Eventually, by Emma Laird


We worked with model Emma Laird, from Models 1, in our sustainable fashion story for issue 42, take a peek here. We’re thrilled that Emma has just written her first novel: Eventually,. Here’s an extract and interview with Emma about her inspiration.

We ate salt and vinegar crisps here. We talked and laughed with the old locals who had their regular seats around the room. Through the alcove to my left led into a small room taken up by a pool table and rack of old cues of different sizes. There were still holes in the ceiling where I had, on numerous occasions, punctured with my cue in light anger at my defeat, to which the owner had always laughed off while his Jack Russell had run to collect the falling dust with his tongue. 

It felt wrong coming here alone as if the place had turned sad in our absence - or my presence, alone. I finished my drink and left with a goodbye to a girl I did not know behind the bar. I took one last look at the outside, with its beautiful brickwork and arched doorway, and the windows that were so poxy you might question why they were there. So much character deserved to hold such memories. I didn’t think I would ever return here, so I smiled and turned my back on another one of my favourite places. 

If her touch were a sound 
it would be 
the soft crisp crunching of leaves 
amongst the silent of the forest
it would be
the glide of fingers
over the finest of silks
the rustle of sheets 
masking the natter of morning birds
the delicate crackle of a cigarette 
as you inhale its fumes 
and see the red burn dance downwards
chasing your clutched fingers
what if you still crave something more 
if crisp sheets and cigarettes aren't enough
to mask what was before
you might hope her touch 
to be more like
the jab of a needle 
the burn of your throat at the passing of whisky 
the fading pain of a hit to your hip bone
from some hiding furniture
the breeze floating around the wound
 of a scab that you just reopened 


Tell us about novel? Who are the main characters? The main character is Kora. It’s the telling of how she meets her boyfriend (Bryce, a musician) during a summer of English music festivals. Then while working in Utah, she falls in love with a woman named Grace and has this seemingly impossible task of deciding what to do – trying to follow her heart and not hurt anyone in the process.

While you might say it’s a romantic novel, it’s better described as a story of self acceptance, of learning to be okay with your own company and your own thoughts. Kora realises you can’t use these exterior things (relationships) as distractions from that. 

The book is written in first person, how did you become the character in your novel when writing it? I find it much easier not to judge the character when I’m writing in first person. It felt really authentic while writing, I found it easy to keep her character traits consistent. Though I must admit, the main character is a lot like me in the way she thinks, not how she is perceived, but definitely how she thinks. The book is almost a vent for my thoughts that maybe I’m a little ashamed of. I shielded myself, I used those thoughts but changed them into Kora’s – I turned them into fiction. It let me offload. I could write almost like I would in a diary. 

So in a way, it’s autobiographical? Definitely. I think why I’m so happy with this book is because I’ll pick it up in five years’ time, read a poem or a chapter and be reminded of a moment in my life. Not a lot of what happens in the book literally happened to me, but it stemmed from something which I used as fuel to evoke the emotions into the plot. It’s very personal while also being hidden behind the story – I love that, the mystery in people still not knowing what bits are  from my life, but getting that really raw and personal reading experience. 

Tell us about the process of writing your novel? I’ve already written bits of fiction with no real motive. As something to do, usually while travelling – me and a friend would write bits and talk of book plot ideas, send extracts back and forth and have fun with it. I am a model, so I am on my own a lot – that was my go-to boredom killer. With this book, I was thinking a lot about a past relationship, I was yearning this perfect guy in my life and so I created him in this book – with all the best qualities and moments from past experiences with boys. I was releasing that nostalgia of my past relationships and little personal moments that could otherwise be forgotten.

Where do you like to write? I wrote the novel in a coffee shop in Crystal Palace below my apartment. I then started going almost every day and writing little bits. In fact, I was writing this book when I shot a story with Oh Comely last year, but at that point I still didn’t know it would be a book.

Top tips for writer's block?

There are three things I’ve found found really help: 

 1. Going for a walk, preferably at night, sometimes with music, sometimes without is good to really address your thoughts and take in your surroundings. That usually leads to some messy writing in my notes page until I get back home to my laptop. 

2. Hanging with close friends. The ones where you have those deep chats about random things like aliens and the future. In January, when the book was pretty much done, I spent time in Devon with my friend shooting a film there and we chatted for a while in the dark of her attic before sleeping. That stuck with me so much that I added that into a scene with Kora and Grace in Utah. My friends should be careful of what they say I guess, it might just end up in a book.. 

3. Reading. The Shining, weirdly, has been a really big help in writing. Stephen King’s similes and metaphors are beautiful, he gives you such a vivid view in your head of the story, and that was something I really wanted to replicate. Reading different authors is important too, to learn their different styles of writing. My NY resolution was to read a book a month.

Did you enjoy writing the book? Was the process as you imagined it would be? I loved it. I really did. It was so therapeutic. This past month was a bit technical and pressured with getting it out there and making sure everything’s perfect. I’m still absolutely petrified for people to read it, I really am. But I also know that there are some really beautiful moments in there, I really hope people can take something from this book about being content in life, with themselves and their own thoughts for company. 

Would you write another? For sure. I’m excited to really challenge myself with a different genre and style of writing. I want to write third person, outside of the world that I’ll be writing about. I already have so many ideas, I’m at that really exciting stage, anything can happen and that’s exciting. 

You can order Emma’s book Eventually, from Amazon.

Thinking outside the box with Bloom & Wild

Are you an ‘Outside the Box’ thinker? Bloom & Wild are inviting Oh Comely readers to unlock their creativity by designing a letterbox this March. 


Bloom & Wild’s mission is to make sending and receiving flowers a joy again, so that you can be there from anywhere for those you love. We’re on board with that idea. And they are calling all creatives who want to join their high-profile packaging portfolio to submit their designs for the brand’s well-loved letterbox. The winner will receive a commission of £2,500 and have their box seen by thousands of Bloom & Wild’s customers.

Over the years, Bloom & Wild have collaborated with brands and designers to create beautiful boxes for their bestselling letterbox flowers. Brands include Liberty London, Boden, Mother of Pearl and Peggy & Kate. Like us, creativity is at the heart of what they do, and they’re excited to begin the search for a new, up-and-coming designer to create the next pattern for the letterbox.

The Design Brief:

The theme for their range is ‘Summer Brights’. Featuring vibrant cerise and coral tones, the flowers across this range are joyful, energetic and bold.

Keep reading to find out more…


Right, read carefully, this is the important bit, to enter and submit:

Send a mood board to www.bloomandwild.com/outside-the-box that demonstrates your box-design concept. You can include a rationale to understand where your ‘Summer Brights’ idea came from, plus examples of previous work you have done to show your style.

The winning designer will be asked to make their idea fit across the outside and inside of the box, plus the finer details. For example, the sticker and ribbon around the flowers’ cellophane and a matching gift card for customers to add at checkout.

To submit your work, click here, where you can upload a digital mood board, a scan of your sketchbook or whatever works for you.

THE PRIZE: We’ll announce the judges’ (there are four judges, including our very own editor Alice Snape) favourite entries on Monday 8 April 2019. The winner of this competition will be commissioned £2,500 by Bloom & Wild to turn their idea into a box pattern for the July/August ‘Summer Brights’ collection.

This also includes an original piece of design for the box outer and inner, plus suggestions for a sticker design and ribbon pattern/colour and a gift card cover design or designs (at A6 spec) that ties into your theme and can be selected by customers at checkout so the packaging sits as a set.


**The deadline is midnight on Sunday 31 March 2019 to submit your entry.

Good luck! Enter, here.

An evening with Scarlet Sabet, Zia Ahmed & Rose McGowan

On 27 February, we were invited to an exclusive evening of poetry readings: ‘Love in Other Words’ organised by cultural producer and curator Ryan Lanji at the Hoxton Holborn hotel. In between sips of wine and nibbles of olives, a room of about 30 people nestled in to listen to Zia Ahmed read poems about lost love and familial ties, Scarlet Sabet read from her new book ‘Camille’, and then we were treated to a special reading of the Erica Jung poem ‘Alcestis On The Poetry Circuit’ by activist, actress and author of memoir ‘Brave’, Rose McGowan. Here we have Erica Jung’s poem chosen by Rose and a poem from Scarlet’s new collection for you to read.

