he had a completed record that he planned on releasing. But when updating his iPhone, thinking he had copies of the album elsewhere, he deleted it. The record was gone, with only demos and sounds remaining.“Some days it was really hard to get motivated to get up and do it all again. But I got through it in the end and I re-recorded it all. It wasn’t good, but I felt like I did it better the second time anyway.”
Here, the tipi found its stride. As the studio was too hot in the summer heat, he built the tipi as his new studio. It seemed like a mini holiday in there, and we discussed the logistics of me building a similar tipi in my house. Though with limited space, Knight swayed me from that idea. And besides, I didn’t have an album to record – he did.
The result of the tipi music experience is a two-volume collection of songs titled Hypnotised, with part one being released in late September this year. After his first gig at GOODGOD Small Club early this August, he says he aims to tour a lot more. He established a band of musicians to tour with him who live on the streets surrounding his home, and hopes to continue the vibrant standard that Jinja Safari set in their live performances. As usual, the crowd is invited on stage to share the space, as Knight prefers it. He hates the divide between the artist and their audience, and even allowed the crowd to sit on the stage with him throughout the entire GOODGOD gig. But the ferns and vines that frequently decorated a Jinja show are gone, and a more futuristic vibe is in, as Knight and his band now wear 3D glasses and “weird outfits”, to spice up the music experience.
Funding the entire solo project himself, it’s obvious how much love Knight has for music. I ask if there will be a vinyl release of Hypnotised, and though expensive, he says he probably will just so he can have a copy. It’s the simplicity and naturalness of doing something out of pure happiness that is most moving for Knight, and it’s clear that, being such a part of him, he won’t be slowing down from creating music anytime soon.“It’s a big investment a project like this, but you end up just doing it for the love of it. When you have a vision of what you want to do physically, it’s really nice to just do it.”

Riot Girl

First appeared in BULL Magazine - check it out here or on campus at The University of Sydney.

Walking through Eveleigh on the way to class during Fashion Week, a statuesque off- duty model strode past me. I wouldn’t have given her a second glance if it wasn’t for her T-shirt, which in blaring black hand-painted letters read the statement, ‘Reject Racism’. Later that day, waiting at the bus stop on City Rd, I saw another who wore ‘Sexism Sucks’.

I was immediately intrigued by the idea, and noted how everyone around me began discussing the statements they saw. For Ollie Henderson, model, activist, and creator of the ‘Start The Riot’ T-shirt collection, this was her intention.
“The aim was to encourage young people to become politically aware and involved,” she says. “Obviously it’s sharing the message that’s on the shirt, but it was more about encouraging other people to do these kinds of things, wearing a T-shirt that says a message that you care about.You may not be the one to change the world, but someone might see that T-shirt and feel inspired.”
Feeling helpless with Australia’s political climate, she wanted to speak up and provoke discussion. Henderson designed and hand- painted 100 shirts for friends and colleagues to wear at this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. With statements from ‘Abort Abbott’ to ‘Welfare over Wealth’, and ‘Keep Tassie’s Bush, I Keep Mine’, they made a lot of noise.
Though this brings into question what role political fashion statements such as these play in our culture, and in the culture of activism today. In a technologically forward world where people want information fast, do bold, simple statements have a better reach than protests or essays?
University of Sydney Performance Studies teaching fellow and ‘Fashademic’ blogger Rosie Findlay doesn’t think so. “It’s one way of getting an idea across – visually spectacular stunts like this capture attention, but do so briefly. We see them, note them, then move on. So they might be good to briefly raise a talking point, but if not followed up with other actions or ongoing discussion, their ongoing impact is probably quite limited,” she says.
Henderson agrees, and believes following up on an original idea is the key to making lasting change. “I think you need the combination of both to really get somewhere,” she says.
It may not seem enough on the surface, but images and statements have always led political activism. Fashion’s role in creating some of these images, such as women wearing trousers before it was socially acceptable to do so, remain poignant and shocked others into action. Indeed, Findlay notes designers who are political in their collections such as Alexander McQueen, as well as individuals who dress in ways that challenge social conventions are successful in building social critique and commentary, “constantly challenging the perceptions of the people who encounter them.”
It’s in this regard that Henderson’s ‘Start The Riot’ collection builds momentum, following up her successful Fashion Week release with a new range of shirts, a zine exploring the issues she presented, and a Facebook group where people can discuss politics. Indeed, 20 per cent of every shirt sold goes to charities she personally selected, from Amnesty International to One Girl.
Sitting in Henderson’s Surry Hills bedroom/studio, it’s clear that she’s committed. The walls are covered with racks of half-finished shirts and whiteboards, while her desk is scattered with plans and empty cups of coffee. She shows me lists of future projects and collaborations that are in store for ‘House of Riot’, the umbrella term for “all the things we’re going to do.”With films and discussion groups lined up, they’ve also just begun working with UK based activist group, The Future, where Henderson started the Australian branch. Together, they’ve just had their first protest outside the Parliament House of NSW this August.
For Henderson and political fashion statements in general, that first shocking image of the clothes is only the top layer of activism. The ongoing work underneath that pushes for change is where the statements on the T-shirts come to life. “I do feel like when the political climate gets a bit rocky, the world speaks up and uses whatever medium it has at its disposal to discuss it. So if people are angry, we will see that,” she says. It’s clear, for Henderson, that this is only the start of the riot.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Baring All

Sophie Gallagher got Nekkid

This article was first published in Honi Soit.

