Women of Style & Substance: Wai Ling McGeever

Feature image: Taken in Dubai, 2008

She Who Made Me

If my journey could teach you anything…

When I first had inspiration for this series profiling everyday women who embody and walk in their own rhythm, with their own style and who own the substance that makes them who they are, I always knew that my mother was top of the list. This is a little tribute to her and therefore I felt nervous and delayed putting it out as I wanted to get it right and say all that I wanted to share.

She who made me was a hell of woman. She passed away 8 years ago, her anniversary being New Year’s Day, and to be quite honest, writing so openly about something and someone so close to my heart is not at all comfortable for me. However I strongly know that we can learn and aid each other in our journeys, and though I in no means claim any monopoly or expertise on grief, I do hope that my firsthand experience can help anyone who may be going through something of similar gravity. I am very much someone who believes in pushing myself out of my comfort zone, which has resulted in some hilarious, crazy decisions and pursuits (one being moving to Singapore and all the struggles and joy that came with that) and I live in the ‘why not? ‘ mode of being rather than the why.

View this post on Instagram

She Who Made Me: LOVE this photo, I've carried it around with me, framed, through different apartments, seasons and countries over the last eight years. If I can take you with me for a moment beyond the veil, I want to share the thousand words that this picture doesn't speak in the hopes that it will bring comfort and healing to those who need it. Whenever I see this moment captured, my spirit is simultaneously lifted and broken. My mum and me, taken on the last evening of our last holiday together in Dubai, 2008: One of the big things that this picture doesn't say is that at this point, my mum had undergone several gruelling rounds of chemo in an attempt to prolong her life. Dubai is a HOT country, and we were experiencing it in all its 50 degree mid-August glory, even for me as a healthy teenager, it was hard-going. How much more for my mother? I can't even imagine. She never complained, not once. The small thing this picture doesn't say is that we painted her nails together on the plane journey there, perhaps to the chagrin of other passengers, in a moment of celebration as she wanted to stop biting her nails as part of her bucket list. Love the resolve. A hilarious thing this picture doesn't say is that when we went on a very intense, sand dune jeep ride through the desert, one of us couldn't handle the motion and ended up being rather sick. Nope, it wasn't my mum but, as always (a running joke in our family) my dear father whose stomach cannot handle the smallest dip in a rollercoaster 😂 all this to say this woman's strength remained unparalleled even in these most deeply excavating physical and emotional moments, she never let us see her fear. In fact, in all purity, her greatest regret and sadness in her end days came from knowing she would not get to see us grow up. Here's a tribute to my mum (link in bio) the OG, who was always top of my list when the idea for "Women of Style & Substance" came about. I hope you enjoy the read and more importantly, can find hope and joy within the words if you are in need of it ♥️♥️♥️ always in love http://goo.gl/C1g0Qx @styleishsubstance #WomenOfStyleAndSubstance #8

A post shared by Jennifer 詠嫻 (@j_wenghan) on

 

This year one of my personal resolutions is to live more authentically and be more open in my vulnerabilities, as scary as that is for someone who is by nature extremely private about the things that I really care about. In this day and age, it is difficult to keep things sacred, however, the past few months I have felt convicted to share a little about this amazing woman, her life and some of the many, many lessons she taught me, which are still ongoing in my day-to-day. In The Sisterhood’ book (which I know I talk about a LOT, but it’s one of those books which has really evolved my thinking) Bobbie speaks about having friends and people in your life that cause you to push yourself beyond your personal containment lines; I am grateful to have such friends, and most grateful to my Wonderful Counsellor, who prompts and nudges me from within regarding my convictions. I was pondering why in particular I felt so prompted at this 8 year mark to share a little, and then I funnily realised that in Chinese culture, the number 8 is THE number! It is the number of good fortune, prosperity and carries a whole host of wonderful (and superstitious) attributes. Anyway at this moment, it seems an auspicious and ordained time to share:

She who made me, made me in every sense of the word. She was extremely vital, and she birthed myself and my three brothers (it is crazy to think about that sometimes, that each of our lives came through a living, breathing woman). That is something I particularly struggled with in the earlier days of grief, being able to remember and recall my mum as her healthy, strong self, rather than the destruction and physical deterioration of the entire body that cancer brings about. It took me many years to be able to envisage my mum separate from her illness, and I do still dream about her in her latter states of being even now.