Rose McGowan by Lily Vetch

Rose McGowan by Lily Vetch

Alcestis On The Poetry Circuit by Erica Jung

(In Memoriam Marina Tsvetayeva, Anna Wickham, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare¹s sister, etc., etc.) 

The best slave 
does not need to be beaten. 
She beats herself. 

Not with a leather whip, 
or with stick or twigs, 
not with a blackjack 
or a billyclub, 
but with the fine whip 
of her own tongue 
& the subtle beating 
of her mind 
against her mind. 

For who can hate her half so well 
as she hates herself? 
& who can match the finesse 
of her self-abuse? 

Years of training 
are required for this. 
Twenty years 
of subtle self-indulgence, 
until the subject 
thinks herself a queen 
& yet a beggar - 
both at the same time. 
She must doubt herself 
in everything but love. 

She must choose passionately 
& badly. 
She must feel lost as a dog 
without her master. 
She must refer all moral questions 
to her mirror. 
She must fall in love with a cossack 
or a poet. 

She must never go out of the house 
unless veiled in paint. 
She must wear tight shoes 
so she always remembers her bondage. 
She must never forget 
she is rooted in the ground. 

Though she is quick to learn 
& admittedly clever, 
her natural doubt of herself 
should make her so weak 
that she dabbles brilliantly 
in half a dozen talents 
& thus embellishes 
but does not change 
our life. 

If she's an artist 
& comes close to genius, 
the very fact of her gift 
should cause her such pain 
that she will take her own life 
rather than best us. 

& after she dies, we will cry 
& make her a saint.

Scarlett Sabet by Lily Vetch

Scarlett Sabet by Lily Vetch

For Jack by Scarlett Sabet

You who let your own gift decay
You who I remember everyday, to honour my own face and pen,
You, who’s face I saw reflected in my grandfathers, Catholic forefathers
You who flinched unbearable under scrutiny
Who tried to exist as lightly as possible, through your own desecration, crucifixion, mortification
Who’s tears and fears were exacerbated by the Ocean
You who uncomfortable in applause put down your own book
You who destroyed your beauty with hops and yeast, smeared the vertiginous caverns of your face into red loss and shame
You who could not stand even five decades
You who were thrown drowning into the terrible sea and asked to analyse your breathing, your own loss of breathing and failing lungs You who wrote, anticipated the flesh, sampled flesh, was offered flesh then turned and left
You whose grave I gave my roses, lilies, boot heels and tears.
You who tried the unattainable, tasted the forbidden then lashed your own back in repentance
You who rode the highways, superior to sleep and disease for seven sun cycles
You who chose the unavailable for deep down you knew your destiny was unassailable
You who waited for a coyote of the road to say: as above so below You who held Beatitude so high and while you are not here you are everywhere
You who opted out in despair, you have created love everywhere
You who were born in the third month of the year, your Pisces stellium extinguishing your fire Mars, casting you the ceaseless Neptune King followed by fish all your life
You swallowed dust and oil, you kept the rhythm of a cool, cool Aquarius heart, that detached, split everyone’s loins in half

and Sewards’s progeny in hot Texas dust, his common law wife, her german face sunken of any life
You your eyes earnest soulful offered up the truth to be spat at like a lumberjack
You too young and pure, your voice like Massachusetts honey, but gliding
oh Jack O Lantern you burnt so bright, you were the guiding light,found guilty of illuminating the way sacrificed at dawn light, dear brother Jackson, you’ve got an emergency message, a date,
to sail the mystic sea, to swim with fishes you thought would be safer but the sea was a demon that promised You danger, you
were possessed with evil, your thoughts red and blue, repulsed by everyone that professed to love you
and I know, and you know, and Jimmy knows:
that we were all born rip torn and screaming, baptised in our bleeding, always chasing a womb of warmth heat and light in the desolate wasteland of life

Muscle Memory by Anna Liber Lewis

Artist Anna Liber Lewis and musician Kieran Hebden (better known as Four Tet) are life-long friends, and their deep-rooted dynamic fuels Muscle Memory: an exhibition of Anna’s art soundtracked by exclusive Four Tet music. We were lucky to see a live performance at Elephant West in London. The exhibition is on until 17 March, so we had a chat with Anna to find out more.

Childhood friends: Anna Liber Lewis and Kieran Hebden (Four Tet)

Childhood friends: Anna Liber Lewis and Kieran Hebden (Four Tet)

Anna, I adored your exhibition, and found it to be a really interesting experience looking at your art and listening to Four Tet, tell me how the collaboration came about? Thank you. I’m so pleased you had a good time. It was all organic. I listen to music when I am painting. And it became an important part of my process. I was spending a lot of time dancing to Kieran’s New Energy album, and it went from there really. I went down this rabbit hole, through music, that took me to our youth and the music we used to go out dancing to. I mentioned this to Kieran and asked him what he thought about putting a show together, he was into it!

What's it like working with your friend? Did you have any input into the music, and vice versa, Kieran with your art? Working with Kieran was so easy. We’ve known each other all our lives and we fell into a symbiotic way of working. I’d send him an image of a work in progress or track I’d been listening to and we’d reminisce about past times. Then he started sending me new music he was creating. We found ourselves communicating through the work we were creating. When you’ve known someone so long and you both work with your intuition, it doesn’t take much to have a meaningful exchange. We were both in charge of our specialist areas. The input into each other’s work was minimal, which I loved. I was always surprised by what he was creating, it made me listen harder to my gut. He changed a track slightly after my dad died, because it was too painful to listen to – too linked to that traumatic time. Layering became more important for me in this body of work: painting over, erasing, scrubbing back, his music helped influence this.

Cadence by Anna Liber Lewis

Cadence by Anna Liber Lewis

Tell me about the physical process of painting… It’s taken me a while to realise that I paint from my gut. In the past I have likened it to boxing or sex. I really love to create quite big paintings so that the canvases are almost a stand in for the body, it enables me to move my whole body, feeling the sensations in my arms and legs as I move myself and/or the canvas around. I love a good vigorous brushing action or squat to get to a place on the canvas. It can get exciting in the studio, although I wouldn’t want an audience! Painting is a unique space and it requires time – time to develop and time to digest.

 Where does your inspiration come from? I spent a bit of time in the Natural History Museum thinking about whales while making this body of work. I was trying to wrap my head around quite complex books on the theory of time. Mostly it came from trying to be present, to listen to my body and let the painting create this kind of feedback loop, which comes with time.

What’s the thinking behind the title of this body of work ‘Muscle Memory’? Titles are funny, sometimes they just arise. I’ll be painting, and a word or phrase will enter my head. Other times titles require a lot of thought, I may need to retrace my steps and follow the thinking or research I was doing during the making of a painting. Muscle Memory just came to me. I liked it for this show as it points to something physical; athletes and dancers talk about a muscle memory that develops after training. It implies that time is integral to the process, that maybe it can be left dormant, but the body can click back into it via a sixth sense: that’s what painting is like, you develop a muscle memory. It’s like learning something physical like swimming, which you can’t learn by reading a book, you must do it often, develop the muscle memory. Kieran and I liked that title as it could be interpreted in many ways and it also pointed to history of a very long friendship.

Felt(unspoken) by Anna Liber Lewis

Felt(unspoken) by Anna Liber Lewis

How does it feels to put something out there that you’ve worked on, on your own, into a very public space?  Once paintings are complete and go out into the world, they become something else and you must let go of them. This exhibition is quite a unique experience for me. I had to make a large body of work in a relatively short period of time, which was punctuated by one of the most significant personal losses in my life. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to process it all. I’m so glad that the show has touched people that don’t know me and it has introduced me to people I may not have met otherwise. I’m so happy to have had this experience with Kieran. When he played live in the gallery I went into a very private, personal space. I was able to dance like no one was watching. I almost didn’t notice the crowd, I just felt the energy between Kieran and me. It was good to have our families in the space and I’m sure my dad was there for a moment. Both our dads would have got a real kick out of it.