When meeting a group of people for the first time, image is paramount. You dress up, put on make-up and ensure you are portraying your best self. But is it real? You conceal and alter what is conceptually you to provide what you understand as a better, more enhanced version of you. When I prepared to go to Japan with 18 people I had just met, I too altered myself to make a good impression. When boarding the plane, it never occurred to me that I would have to sacrifice this creation. But only two days later I was sitting with them, completely naked, in a steaming bamboo and stone tub.

Wandering into the hot springs of Hokkaido, there is nothing to hide.

Japan, as a volcanically active country, is scattered with an array of natural baths, traditionally known as Onsen. The Onsen have occupied an important place in Japanese culture since the Nara era- approximately 1300 years ago- when they were first used as Buddhist free rest houses.

With different minerals infusing the waters of the springs, each is said to have healing powers to solve illness. For the Japanese people, however, the true importance of the Onsen lies in the opportunity they provide to rest from the hectic nature of working life, and to melt down the hierarchical nature of society through its shear intimacy. Naked in the springs, everyone is equal.


As we travelled to our Hokkaido hotel, the tour guides on the bus excitedly told us that it doubled as an Onsen resort. Though keen to experience the traditional Japanese baths, we became apprehensive when we learned that you had to bathe in them entirely naked.

Walking into the outdoor baths soon after, what immediately surprised me was the normalcy of the situation. Having only just met the people I was bathing with, I had expected to be inhibited by awkwardness, and be protective of myself for the sake of others. Instead, I settled in and began to relax.  Around me were women of different shapes, types, and nationalities, all free and open about their bodies. Sitting together, hot and tired from the steam, what the world outside the stone walls perceived as beautiful didn’t seem to matter.

Hannah, lying in a bamboo tub, soon turned to us and remarked, “Is there anything more beautiful than seeing so many different body types so free?” What came out in torrents of relief and realisation were our thoughts surrounding body image, relationships and double standards. We spoke of how Western, patriarchal ideas of femininity had affected our actions, and how we perceived ourselves. Why did we groom ourselves, remove hair, wear lingerie? Was it for men, or for ourselves? This question was met with silence and denials: “No, I mean… of course we do it for ourselves.” What shocked me was how it didn’t seem like most believed it.

Reflecting on our responses, I assumed that contemporary Japanese understandings of body image would differ from our own, as being nude is such an open tradition there. Studies of Japanese perceptions of physical attractiveness state otherwise, though, with historian Rotem Koyner concluding in The Journal of Psychology that “the Western notion of physical attractiveness was one of the foremost imports that has been willingly embraced by Japan.” Consequently, it has been reported that Japanese women who range from very thin to normal weight overestimate their size and want to be thinner. It appears that traditional Japanese culture has lost out, and rampant Western modernisation has unfortunately succeeded.

This is perhaps reflected in the Onsen’s disappearance in rapid and modernized areas of Japan. Staying with a host family a few days later in the city of Sapporo, I was surprised to learn that our host mother, Shoko, had never experienced the hot springs despite living in Japan her whole life. She seemed embarrassed by the prospect, where her mother thought they were a natural and normal experience. These differences in generational thought align closely with ideas surrounding body image in Japan, which have become increasingly Western as time goes by.

Sitting in Shoko’s dining room later that day, I noticed that she ate western style health food whilst we went with traditional Japanese. She later asked me what make up I wore, and we compared our products. Most of hers were Australian, with only a couple of bottles labeled with Japanese text. It seemed that image, for her, was based more on western ideals than on Japanese, and it occurred to me then that when I sat in the Onsen, most of the Japanese women there were aged 40 or above, where Shoko was much younger. For all the traditional cultural skills she shared with us which were passed to her generationally, from calligraphy to cooking, she appeared to forsake cultural image and aim for Western-style perfection.