A little background about this wonderful woman: she was born and grew up in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia in the mid 50s to Chinese parents. The Chinese population in Malaysia is vast, however historically there are a lot of racial and civil disputes in the country, and therefore her parents enabled her to move to the UK (Malaysia was a Commonwealth country) when she was still a teenager to live with her older siblings who were in tertiary education here at the time. It was extremely unsafe for Chinese people living in Malaysia at that point, and as the youngest of eight siblings, her parents thought it best to keep her away from the rioting and killings that were taking place. From what my mum told me, being a young Chinese girl in London, with a “strange” name and little knowledge of English norms in the 60s, was not the one. Racial bullying was prevalent and London wasn’t as diverse as it is now. She was an immigrant in every sense of the word, and that shaped her and our experiences growing up. She adopted a more British-sounding name for her teen and young adult years in London, Rowena, though hilariously I have never met someone called Rowena over my lifetime as of yet! I am glad that by the time myself and my brothers were in the picture, she walked in her given name and the glorious juxtaposition of that alongside a very Irish surname.

Mum as captured by dad in Egypt

She met my father when they were both working in the London Stock Exchange and she told me that she had known him for a while before they ever went out on their first date. She recalled that one of the reasons he stuck in her mind was that he often wore a – in her words – “really annoying” skinny, red belt which drove her a bit mad (my mum was quite the fashionista back in the day) and therefore made a lasting impression on her before they even spoke. They dated for approximately five years and travelled the world during that time, choosing to get married later than most couples of their generation. My dad has told me that she gave him, a London-born and bred boy, a thorough cultural education in all things Chinese, starting with his first ever dim sum in Chinatown on one of their first dates.

I was very much raised by a Chinese tiger mother, with every stereotype that that may embody. We are first generation kids, and she expected nothing short of the best from us (though this is something recently I have been learning to be kinder to myself about, but that’s a whole other story in itself). She forged me, tempered me to have steely resolve and rebuked me no end. One of the things I didn’t think about until recent years is that though I am the only girl amongst three brothers, I was never treated any differently when it came to what was expected of me in life and never made to feel less than. To be honest, I think most of the time they were so used to raising boys, that I was treated as very much “one of the boys”.

She made our moral fibre, our cultural framework, she ensured our standards were high and informed our opinions. She was very much involved in our formation not only physically, but emotionally, intellectually, culturally and spiritually. One thing in particular I have learnt since her passing is that grief can be crippling but it can also be propelling. What has kept me afloat in times of overwhelming pain is the knowledge that for myself and my brothers to give, bring and do anything but our best in every endeavour and encounter we have on this earth would be a severe detriment to her. And that most importantly her legacy is embodied in us. She taught us perseverance, embodied strength and she never indulged us. In short, she never stood for our bulls*&t!

There were most definitely arguments, tears and many a teenage and toddler tantrum. But it does all fade to insignificance when you realise what was significant, I pray that we learn to value those eternal things more than the ephemeral that we so often laud: “what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Can we please pause on that for a second? Bar a plastic bag, almost everything on this earth begins to quickly decay without maintenance. I remember when I travelled to Madagascar, seeing the dilapidated buildings gone to ruin and a remnant of the French colonisation and having a stark realisation that even once magnificent, supposedly glorious things all fade to ruin on the scale of eternity and without maintenance in the passage of our time on this earth.

She was formidable in the truest sense of the word, most of my friends who met her would testify that she was not someone to be messed with, and may have personally witnessed her wrath on a few occasions lol! I  inherited her fire, slightly diluted, and we both share a fiercely stubborn streak, so as you can imagine, our relationship was at times ablaze, but always full of love. As I’ve grown up, I realise that in many ways we are very similar, hence why we sometimes clashed magnificently, as my brothers will gladly testify. It is good to remember and talk about those you’ve lost with people who knew them as intimately as you. It keeps their memory alive and prevents you from over-sentimentalising someone, forgetting the bad times, which to be honest are just as important, formative and occasionally hilarious as the good times. None of us are perfect, but it is our imperfections that make us 3D, human and relatable.