Elephant x Anna Liber Lewis x Four Tet: Muscle Memory is on until Sunday, 17 March, 2019 at 62 Wood Lane, London, W12 7RH. Find out more here.

What We're Loving for spring

It’s International Women’s Day! And we’re in office today working on our next issue, celebrating all the wonderful women who feature on our pages. To tide you over to the next issue, here are some of the bits we’re loving right now… we hope you love them too.

Compiled by Alice Snape, Frances Ambler, Bre Graham and Terri-Jane Dow


Lynn Enright’s Vagina: A Re-Education
With a timely publication date (the day before International Women’s Day), Lynn Enright’s Vagina: A Re-Education, is the most necessary book we’ve read this year. “It tackles the lack of education around women’s bodies and how they work with zero squeamishness and offers facts that I, a 31-year-old vagina owner, had absolutely no idea about,” says our bookclub editor Terri-Jane. It’s frank and fascinating, and provides much-needed information.

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Some of our favourite artists and illustrators have created work for International Women's Day available on Everpress. We’re feeling all the emotions for Sarah Maxwell’s Heartbreaker and Rachel Louise Hodgson’s Mine tees. Each is available for three weeks only, so don’t hang around.

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K Swiss have teamed up with Amber Vittoria to create ‘The Space is for You’ shoe. Known for challenging conventions about the “ideal” female figure through her art, this collab represents empowering women being comfortable in their own skin.
K Swiss will be donating 30% of all sales made today on kswiss.co.uk to You Make it, a charity empowering young unemployed women with the confidence, skills, knowledge and experiences needed to further their careers.

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Sheets with a social cause… Treat yourself to something soft to sleep in. Rise and Fall make soft, simple sheets that raise money for the homeless charity Centre Point. Plastic-free packaging, low impact dyes and chemicals will all help you have a better night's sleep. Prices from £99, riseandfall.co

For emergency use soft shoulder, serigraph, 1966. Image courtesy of the Corita Art Center Immaculate Heart Community Los Angeles

For emergency use soft shoulder, serigraph, 1966. Image courtesy of the Corita Art Center Immaculate Heart Community Los Angeles

We’re taking some cues on to how to make a real impact from the work of Corita Kent, currently on display at London’s House of Illustration. Kent harnessed the power of Pop Art to get her message across, in dialogue with issues ranging from the Vietnam War to feminism and the civil rights movement. Oh, and did we mention that she was also a nun? It’s on until 12 May.

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Siri Hustvedt novels are always inventive, exhilarating reads – where you don’t know quite where you’ll end up. Memories of the Future, out on 19 March, shows a 20-something ‘SH’ making her way in New York. Worth the cover price just for the introduction to the fabulous (and real) Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven alone, a Dada artist who is very likely responsible – but uncredited for – one of the 20th century’s most famous artworks.

Photo: Kristy Noble / Styling: Gemma Therese Pearce

Photo: Kristy Noble / Styling: Gemma Therese Pearce

In our latest issue, we shine a light on the beauty products that are not only good for us, but also good for the world we live in. It’s made us really stop and think about what’s in our bathroom cupboards. We love this green clay face mask, from By Sarah London which contains matcha tea. We’re also pleased to discover the vegan hair dyes by Maria Nila for when we fancy a change. See what other brands we love in our early spring issue.


The first ever menstrual cup was created by actress Leona W. Chalmers in 1937. And now there are lots of amazing cups to choose from, including Intimina who have created this eye-opening timeline.

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Why not celebrate Women’s Day by buying a copy of Oh Comely mag for a wonderful woman in your life?

Creating community with illustrator Erin Aniker

London-based artist Erin Aniker was raised by an activist mother, is part of a female and non-binary led creative collective and was influenced by feminist theory at university. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that her bold and colourful illustrations often depict the faces, hands, relationships, nose rings and nail varnish of women. Ahead of International Women’s Day (Friday 8 March), she speaks to us about her feminist upbringing and her obsession with cobalt blue.

 Words: Hannah Clugston

Erin Aniker

Erin Aniker

You have discussed going on protests with your mother when you were young, how do you continue her legacy of protest? I still go to protest marches. I am also part of a collective called We are Here UK, which is a group of women and non-binary black and Asian minority ethnic artists across all disciplines. We started it after the EU referendum because there was a spike in anti-immigration rhetoric and I think a few of us felt quite angry about it. I suggested we do an event or an exhibition where we explore what it means for us to be British and from another background as well. For me, I can be British and Turkish – they are not mutually exclusive identities. I like to think of We are Here UK as a form of activism. Also, in my illustration, if I get asked to do an editorial commission on a group of people, I will make sure that group is inclusive and include as many different types of people as possible. I will not go to the default setting of drawing lots of white middle class men.

Would you call your work feminist? I would. I am proud to call myself a feminist. I don’t make work with the sole intention of it being feminist. I think because I am so passionate about it and I am a feminist, I guess it just comes through in my work. When I create a piece of work, at the end I check it and ask am I conveying the right message?

'Act!' by Erin Aniker

'Act!' by Erin Aniker

When did you realise you were a feminist? I think from quite a young age. I feel quite privileged to have had the upbringing that I did because my mum didn’t raise me and my twin brother separately based on our gender. That isn’t necessarily radical or feminist, but I noticed that a lot of my friends didn’t have the same experience. If my brother was out playing in the garden, she’d make sure I went out and climbed trees and did whatever I wanted to as well. And, if we were cooking, she’d make my brother do it too. So, I didn’t see things as gender-based tasks or roles, I saw them as things that everyone did.

So, you were raised a feminist? Yeah, and I would say my brother was raised a feminist as well because gender wasn’t something that affected our childhood from a parenting point of view. They didn’t treat us differently, they didn’t dress us in certain things and they didn’t give us specific toys. I am sure they did certain things that were gendered, but I think compared to a lot of my friends my upbringing was quite feminist.

illustration for AIGA Eye on Design

illustration for AIGA Eye on Design

Were women always a central interest for you in your work then? Definitely. I have automatically been drawn towards drawing women. My mum has always been a key figure in my life and a lot of my friends happen to be women. But, I think that my primary interest is people. I am quite interested in how things like culture affect us – I think being British and Turkish has impacted my work. My dad is a language teacher and speaks five different languages, and I grew up in east London so I am very interested in people and culture because it was something I was raised in. Hands feature quite a lot in my work – sometimes there are just hands and no faces, which removes gender but also reflects how I am really interested in people, community and how we can support each other, which I think is quite important at the moment.

In terms of the aesthetics of your work, what inspires you? I am inspired by Turkish textiles and ceramics. There is a strong use of cobalt blue in a lot of them, and there was one point where I was working in blue – like every single shade of blue – and then I started dressing in blue! I found it a really calming colour. I have come up with this colour palette that is bold and vibrant because I am trying to put things out there that are quite joyful, colourful and positive. London can be quite grey, so sometimes I even find myself dressing in bright colours.


How do you think we should celebrate International Women’s Day? I am a little bit cynical about International Women’s Day or anything that is just one day to celebrate just one thing, but I do think women need to be celebrated. I guess, the best thing to do would be to use the day to support women artists and to support the women in your life. Champion the women that you love and respect, and advocate for women’s and human rights. And, if you are in a position of power, think about the amount of women and non-binary women of colour you have in your employment – are you paying them properly? Is there a wage gap between your employees?

Riposte X Amnesty International UK | Protection Exhibition

Riposte X Amnesty International UK | Protection Exhibition

Finally, choose one of your illustrations and tell me why it is important to you. I was commissioned to create an illustration about organ donation and religion and it is lots of hands from different backgrounds praying – or with hands clasped together – around a heart. On a similar theme, the illustration I created for Amnesty International to commemorate the anniversary of the Human Rights Act is lots of different hands all holding onto each other in a circle. The focus is on humanity and what we have in common as opposed to our differences. Both works are bright, powerful and positive. I think those two images definitely sum up what I want my work to stand for and the kind of work I want to create in the future too.