The Onsen is not only a place of relaxation, but also a place of equality- a place where everyone is accepted for whoever they are. It’s unfortunate that intruding Western ideals seem to be undermining its role in Japanese society.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sydney Film Festival - The Last Impresario

Tonight I saw The Last Impresario as part of the Sydney Film Festival. Directed and written by Gracie Otto, it explores the life of legendary producer Michael White, from the 60s to now. Though it is him as an enigma, rather than his work, that makes him so interesting. An eternal optimist who has found talent in some of the strangest places, he's always on the mark about what will make it big. He was the first to speak to Anna Wintour about a young model called Kate Moss. He produced a West End production called The Rocky Horror Show. He even brought small groups of comedians to the big screen, namely Monty Python and The Comic Strip Presents (Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planner, Peter Richardson, to name a few). Even when his deals have gone wrong, he hasn't shown malice towards those that swindled him. His career has been based on trust and a zest for life that is uncommon in many. 

Despite his age and ill health, he is still a party boy hopping from dinner to dinner with some of the biggest names over the last fifty years. Most peculiar is the range of people he knows. Photos of him at a table with Naomi Watts and Margaret Thatcher on one night, casually catching up with Mick Jagger in Cannes. All the while, he is never seen without his trusty camera in hand, which has amounted to over 30 albums of vivid history. 

He has led an incredibly interesting life, focusing on living in the present and never stopping. One of the final quotes of the film described a philosophy he has lived by, where you just have to keep exploring and living in every way now, because you can rest when you're dead. For a man who has been everywhere and done almost everything, this is never truer. 

Photos courtesy of  The Last Impresario and their archives. The above scan is from InStyle Magazine.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Art in Focus: Marilyn Minter

I've been in love with Marilyn Minter recently. Her paintings and photographs portray femininity in its rawest and roughest forms, magnifying a sense of struggle and performance that makes its way into appearance. 

Her work is an odd matching of glamour, fashion and decay, where a piercing light shining upon her art allows no room for lies, only a close up on the balance between imperfection and perfection.

Malcolm Harris for the Huffington Post called this New York based artist's work "like wonderfulness on steroids, glamour on crack and iconography on cocaine", and he's right. Her painting drips with New York indulgence; the best and worst of the city captured in a frame. The urban realism of these pieces, and the inability to sometimes differentiate between her photographs and paintings, makes it all the more real. 

Check out more of her work here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jennifer Saunders at the Sydney Opera House

Last week I saw Jennifer Saunders speak about her life, documented in her recent autobiography Bonkers, at the Sydney Opera House. It was incredible and her humour, words and acting didn't disappoint.

As a long time fan of this Absolutely Fabulous woman, I was so excited to see her for the first time since she last came to Australia in 2008 for the French & Saunders Still Alive show. The difference was this time, I could finally have a glass of champagne during the show, in true Saunders Style.

She was so open, flirty and fun. Bouncing around the stage and jumping in front of the audience, I failed to recall a time when she had been so animated in an interview. Her humour was right on point too, as many technical errors plagued the show and she screamed, "but this is the Opera House?!" At one point where the tech guy replaced her microphone and put the hand held one on the table, she mused, "I'll have to take this with me and use it later for pleasure." There were some gasps from the more conservative, but mainly cheeky laughter filled the audience.

A slideshow of images of her life flashed over the crowd as she narrated with joy all the crazy elements of her life. Dreams of being an Olympian equestrian on her pony as a young girl, trips to India to write a film script with Goldie Hawn and Ruby Wax, and chronicling the path from day-dreaming student with no plans, to Comedy Goddess with the Comic Strip, F&S and AbFab. She even spoke about her husband, Adrian Edmondson, and how they moved from comedy buddies to married. The interviewer queried, "So your husband is a Celebrity MasterChef, what's his dish?" She shot back, "I'm his dish!" It became clear that it was her quick wit that has made her both an incredible actor and comedian, as well as a successful wife and mother.

There was also an opportunity for questions and answers in front of the entire Opera House. I felt I shouldn't let the opportunity go to waste, but I had so many questions I didn't know what to ask. In the end, I just left it with a simple one: "What was your favourite French and Saunders moment out of every series?" She said the Lucky Bitches, which is linked above, and spoke about it. It was fantastic! 

Another very drunken woman grabbed the microphone and began talking about how the beaches in England are less sunny and that's why she doesn't have nice skin like Jennifer's. Jen just simply replied, "Who are you?" The drunken woman would come up several more times, screaming "do you want my mobile number", and other misguided questions which the audience and Jennifer loved. In the end, Jen asked her to keep asking questions because it was providing so much good material.

After the show everyone lined up around the curves of the Opera House to get our books signed. When my turn came to meet her, it threw me right back to 2008 when I was 14 and starstruck. The feeling hasn't changed. She signed my book and laughed when I said I saw her all those years ago when I was much younger. She is still lovely and so happy - such a pleasure to meet someone who lives up to expectation.

Overall the night was incredible, and seeing her speak again in such an amazing location will be a highlight of my entire year.