What I’ve learnt about death is that the clichés are so true, we bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out; her physical body is long gone but her presence is still very real. Maybe it sounds strange but I still literally, not figuratively, feel the palpable force of her love surrounding and buoying me at all times. Her love is so, so great. One tangible thing I remember is that she would always come and check on us sleeping in our rooms, way into our teenage years. Occasionally I would wake up to find her fussing over my PJs and I remember asking her why she always checked on us in the night. She told me that she couldn’t sleep well herself without knowing that all her babies were okay, I thought to myself how beautiful and poignant that was. That love unseen, that devotion, it actually surpasses and outlives your physical body.

I had a great conversation with my dear friend Saskia via Skype last year, and I remember she spoke directly to my soul. She basically said to me that for me as a woman, I am getting to know my mother even after her passing on a peer-to-peer level, as I live out many of the same rites of passage, beauties and struggles that come with being a female in this world. In many ways I had felt that over the years but had never heard it verbalised back to me before, and speaking with one of my mum’s close friends in Malaysia and her sisters over the last eight years has given colour and added depth to her life, having some knowledge of the years which we didn’t share has been a crucial part of me coming to terms with her passing. For many, getting to know your parents on a really human level only really begins in your late teens into adulthood, and for my mum and me those years were only just beginning when she was diagnosed. Having conversations with those who knew her growing up in a childhood, teen years and young adulthood has formed a unique kind of therapy for me as I get to know her more personally, through the eyes of others and can empathise and relate to their tales of heartbreak, friendship and the overarching theme of love that threaded through her life. Generational reality is something I’ve become very aware of, and in many ways we abide in our parents, and they in us. “David asked God for a permanent place for worship. But Solomon built it” (Acts 7:47). To me this passage speaks volumes about how our parents lives are sown in living sacrifice and we reap the fruit of them. This verse comes from the New Testament, and yet talks about the intertwined lives of the Old Testament that were still informing the present hundreds of years later, King David was Solomon’s father and his prayers were literally being built into reality by his son. The hope and promise in that astounds me.

a9ff7228-4db5-4617-a28e-3f1ce9e52102-220-0000000c47ef14fc_tmp

I will never pretend that the heartbreak doesn’t still exist, as quite honestly when you lose the person whose very blood runs through your veins (can we pause and think on that crazy reality for a second please?!), colouration inks your eyes and melanin in your skin deepens every time you catch the sun, you quickly realise that they are inherently within you. There are occasional surreal moments when I think on it too long, and the realisation still floors me, that I will never again see her in this life. Yet how beautiful is the knowledge that we can create and allow to be bestowed “a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3) and that our lives are beyond ourselves. One perfect analogy for me is that of the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi, where when pottery is broken, they join it again by soldering gold in the cracks. They see the cracks as part of the history of the object rather than something to be disguised, gilding it with gold rather than concealing it or seeing it as unworthy of repair. How beautiful are those who place gold in the cracks of brokenness?

A5E9A773-7A90-4385-A7B1-E06B3076268E-220-0000000C6DAF5D18_tmp.png

One reality I want to briefly touch upon is that in grief you mourn for the future memories as well as those you have. Incredible author PP Wong, who also happens to be the first ever British Chinese novelist to be published in the UK (shocking as it was in 2014!) wrote it so aptly in her (highly recommended) book “The Life of a Banana”:

“Then, I think of the future memories that should have been. Memories that I will never have. Things that should have happened but didn’t.

Mama explaining to me about my first period, Mama looking proud at my graduation, Mama smiling at my wedding, Mama crying and holding my first child.”