Erin Aniker will be at The Other Art Fair hosting a Protest & Power illustration workshop on Sunday 17 March, 11am-6pm. Erin has created a range of poster templates based on feminist icons or you can draw your personal feminist hero from scratch. Visit www.erinaniker.com


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How did you meet your mates? Tell us all in our survey


In our latest issue, we loved sharing stories of how we met our mates – and so we’re keen to know more about how you met yours... Share it all – from the moment your eyes met to the gossip and fall outs – in our friendship survey

Illustrations by Ella Masters

Illustrations by Ella Masters

“I’ve always desired that kind of friendship that endured time. Those bridesmaids at weddings whose sobbing speeches involved lines such as “I’ve known her since she was two!”. I wanted that Sex and the City kind of friendship. People who were going to be there for you at the drop of a WhatsApp message. And my friends didn’t just ask if everything was alright – they made it so.” In issue 47, Tahmina Begum writes about the friends that she made at school.

Share everything about your friends (well, as much as you dare, without starting a bust up) in our survey here. And we promise not to stitch you up to your mates.

Pssst, as extra incentive, one lucky reader will win a bundle of books (which you can also share with your pals)

Dorothea Tanning's Gothic wonderland

The first UK exhibition devoted to her work has just opened at London’s Tate Modern, so we take a peek inside the Gothic wonderland of surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning

“Women artists, there is no such thing – or person,” said Dorothea Tanning in 1990 (when she was 80 years old). “It’s just as much a contradiction in terms as ‘man artist’ or ‘elephant artist’. You may be a woman and you may be an artist; but the one is a given and the other is you.” However, for me, her disturbing, creepy and striking images are inextricably tied to issues of gender. Her world is female-dominated, a contemplation of what it means to be a woman. So timeless, and yet ahead of its time and more relevant than ever. 

Tanning wrote poetry, painted, made sculptures, her career spanned 70 years yet her name is hardly ever mentioned alongside her more famous (male) counterparts (including her own husband Max Ernst). She was born in 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois and studied painting in Chicago. Her first encounter with surrealism was in the 1930s, in New York. However her surrealist heart meant that when Tanning was a child, she shocked her family by painting a naked woman with leaves for hair. “Was I a tiny surrealist? [...] Maybe surrealist painters were children with years, playing with the irrational,” wrote Tanning in her memoir Between Lives: An Artist And Her World. Tanning also escaped the boredom of her hometown – although she admits to having a happy childhood – by reading Gothic novels, she also loved Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which you can definitely see elements of in her works.

Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012),   Family Portrait,  1954 Oil paint on canvas Acquired in 1977. Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art modern/ Centre de création industrielle Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais /image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI © DACS, 2018

Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012), Family Portrait, 1954
Oil paint on canvas
Acquired in 1977. Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art modern/ Centre de création industrielle
Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais /image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI
© DACS, 2018

Tanning’s artworks enchant me; they pull you in with all their layers and details – rabbit holes, if you will. They speak to my own thoughts and, for me, feminism is at the heart of that. There are endless open doors and there is chaos in domestic spaces. She subverts our expectations. Mothers reject their nurturing roles. Women escape the boredom of married life. Fathers turn into giants. Familiarities are made strange. You see this in her 1954 painting Family Portrait. Tanning plays with scale, commenting on hierarchy within the family unit. A father watches over the table, his huge body spilling off the canvas, his glasses Demon Headmaster-like look as if they are hypnotising his wife who is sitting next to him at the table. Her eyes are frozen, perhaps she is controlled by her over-bearing husband. She looks very young too, in fact like she could also be his daughter. The maid, who also looks like she could be the man’s wife, is the size of the dog. Dogs you’ll see are a recurring theme in Tanning’s work and life.

Tanning chose not to have children, a radical move for the time. “I’m very much against the arrangement of procreation,” she wrote. Her choice to not become a mother is embodied in Maternity (1946), the most famous work of a series of the same name. The first time I saw it at Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, I felt a deep connection with it and my own internal debate about motherhood and whether it is something I want from my life. The mother looks worried, drawn and tired, she is dressed in a dirty nightgown, and she’s standing isolated on a grubby rug in the desert. The baby she is holding is huge and slightly grotesque with a face like an old man. Motherhood is not portrayed as a favourable choice here. The painting also features a little dog (she had many as pets) with a baby face, which is much cuter than the baby. Tanning perhaps using this figure in the way Frida Kahlo painted her pet monkeys.

Dorothea Tanning,   Stanza,  1978 Oil paint on canvas. The Byrd Collection, Arizona. © DACS, 2018

Dorothea Tanning, Stanza, 1978
Oil paint on canvas. The Byrd Collection, Arizona.
© DACS, 2018

But it was her self-portrait Birthday (1942) that really changed the course of Tanning’s life. She depicts herself with bare breasts and no shoes standing behind a monkey-like creature with wings. She’s wearing a skirt of long, green tendrils, which you only realise when you look closely are tiny human bodies, she looks as if she’s just stepped out of a Shakespeare play. One of the many reasons I love her work so much, is that you have to really study it to notice every detail. You can go back to each work many times over and still spot something new. The figure/Tanning is not smiling, and her pose could be read as either self-assured or worried. The floor is tilted, and she grasps at a doorknob. But behind that door is another open door, and another and another. A common motif in Tanning’s work, one that disorientates you, throws you off balance. Because how do you know what each of the doors mean? Endless possibilities, something we cannot see beyond the canvas, perhaps turmoil, adventure or something else? Is she arriving or leaving? One of Tanning’s works in the Tate exhibition even has an actual wooden door in the middle of it.

It was at this time that Tanning met painter Max Ernst. Ernst’s wife at the time, infamous art collector Peggy Guggenheim, had sent him to check out Tanning’s work for an exhibition of women artists she was curating. Tanning did not want to be included in any exhibition that called her a “woman artist”, she refused to be classified (even as a surrealist) and this may be a tiny part of the reason that her story has been hidden, slipped through the cracks in history, and her work overshadowed. Tanning and Ernst fell deeply in love. It was Ernst who titled the peice Birthday, to announce her birth as a surrealist, he was captivated by it. After his first visit, the couple played chess every day for a week. Then he moved in, divorced Peggy, married Tanning and they relocated to Arizona before finally moving to France. 

Perhaps hinting at those games she played in their courtship, in 1944, Tanning painted Endgame in which a high-heeled shoe stamps upon a bishop’s mitre with so much force that it almost pushes through a chessboard. The queen here is clearly the leader. Tanning often felt that her role as Ernst’s wife overshadowed her work, and thought it unfair that the same could not be said for him.

Dorothea Tanning,  Portrait de famille (Family Portrait),  1977 Oil paint on canvas. The Destina Foundation (New York, US) © DACS, 2019

Dorothea Tanning, Portrait de famille (Family Portrait), 1977
Oil paint on canvas. The Destina Foundation (New York, US) © DACS, 2019

From the 1950s, when she was working in Paris, Tanning’s paintings become more abstract and loose. Insomnias (1957) is one such work; it’s disorientating and, until you study it, you don’t even notice the big toe and face hiding out in the corner. She also painted another family portrait in 1977, starkly different to the one she painted in 1946, this version has writhing naked bodies entwined together – it looks more like a threesome plus a barely-visible dog, than it does a family portrait. Yep, her work is still quite weird and surreal even in its abstract form.

In the 1960s, she started making soft sculptures out of fabric. A 1976 film called Insomnia by Peter Scharmoni (which you can view at the end of the Tate exhibition) shows Tanning sewing the cushion-like creations together using a Singer sewing machine. It’s wonderful to see the creation of the works you have just viewed in the hands of the artist. I watched the film twice. You also get a glance at the Pekingnese dogs she owned, running down the stairs behind the soft sculptures Tanning has just thrown down them.

Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012)   Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202  1970-1973 Fabric, wool, synthetic fur, cardboard, and Ping-Pong balls 3405 x 3100 x 4700 mm Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art modern/ Centre de création industrielle Photo (C) Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat © DACS, 2018

Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012) Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 1970-1973 Fabric, wool, synthetic fur, cardboard, and Ping-Pong balls 3405 x 3100 x 4700 mm Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art modern/ Centre de création industrielle Photo (C) Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat © DACS, 2018

Included in Tate’s exhibition is also the installation Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (1970–3), which is the size of an actual room (the film shows Tanning standing inside it). You see bodies – cushiony sculptures – growing out of the walls of an imaginary hotel room. It’s like one of her paintings brought to life. You feel that if you stood watching the space for long enough, you may witness something you didn’t want to see, as if it is a crime scene waiting to be filled with blood. The only escape (or entry?) is through a door left ajar. Tate curator Ann Coxon points out the resemblance to Netflix series Stranger Things.

The Tate exhibition also shows sketches for the costumes Tanning created for Ballet Russes, again strange creations with huge head pieces in the shape of antlers and ships. But it also features illustration work she did for Macy’s and other clients advertising products in the 1940s – proving all freelancers have to make a living somehow.

Dorothea Tanning,   Stanza,  1978 Oil paint on canvas. The Byrd Collection, Arizona. © DACS, 2018

Dorothea Tanning, Stanza, 1978
Oil paint on canvas. The Byrd Collection, Arizona.
© DACS, 2018

When Ernst died in 1976, Tanning returned to New York and dedicated her time to writing – her 1976 painting Stanza depicts an agonised writer. Her last collection of poems, Coming to That, was published when she was 101. When asked at the age of 91 what she’d hoped to communicate as an artist, she replied: “I’d be satisfied with having suggested that there is more than meets the eye.” And how she felt about being labelled a surrealist? “I guess I’ll be a surrealist forever, like a tattoo: ‘D Loves S’.

Dorothea Tanning is at Tate Modern from 27 February to 9 June 2019. Visit tate.org.uk for ticket information. You can also read more in issue 47, where we also feature one of Tanning’s poems.

A temporary bed

Photo:  Kirsty Lee

Photo: Kirsty Lee

In our early spring issue, four writers each tell us a story of a bed. Here, Kirsty Lee, who works in conservation, managing habitats for wildlife, tells us about her bed in the wild, where she lays her head down each night.

My bed takes my last sigh in the evening, one that mounts the memory foam in my mattress, which keeps my hips off a damp floor that, I am told, will soak into my bones if I lay on it. This bed I sleep on is only temporary, at a place where I stay in woodland where I work. I purchased it, with its mod cons. Memory foam air pockets, in hope it would give me better rest, a more comfortable sleep; the comfort a deterrent from the long night of listening ahead of me.

This job is a simple trade. We work with sustainably felled wood that contributes to the management of woodland in Kent. We cut it, peel it and cleave it, into somewhat small, neat individual stakes that will be bundled and wired together, shipped across the country, into Europe. There it is plunged back into the ground as a fence – isolating a pocket of land, a herd of sheep or a small shelter. It is hard work but it feels like good work, particularly, as the days grow longer and the sprite snowdrops emerge. Nightjars arrive and purr between the single tree standards and fritillaries float between glades in the hot thin air. I have learnt that this is a job of craft, of nurture and of tire. So much so, that it leaves my arms an inch longer each day and my body too tired to run away from itself. You might think after such a day, that sleep would come easy, but as night falls the woodland is invigorated and the world changes, the noise of our clatter taken by the sound of the dark. This darkness is one I don’t recognise, or at least didn’t at first, no longer muted by streetlights, or the sound of cars. It is dark with an urge, a deepness full of sounds that I am starved of in my brick house.

This theatre of the night starts at around 7.30pm, by which time we have stoked up the fire and lay on our beds, listening to the wood smouldering as it keeps us warm. It is then that I realise what I hear is my own. The boundaries between reality and dream dissolve and I slip into the steady current of the wind. It conjures up a speed I feel I should keep up with, a rhythm assembled at the fringes of my imagination. It draws me into a fight or flight scenario, not simply because of the pendulous branches of the diseased ash hanging overhead, but the wind that jabs me with gusto. This same wind sparks the barking, wild dogs I imagine, terrifically fierce and hungry for blood. The moles beneath scratch at the ceiling of their world, drawing me into the dank soils webbed in mycelium, their noiselessness an itching discomfort. It is not long before the owls catch wind of it all, their lavish screech echoes in the hollow air. I try to quiet my thoughts, shove my head in my sleeping bag, into the creeping thatched grasses that hide amphibious creatures, slimy and subdued under the glow of the moon.

My supernatural hearing is at once stopped, when my pragmatic mind tells me it is muntjac, toads and newts, and not wild dogs, footsteps, or cursed creatures that lurk beneath. But these experiments with imagination are merely self-absorbed musings and I realise that dark is just a colour. When I lay here alone in my bed, surrounded by the world, laid upon the earth, I feel I can finally guide my own darkness.

Kirsty Lee has been working in conservation, managing habitats for wildlife alongside working in rural communities for the past five years. She's particularly interested in how we engage with nature, how it can improve our wellbeing whilst reducing isolation and loneliness. She writes about her experiences at www.hellokirsty.tumblr.com

Read four more stories of a bed in our early spring issue, out now.

An artistic vision from Seasalt

We’re delighted that the design team at Seasalt have created a new collection inspired by the brand’s Cornish costal home and pioneering sisters, painter and interior designer Vanessa Bell and author Virginia Woolf, who had a very special relationship with the area.


The sisters spent the summers of their childhood years in St Ives, which left a profound and lasting impression on them. They flourished in the creative and physical freedom of Cornwall, which included walks in West Penwith, and swimming and rock-pooling at Porthminster Beach – which Virginia recalled as being, “the best beginning to life conceivable”.

Seasalt have reinterpreted the works of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell to create a collection steered by artistic visionaries and literary landscapes. Highlights include a wave print inspired by the crashing seas at Godrevy Lighthouse, where Virginia used to gaze out of the window – an influence for novel To The Lighthouse. Expressive florals and abstract patterns reference the wild gardens and colourful interiors of Charleston, Vanessa’s Bloomsbury group home.


It’s an artisan collection that includes beautifully soft knits, considered separates and relaxed silhouettes to provide the perfect accompaniment to memorable summer days.

And you could win £100 to spend at Seasalt. To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question:

 Where is Seasalt based? Give your answer here.

 Competition closes Friday 8 March 2019.

(HINT: you’ll find the answer somewhere on the Seasalt website and also in this blog post)

Terms & Conditions: The competition closes 8 March 2019. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries after this time and notified shortly after. Full terms and conditions are here, and you can enter here.

Stocksy – curated with love

Stocksy is so much more than an image library. Its website is home to a curated selection of royalty-free photographs, illustrations and videos that have changed our expectations about what stock images can do. They’re also a co-operative believing in creative integrity, fair profit sharing, and co-ownership – every voice is heard.

We'll be meeting some of their artists over the coming months to find out more. First up, Liliya Rodnikova, a photographer who also loves body art and glitter…

*This is a sponsored post*

Photo:  Liliya Rodnikova

Photo: Liliya Rodnikova

Where do you live?  "I live in a small city called Penza in Russia. There are lots of young, talented and creative people here, so it’s easy to collaborate and make my ideas a reality."

What inspires you?  "I like the quote: ‘Inspiration exists but it has to find you at work’. I’ve tried to figure out my personal list of inspiring things a thousand times, but I’ve never finished it. Anything or anyone may become my source of inspiration, but the most important is not to miss this unique and powerful feeling and start working before the magic is gone."

Why do you love photography?  "Photography is dream work! I’m the only person who decides how much and when I should work, and how much time I can spend on my passions like drawing or painting – or I can even unite them all! Another important thing for me is the fact that photography should document reality as it is, but it never does. There is always a difference between what your eyes see and what is in the photo. And this difference is the artistry for me. Something totally unpredictable and amazing. I’ll never get tired of it."

Photo:  Liliya Rodnikova

Photo: Liliya Rodnikova

Stocksy: stock photography + cinematography, made with love

Support Oh Comely at Waitrose


Exciting news – Oh Comely's early spring issue will be available in lots more Waitrose stores from Thursday 21 February 2019. Take a peek at the list below, and if you’re nearby, please do show your support by picking up a copy.

We hope you love the issue, as much as we have loved creating it.