– The Life of A Banana, by PP Wong

For me, that last line kills me a little, my mum would always joke fondly about how she couldn’t wait to meet her grandkids and spoil them, she had such a heart for children, hence why my mad parents decided to have four of us (!) and I knew how much joy that would bring her and how much I now mourn her presence and wisdom for potential unborn children, nieces and nephews. We need to mourn those future things as well as the past in order to start to reap beauty from the ashes, I share this with you all not to depress but to elevate. To comfort anyone who may be in mourning but to also gently encourage those who are in a season of rejoicing. Please darling readers, I urge you to see past the cliché and genuinely live in your present happiness whilst not forgetting the eternal fruit. Don’t live half-heartedly, if you love and value someone, say it and more importantly show it. Life is extremely short, in fact, I realised recently that by next year, I’ll have lived half my mother’s lifetime. It’s a sobering realisation as it puts things in perspective. Her presence still informs me so deeply in her absence. I think especially as so-called “young people” my generation can undervalue those around them, and there is a false sense of us feeling immortal. Let’s place proper value on life both present and eternal, treasure those around you, put your phone down and talk to your best friend/significant other across the dinner table. Tell that person that’s been on your mind how you feel, pick up the phone and call that relative. Seriously now, let’s not think about what we lack but invest and take the time to treasure what we have. Our time on this earth is finite and temporal things are not guaranteed, yet it is possible to live in the tension between the right here, right now and being aware of the magnitude of history, generation and eternity that we operate within. 2017 for me will be a year of living more authentically than ever before. I’m quite happy to be known as someone who loved too much even if at times, it’s not reciprocated, but not content to be known as one who didn’t give wholeheartedly. Love outlasts us all, sows seeds for the next generation and on the scale of eternity, is the only thing that actually markedly makes a positive difference.

north_london_hospice_logo

In living memory of my mother, I invite those who wish to donate to the incredible place which housed her and us in the last days of her life here. A place filled with so much warmth, generosity and joy despite the sadness of all that takes place there. I’m forever indebted to the incredible staff and volunteers of the North London Hopsice, your smiles and humour brought light to our darkest days.

Always in love,

Jenn

x

Negative Spaces, Magic Shapes

26th December 2016

I was just sitting and being this morning.

For me that involves praying (talking and listening to God), drinking in all that’s around me and remembering to be consciously grateful. The skies today in London are gloriously clear. The light and the air are ringing in clarity and freshness.

I felt prompted to share something I wrote a while back, perhaps in 2015, that I came across in a Word doc more recently. I hope it blesses you today and going forward.

As a point of reference for those who may not know, the ‘negative spaces’ I refer to below are an artistic term. They signify the background spaces (as opposed to the subject/foreground) in a traditional method of painting; I was taught to mark out the negative spaces in a composition before painting anything else in greater detail. They are as important as the main subject, as the work and use of colour in those negative spaces can make the difference between a study and a full-blown masterpiece. Beautifully and aptly, those shapes are called “magic shapes” in artistic terminology. In the spirit of this beautiful day, I extend new hope, love and prayers to you all:

Let us live our lives in the negative spaces, let us feel and breathe in the magic that comes with the potential in the unknown. Before you reach that next milestone, that next full bodied line, exhale and inhale the in-between, the unknown, the unseen. Those character building, spiritually-refining moments which allow us to be who we are when the spotlight comes on. Don’t be afraid of the dark, step into it, step into a place of separation, walk on water, believe in the unknown. Live your faith – faith is after all believing that what is unseen and intangible is not only possible but has already been done, that it far exceeds our expectations and is not dependent or conditional on our verification of its eventual tangibility.  

 

Almost eight years ago, I experienced the most painful and poignant Christmas of my life so far. My mother was in a hospice, where cancer had spread to her brain and mentally she was no longer fully with us. She was, as we would soon discover, in the last week of her life. I share this extremely personal note as a means to say that hope is real. Love is real. Sometimes we may become tired and weary of hearing sentiments and reading positive #quotesoftheday on Instagram, I feel you. Words do have power, but they can also bear ritual.

When I think about my reality eight Christmases ago and my reality today, they are extremely different, but there is one constant. “The passage of time can heal” is something often said, but the passage of time can also destroy, allowing for decay and deterioration is a harsh reality that we must be equally aware of. Over the years since her death, close friends and acquaintances have sometimes said to me “you are so strong” which I guess is shared with a mixture of admiration and empathy. Really, I am so blessed.