Thanks so much x

Waitrose issue 47 stockists


Milton Keynes, Middleton


Cheadle Hulme

Saltash, Tamar View



Admiral park
Southend on Sea


Locks Heath

St Albans


Preston, Walton le Dale



Battersea Nine Elms
Bloomsbury, The Brunswick Centre
Bromley South
Canary Wharf
East Sheen
Finchley, Ballards Lane
Gloucester Road
High Street Kensington
New Malden
Swiss Cottage
Wandsworth, Southside Shopping Centre
West Ealing
Westfield White City


North Walsham



Weston Super Mare




Burgess Hill
East Grinstead




Leeds, Meanwood
Sheffield, Eccleshall Road

St Peter Port

La Route Orange St Brelade
Red Houses
St Helier

Edinburgh, 38 Comely Bank
Edinburgh, 145 Morningside Road
Helensburgh, Cardross Road


Of course you can also order a copy from our shop, free postage in the UK

A celebration of women in contemporary art and tattooing for IWD 2019


Tattoo shop The Circle in London will be celebrating International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March 2019 with an exciting exhibition featuring the work of seven female artists: Athena Anastasiou, Pang, Heleena Mistry, Laura Callaghan (whose artwork is on the cover of issue 42 ), Sally Hewett, Linzie Elliott and Catriona Faulkner.

By Laura Callaghan

By Laura Callaghan

Their work ranges from collages and paintings to assemblage and textiles. Rather than prescribe a theme, each artist has created pieces which celebrate womanhood and what this means to them. Their work will be on display in the ground floor gallery space.

By Athena Anastasiou

By Athena Anastasiou

By Sally Hewett

By Sally Hewett

flash day insta.jpg

Meanwhile downstairs in The Circle’s basement, tattoo artists Paula J DaveyKenzie  and Liz Clements will be holding a tattoo flash event, tattooing pre-drawn designs from £50 for the evening.

All proceeds from the flash will go to the charity Refuge.

Register for IWD at The Circle here

Say hello to Vel-Oh

We meet Greta and Zulfi, the husband and wife team of designers who created Vel-Oh. We love Vel-Oh bags because they are designed with the cycle to work commuter in mind, but you certainly don't have to own a bike to enjoy them. Greta and Zulfi focus on giving each of their handmade products versatility – for example a totebag that converts to a backpack – but also keeping them super stylish. We had a chat with them to find out more…

Pssst, keep reading because we have a competition to win £100 of Vel-Oh goodies too.

Greta and Zulfi

Greta and Zulfi

Can you tell us a little more about when you first had the idea to create Vel-Oh?
Greta: “One day a friend was packing up his life in London and moving onto his next adventure – and he left me his bike! It was an old racer that had been hand painted gold. I started cycling to work the very next day. Zulfi also came into a bike not long after, so we were now both commuting to work by bike – which was great. But we struggled to find a stylish bag that made us happy and was also practical to cycle with. I’m quite a ‘do it yourself’ kinda person, always have been, all my friends and family have had gifts that I made – hats that I knitted, trousers, skirts, purses etc… So we went to the pub one evening, drew up a design on a napkin and created a prototype not long after that. Of course, it took a few prototypes to get the bag to look and do what we wanted but we got there by around number three. We loved wearing our own creations. We intended to just make one each for each of us, but we both got quite a thrill from the whole design process and we thought why not try and take it to market?”

When did we realise that you knew we could really make it happen?
”That’s a tough one. We didn’t – and on some level we still don’t! We’re just happy living in the now, using our creativity and making things come to life.”


We love your ethos about working and creating wherever you go – where’s your dream location? We know you recently moved to Ireland from London. How different is riding a bike there?
”Ah, I think our dream location would have to be where it all started – London. Maybe we’ll migrate back one day. When Vel-Oh started we both still had full-time jobs – because, let’s face it, London rent ain’t cheap – and after a while working two jobs just got to be too much. But we weren’t ready to give up so we had to rethink our living situation and see where we could compromise. Suddenly a family-owned holiday home in Ireland became available to us and we didn’t think twice before we jumped onto the possibility of living in the country. Giving Vel-Oh a real good go without any distractions or the need for day jobs. We’ve been here for just over two years now and we don’t regret making the move. We put all our energy into Vel-Oh, and now we’re at a place we couldn’t have ever been if we stayed in London – unless we suddenly won a lottery. But rural Ireland did come as a shock. Cycling is certainly not a popular thing to do, especially not for commuting… Roads here can get a little bumpy and so it required us getting different bikes. But we love it, it’s so beautiful.”


Tell us a little about the process of making each of your products? Do your skills complement each other’s?"
”Zulfi tends to do all the prep work as he’s more meticulous and patient, and I then put all those puzzle pieces together. We like doing different things in the studio so it works very smoothly – most of the time.”

What's it like working with your husband? 
”Our battles are mostly about who’s turn it is to make tea – and they can get pretty heated.”

Do you have a favourite Vel-Oh bag or product?
“My favourite has to be the first bag we’ve ever produced, which is the Commuter bag, now reworked as the Worker bag. It is a totebag / backpack hybrid, because it’s why and where it all started!”

The Worker bag 1.jpg
The Worker bag 3.jpg
The Worker bag 2.jpg
Workerbag tote 2.JPG

What does a day at Vel-Oh HQ look like?
”Our alarm goes off at 7am, but we’re usually only up at 8am. We put a pot of coffee on, check our emails, do a little Insta post and after checking the weather app we decide whether we’ll be going straight out on the bikes to post orders or whether we go into the studio first and do some manufacturing. Our days are quite similar but never the same as they’re dictated by the weather. We have to cycle 12km to the post office and another 12 back, and although we don’t mind getting wet depending on the volume of orders we can’t always protect them all from the rain. There are some days of course where we don’t manufacture and simply plan the next show, design some flyers or do research or work on a new design. But our days always end when our tummies start rumbling, asking for dinner.”

To be in with a chance of winning £100 to spend at Vel-Oh, simply answer the question below.

What's special about the Worker bag?
1. You can only use it for work.
2. It's a totebag / backpack hybrid and Vel-Oh's first ever product.
3. It's glow in the dark.

Give your answer here.

Good luck.

Iceberg T&Cs: The competition closes 22 March 2019. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries after this time and notified shortly after. Full terms and conditions are at icebergpress.co.uk/comprules.

Silly Girl Club

Ayoola Solarin meets Nikki Millar, founder of nostalgic brand Silly Girl Club, which turns old bedding into the most fabulous clothes…

Nikki Millar, founder of Silly Girl Club

Nikki Millar, founder of Silly Girl Club

You’re most likely to find Nikki Millar in her home studio, face to face with some of the most well-known celebrities of our time. With her flat stacked wall to wall with hundreds of Disney bed sheets, Nikki hardly has any time for real-life people as she spends her days with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Buzz Lightyear and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Her sharp sewing skills and childhood penchant for all things ’90s has manifested into career passion project, Silly Girl Club – a brand dedicated to upcycling nostalgic fabric to produce eco-friendly, affordable fashion. Nikki, the one-woman team behind the Leicester-based project, has been collecting long-forgotten fabrics of animated heroes since she was 14. Silly Girl Club has now grown into a fully-fledged business, producing dresses, bumbags, playsuits, patches and more, while maintaining an ethos to encourage recycling and ethical sourcing.

How would you describe Silly Girl Club? Carefree, fun and nostalgic. And I think the recycling also has a big part. Well, I like to think so because it’s the part I’m most passionate about!

How did it begin? I used to go to car boots all the time when I was younger. I love cartoons and whenever I saw fun bed sheets, I’d collect them. I had piles of them around my house. I started sewing in 2004 and making my own clothing because there was nothing I liked in the town that I lived in. And the bedding was just so bright and amazing.


When did you start making stuff for other people? I hadn’t made or sewn anything for years after I left university because I absolutely hated studying fashion. But then my make-up bag broke and I made a replacement and put it on Instagram. People loved it! I put something on Depop and it sold within minutes – I couldn’t believe it. I made a few more bits and they sold again, and that’s when I figured there’s a demand for this. I kept making things alongside my full-time job as a hobby to get myself back into sewing again.

I managed a bar for eight years but as Silly Girl Club developed a stronger online presence, I would end up working a 9am-6pm shift at the bar and then sew before work and afterwards – it was exhausting. I thought something’s got to give and I didn’t want it to be Silly Girl Club.


What’s the deal with nostalgia, anyway? Nostalgia takes you back to a carefree time when you didn’t really have any worries, when you felt more free. It’s got that lovely feeling about it. This a major reason why I started Silly Girl Club – nostalgia makes people happy and I just feed off people’s excitement. Cartoons are fun! I love the colours and how anything can happen in a cartoon. It makes life less boring, doesn’t it?

How do you source your fabrics? I’ve accumulated so much over time. I’ve been collecting fabrics for years so I used to have suitcases and boxes full. But now I’ve been getting through it really quickly. There’s a guy in America that goes thrift shopping for me, he is my absolute hero. Other than that, my favourite hobby is charity shopping and nowadays, followers send me stuff too. They’ll say “Oh, I had this in my cupboard and I don’t use it anymore, do you want it?” – it’s the nicest thing in the world.


How does recycling and sustainability factor in? For me, I don’t really buy anything new from shops unless I really have to. I’ve always bought secondhand and it’s been a conscious decision for me because I don’t like waste. Recycling and knowing where something’s come from is a massive deal to me, I don’t think I could make clothing that I knew wasn’t recycled.

There’s a quote from a BBC report that hit me hard – it said if clothing consumption continues as it is, by 2050, fast fashion  will account for a quarter of our total impact on climate change. And ethically speaking, I always look at my clothing and the stitch lines and think, a human has made these. They’ve probably worked the same amount of time as me, maybe more, and they are most likely not getting a fair wage. I don’t think people often think about it. People are very enthusiastic about recycling but they don’t think of fast fashion in the same context.

What does Silly Girl Club represent? I want it to be fun, but also conscious and inclusive. I try as much as possible to make things that are easily worn and affordable. When I first started SGC, a few people emailed me to say how much they appreciated no fastenings on the clothes. It’s important for everyone to feel included. Even monetarily, for people who are less able to afford things, I’ve started prices from as little as £2.50 so that anyone can be part of Silly Girl Club.

What does running a small business mean to you? Honestly, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Every day I wake up super happy and I jump up into my sewing room straight away because it’s crazy, I’m doing what I love. It’s given me some confidence I never thought I had, which is amazing.

Follow Silly Girl Club on Insta @sillygirlclub

Chef Kim Alter

We were very lucky to meet chef Kim Alter and try her wonderful tasting menu, while she was making food magic for a short guest spot at Carousel London. She’s the founder of Nightbird in San Francisco, and creates a fortnightly tasting menu inspired by ingredients from the rich Californian coastline. We had a chat to find out more about her inspiration.

1_kcHIhnpK3EoiLbnd1M_6Og - Kim Alter.jpeg

Kim, tell us about your tasting menu, can you talk us through its creation? How do you decide what to use and how? It was a little hard in London, since I base my menu on what I can physically pick out at a farmer's market in San Francisco.  But I just based it on what was in season and what could I make best in an unfamiliar kitchen.  

We know you're very inspired by San Francisco, what is it that you love most about the place and the food? The product is probably number one.  I go to the farmers’ market every day and have strong relationships with every farmer, to the point of knowing the name of the animal or what the captain's name is on the boat that caught the fish. The community is amazing too, we always take care of each other – whether it is stopping by for a drink or to borrow something when needed. I have travelled a lot, and our hospitality in SF is at the top I think.

What do you most want Londoners to learn from your menu? Is it different to what you have created in SF? I guess I would want them to see that you can be in a casual setting and have a plate of food that isn't too precious but showcases technique and tastes delicious. That is what we try to accomplish at Nightbird.  I wouldn't say the menu done was a 360 from Nightbird, but you would get a very different experience in SF.

When did you fall in love with cooking? Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a chef? I fell in love with cooking early, not through family traditions, but I like making people happy.  Cooking for school projects and seeing the excitement on people's faces when you made something was very gratifying. 

What's it like being a woman in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry? Do you think it's changing? I mean I could go down a #metoo road here, but I think our business is very hard and if I am treated unfairly or in a way I wouldn't treat someone, my mind always goes to, "Is it because I am a woman?".  Maybe it is, but all that does is make me work harder to prove to myself – being a woman only makes me stronger.

What do you love to do outside your cheffing world? How do you relax? There isn't a lot of time when you own a small business. I work every day, but when there is a break, I normally try to look after my health. Lots of acupuncture, barre class and then drinking and eating with friends

What are your hopes for the future? For you and your food? I have a lot of hopes. I hope hospitality isn't dying! It's getting harder and harder to be in this industry so I hope I can grow with the changes and technology, but not lose who I am as a chef.  I only can hope for evolution, always. Being stagnant is not an option for me, my staff or my food.

Next time, we’d like to try Kim’s food against a San Franciscan backdrop. Give Nightbird a follow on Insta @nightbirdsf and head there if you’re in the area.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the V&A

Ahead of its opening on Saturday 2 February, Terri-Jane Dow gives us a sneak peek around the dreamy new exhibition opening at the V&A.

Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948. Courtesy of Christian Dior

Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948. Courtesy of Christian Dior

"I have designed flower women."

Opening 2 February, the V&A’s latest exhibition looks at Christian Dior’s influence on the fashion world, from 1947 until now. With more than 500 pieces, over 150 items of which have never been publicly displayed before, it’s a fitting tribute to the fashion house which completely changed the idea of what style was.

In post-war Paris, Christian Dior genuinely became a hero figure, creating full skirts and wide shoulders in a display of abundance where for years there had been a lack of. Women who had been making do and mending no longer needed to. With no more fabric rations or shortages, Dior used padding, corsetry and petticoats in his designs – and reams and reams of fabric. In 1947, he presented these voluptuous new shapes in his first collection, named Corolle, but termed “the New Look” by Carmel Snow, editor of Harpers Bazaar. With its full skirt, cinched-in waist and wide-shouldered jacket, the Bar Suit redefined what fashion could be, cemented Paris as the heart of the design world, and changed the direction of fashion design forever. Dior’s designs influenced the fashion world so much that the Corolle dresses and his other silhouettes – the Zig Zag line, the Tulip, the Winged line - seem ubiquitous of the 1950s. It’s stunning to see these as sketches and early illustrations, to really see where they have come from.

Christian Dior (1905–57), Bar Suit, Haute Couture, SpringSummer 1947, Corolle Line.  Photo (c) Laziz Hamani. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Christian Dior (1905–57), Bar Suit, Haute Couture, SpringSummer 1947, Corolle Line.
Photo (c) Laziz Hamani. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Dior: Designer of Dreams was opened first in Paris, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs two years ago, but has been expanded in its move to the V&A’s new Sainsbury Wing to include a British section – fitting for a couturier whose love for British tailoring was evident from the start. He wrote, "There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking." Christian Dior had fallen in love with England as a visiting 21-year-old from Normandy, working on his English fluency. He went on to stage secret shows for the Royal Family (famously dressing Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday in 1951) and included British high society women in his personal client lists.

Princess Margaret (1930-2002), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80), London, UK, 1951. © Cecil Beaton, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Princess Margaret (1930-2002), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80), London, UK, 1951. © Cecil Beaton, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Just ten years after founding his fashion house, Christian Dior died in 1957, and so although there will be inevitable comparisons with Savage Beauty, the V&A’s incredible Alexander McQueen retrospective from 2015, this is not just about Dior himself. This exhibition is much more a collaboration of the design house’s founder and its six succeeding artistic directors – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri (Dior’s first female, and current, director).

Monsieur Dior travelled extensively with his work, often taking trips with models to showcase his designs, and there is a room dedicated to the influences and inspirations from other countries outside of French couture. With a mixture of dresses from all seven designers in every room, Galliano’s turquoise Egyptian dress with its Anubis head greets you as you walk in, and Chiuri’s Mexican inspired gowns are reminiscent of the V&A’s Frida Kahlo exhibition last year.