I was so blessed to have my mother’s love, which is still so real even after her physical prescence is gone. Over the last eight years I have been beyond blessed with family, friends, the love of significant others, confidantes, kind strangers and more. Matthew 5:3-4 reads in The Message translation: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what your spiritual affiliation is, or even if you don’t have one, there is deep wisdom in those words. Where you turn and what you’re surrounded by when you’re at the end of your rope, in a place where there is a deep void in whatever capacity, will define you, it will make or break you.

I was having a conversation with a great friend the other night and she told me how a young mother who attends her classes had told her that in the midst of suffering post-natal depression, my friend’s smile had brought her hope and joy. That struck a chord with me, we really don’t know what that person sitting opposite us on the tube is going through, or even in this case, those within our direct sphere of influence. If we are attuned to those around us, a smile, a simple gesture of welcome and kindness, can be something they are grateful for that day. Please, extend that smile today with an added dimension of warmth, bear joy in your heart; you don’t know what the fruit of those small seeds will be. There is so much darkness out in our very neighbourhoods that we must be responsible for carrying light within us. It can outpour and overflow from you.

I’ll leave you with this today, said by the all-out amazing Bobbie Houston:

“May love be the last great act to shock the world”.

Love is intelligent, love is considered. Love is so much more than a feeling. Love is synonymous with respect. Love is an enactment. Love is tenacious. Love is a moment-by-moment choice. Love is in the doing as much as it is in the being.

Happy (almost) new year dear readers!

Jenn x

 

Feature image: Snapped in Monaco

Women of Style & Substance: Saskia Bewley

Feature image: Saskia, captured by yours truly on the iconic steps of the Palais des Festivals, home to the Cannes Film Festival

 

We first met back in the autumn of 2010 and our years of friendship since have been so rich in discovery.

A commonality in both our lives is that we are ethnically mixed and it has allowed us to share so many conversations about the beauty, frustration and issues of identity (many of which come from external sources) that are part of the territory in embodying the hilarious and ambiguous tick-box on the form marked”mixed other”. This has taken formal contexts e.g. being interviewed on mixed race identity as part of her Masters in Intercultural Communication for Business and the Professions (yes she’s a modest genius) and attempting to give insight into diversity within the fashion industry for her thesis based around Indian Vogue, to wine-fuelled heart-to-hearts on my bedroom floor.

 

img_0174
Plum foolin’ in Cannes

 

Saskia is insanely intelligent, stoically perceptive and profoundly gifted at providing the right word at the right time. She is one of those rare people who speaks directly to your soul (even across continents via Skype) and has delivered me moments of profundity and as she would say, great synchronicity (those connecting the dots, everything interconnects on so many levels ones). Over the years we have somehow developed an unspoken tradition of gifting each other with the words of great men and women in the form of poetry, books and the occasional handwritten quote. Our conversations and shared love of literature always leave me thinking in new ways, challenged and motivated to act accordingly. This interview was no exception!

 

SS: What did you last Google? 

SB: Hand in Hand for Syria’s Aleppo Emergency appeal: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/AleppoAppeal [Ed note: Please do donate to this worthy cause if you can, it is often difficult to know if you are investing your money in the right places or organisations, but you can rest assured that this appeal provides direct aid where it is needed].

 

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.

[…]

Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

~ Maya Angelou, ‘When Great Trees Fall’ (shared with me by Saskia)

 

SS: Name one app you love that we might not know about: 

SB: I recently downloaded Insight Timer – Guided Meditations. It’s great for timing meditation sessions and there are some really nice guided options as well. I am pretty hopeless at being mindful so this is good discipline for me. Also, it sounds ridiculous but I often hold my breath without realising it, especially when I’m concentrating on a task, so the app is helping me to be more conscious of my breathing. Overall I’m just trying to be more present. And also not pass out!

 

SS: What is your happy place?