Galliano’s designs are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most outlandish – pulling your eye toward them in every room. Chiuri’s lines are softer, closer in similarity to Bohan’s designs than anyone else’s. The dresses by Yves Saint Laurent, just 21 when he took the helm at Christian Dior, make the 1960s swing shape feel timeless. It’s interesting to see the threads which run through all of the designs, and what each of the House’s directors has chosen to emphasise or minimise. Though the vast majority of the exhibition mixes the directors designs, there is a section dedicated to each individual designer. It feels very special to see the influences each designer has had on the next, and how the last 70 years at Dior have shaped fashion elsewhere.

V&A Christian Dior Designer of Dreams exhibition, Ballroom section (c) ADRIEN DIRAND

V&A Christian Dior Designer of Dreams exhibition, Ballroom section (c) ADRIEN DIRAND

As the biggest V&A installation since Savage Beauty, there are 11 rooms to walk though, and each dress here is completely made by hand. Especially in light of that fact, the scale of the exhibition is breathtaking. As well as the finished haute couture dresses, there is a room of cotton toiles on display, and a film of Dior’s staff, Les Petits Mains (literally, “the little hands”), at work. The ‘garden’ room, decorated with thousands of paper flowers, is truly spectacular. The Ball Room, with a centrepiece of glittering gowns, changes lighting as you walk around it – from bright daylight, to a glitzy party, to a night sky complete with shooting stars dancing across the ceiling. Handily, there’s seating, from which you can sit and watch the show.

The exhibition runs until July, and I’ll definitely be back for at least three more visits before it closes.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, supported by Swarovski, runs from 2 February – 14 July 2019 at the V&A Museum, South Kensington.

Mother, Monster


In our
midwinter issue Intan Paramaditha writes about her mother and the different people she can become.

My mother has played hide and seek all her life. Sometimes she is around, sometimes she isn’t. A year ago she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Through some divine or devilish intervention, she has been showing signs of recovery in the past two months. The mind, however, is a delicate matter. ‘Sometimes I feel she’s someone else,’ said my father, a former abominable patriarch now turned nurse. This was not the first time. My mother had gone to another space before, and had returned as another woman.

My mother was the one who taught me to read, write, and tell stories. When I was a child, she bought me many books but never read me bedtime stories. She invented her own. She would tweak fairy tales by adding new characters, contexts, twists. I, too, wanted to create my own stories, so when I was in fourth grade, my mother bought me a typewriter. My writing journey began with the voice and words of my mother. 

It was a hot ordinary day in Jakarta when the other side started to reveal itself. I was in my bedroom when I heard a shriek from the kitchen. My mother had broken a plate in the kitchen sink, on purpose, and was wailing like an animal. I sat in silence. I finally came out of my room to ask her, in a meek voice, if she was ok. I received no answer. In the evening she acted as if nothing had happened. And I wondered: who was that madwoman in the kitchen? Did a monster, for a brief moment, enter her body? Was she kerasukan, possessed?

I have lost my mother several times since then. Each time she returned, she became another person. And another. And another. I lost her for the first time in 1997, when I was seventeen. I cannot reconstruct fragmented memories; all I can say is that I spent a lot of time in the hospital’s ICU, waiting for her to wake up. After a week she finally opened her eyes, and she held me. I was crying, but I wasn’t sure if it was my mother that I embraced.

Not long after that, I lost her again. I could not find her at home. ‘Your mother needs some time to recover,’ my father said. I was angry that my mother constantly played hide and seek, and I believed my father was to blame. He was the tyrant in the house, and it took me a long time in my adult life to make peace with him. I decided to stay at a friend’s house, seeking refuge with another family until my mother returned from her hiding place.

As I write this, I am probably playing hide and seek, too. I conceal many things about my mother, but I reserve the right of the storyteller: we tell some stories and erase others.

This was the official story of my mother’s absence: she went to a remote place to learn about Islam and spirituality with a Muslim teacher. I imagined that an exorcism was performed to force the demons out of her body. When my mother returned, her eyes looked empty, but she became more religious and started to wear the hijab. 

I observed her day by day and concluded that she had been bitten by wild beasts in the wood. This woman with a hijab was not her; it was another woman, another mother.  Yet there were times when I noticed an eerie smile on her face, furious and remorseless. In a strange way, the sight gave me comfort. She had not been bitten by wild beasts. She was the beast. The monster is always with her, playing hide and seek, and I just need to wait and see whose face will appear: mother, or monster.

As I grew older, I learned how my mother navigated unfulfilled dreams and motherhood, her relationship with my father, and many layers of oppressive patriarchal structures.  I saw my mother’s face in many stories. I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman and recognised her as the woman behind the yellow wallpaper. She was Bertha in Jane Eyre, Calon Arang the Balinese witch, the nameless monster in Frankenstein. Isolated, obsessed with motherhood, dreaming terror, my mother reminded me of Mary Shelley, though she had no environment in which to turn her ‘hideous progeny’ into a creative force. Yet resistance, like the goddess Durga, has many faces.

When, in my early twenties, I started to fight against everything – my father, religion, cultural expectations – I began to see clearly the yellow wallpaper that entrapped my mother. And becoming a woman was the true horror; I realised I was not an outsider looking in – I was inside the wallpaper too. I saw my mother’s face in the mirror. 

And so my journey with monstrous women began. I write about them to make sense of my mother, her monster, and other women who traverse and disobey. We might have taken part in the culture of patriarchy by idealising motherhood, nurturing the fiction that separates mothers from monsters. But motherhood is messy and, as I have learned in my journey, hide and seek is tactical. 

Intan Paramaditha’s collection of short stories, Apple and Knife is out now (Harvill Secker).

We love Lynnie Z

We caught up with artist Lynnie Z about her exhibition at The Book Club, her plans for the year ahead and where her inspiration comes from.


Hi Lynnie, we loved seeing a glimpse into your studio space back in issue 38, what's changed? Are you still in the same space? We have since moved our studio to Peckham/South Bermondsey. I share a studio with Hattie Stewart, Sara Andreasson and Annu Kilpeläinen. These dream women make it a lovely place to be!

Do you think where you work is important? What does your desk look like? For me, I need to change it up quite a lot. I used to think this was a neurotic trait but actually I realise it’s a freeing privilege that fires my productivity. 

I work between my home studio and my shared studio. With some projects I am energised by being in a collaborative environment, with other ones I crave the solitary mind flow, and I can find it immensely mediative working in my own space. 

My desk is often messy, because it feels like the work’s never done! I tend to keep sketchbooks and pens out, ready for my return so I can just slip back in the same creative state – the invite is there! But the truth is I like to finish a drawing in one sitting.

Your latest exhibition at The Book Club gives a glimpses into your creative flow, so where's the starting point for each of your pieces? Where do your best ideas come from? Each day and night, working into this collection, I wanted to keep an uninhibited approach and let the drawings lead me into new and unusual places. A lot of this has to do with not thinking at all, which I imagine is trickier for everyone as the years go on. When work is created out of instinct, personally I find it to be the strongest. Whatever you have created has made its own journey and it feels like some sort of alchemy has taken place. 

Sketchbooks have always been an integral part of my process, I love delving in and seeing all the ideas cooking up amongst each other. They’re always a great place to revisit with a fresh perspective

What can we expect from your exhibition? What's your favourite piece, or is it impossible to pick? I want the exhibition to be an intimate experience that displays the fluidity of the creative process in a joyous light that people can connect with. The work takes the form of bold paintings, stripped back ink drawings, experimental collages and large wall murals. I also got to collaborate with The Art of Ping Pong to create a customised ping pong table. I wanted to share a spectrum of my process and how I get from A to B as I think it’s a more relatable experience for whoever’s watching. 

The collages are some of my favourite pieces. They serve as a bridge from loose ink work to my fuller bold work, constructing these visuals ideas into a plethora of possible outcomes. They also resemble the state of my desk or the energy of my sketchbooks.

Did you make any new year's resolutions? I think I aim for the same thing every year, just being more present, reaching higher and having endless fun. 

What does 2019 have in store for you? Hopefully a ton of good surprises! There are a few exciting projects in store which I can’t wait to share. Other than that, I would like to get a good solid art residency in this year, the aim is to work in Greece for a month. 

Lynnie Z Studio is a free exhibition at The Book Club curated by Liat Chen running until 17 February.