SB: My grandmother’s kitchen. One of my earliest memories is being sat on the kitchen floor whilst my grandmother cooked. She would give me and my brother mini rolling pins and boards so we could “help” make chapatis. She never seemed to mind that ours were any shape but round! And she would always make sure she ate ours first. I suppose ultimately my happy place is wherever stomachs are full and hearts are fuller. [ I couldn’t agree more, Amen!]

 

ss-this-is-how-you-lose-her

 

SS: What book are you currently reading or did you most recently finish? Would you recommend it?

SB: I recently finished ‘This is How You Lose Her’ by Junot Díaz. It’s a collection of interlinked short stories, predominantly centred around a recurring protagonist called Yunior. The prose is really raw. It’s really interesting as an insight into Dominican American culture, the immigrant story, masculinity and infidelity. In a way I found it quite alienating, and as a woman it left me feeling a little empty afterwards. I think that was kind of the beauty of reading it though. Not all stories are for you so to speak and these challenged me.

 

SS: Who embodies style with substance for you?

SB: Zadie Smith. I think she has an incredible mind. And she carries herself with a humility, authenticity and grace which I find really captivating.

zadie-smith-ss
Author Zadie Smith

 

SS: What is one lesson that you’ve learnt this year?

SB: To pay attention to my mental and physical health – that compassion starts with the self. Something I think I’ve known intellectually for a while but am only just beginning to understand emotionally.

 

img_0172
Beauty in her natural habitat, surrounded by books in Paris’ Shakespeare and Company (a must-visit if you’re in the city!)

 

SS: Do you have a favourite podcast? 

SB: I’m a podcast noob! Sporadic listener at best. Very open to recommendations though! If my earphones are in I am usually listening to whichever musician I am currently obsessing over. [Ed note: we both agree Drake is a poet]
SS: The first thing I do when I wake up is:

SB: Check the news on my phone. A lot can happen while you’re sleeping! Particularly in 2016 it seems…It often puts me in a strange headspace but Im trying really hard to replace feelings of despair with hope and feelings of helplessness with purpose and action.

 

SS: What is your guilty pleasure?

SB: Playing the same song over and over until I’m sick to death of it! [Ed note: So glad this is not just me!]

 

SS: If you could travel the world in a day, what pitstops would make and why?

SB: There are a few places that are ancestral homes for me and a few loved ones who I don’t get to see as often as I would like, so I suppose I would go and find all the places and all the people that feel like home.

 

SS: Any final words of wisdom?

SB: I’m going to defer to the wisest of the wise on this one – Maya Angelou – “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’


I can’t thank Saskia enough for sharing these words and tools of wisdom! Who cannot love a girl who enjoys a little too much wine and dancing as much as she does geeking out? A woman after my own heart, inspiring us to close out 2016 replacing “feelings of despair with hope and feelings of helplessness with purpose and action.” Yes!

 

Story Time: The Python Skin Bag

Let me tell you a story…


Most of us like stories. Personally, I love them, they give people, places and posessions context; they dig a little deeper, open up new worlds and give you a chance to learn and experience the richness that makes up the intricately interwoven tapestry that is our lives. Some people are enraptured by history, others love movies, all of these essentially encompass stories, be they fictional or not. This story takes us from Lagos, to London, onto Rajasthan in India, a quick pitstop at Warwick university (love you alma mater) and then to Kuala Lumpur, not necessarily in that order and with a few return trips in between. The everyday stories I enjoy encountering are often heard and told through objects. This isn’t a story about materialism, in fact the object itself is immaterial, it merely acts as a portal to the opening chapter that hooks you in.

This story takes us from Lagos, to London, onto Rajasthan in India, a quick pitstop at Warwick university (love you alma mater) and then to Kuala Lumpur, not necessarily in that order and with a few return trips in between.

This tale concerns a python skin bag. Said bag, amongst a few others from the same collection, had been gifted to my late-mother by her sister back in the 70s. My mum had used one of these bags till the bitter end (like mother, like daughter) as evidenced by the much-loved, battered beauty I found in her wardrobe one day (this hoarding behaviour is unfortunately a Chong family trait, sigh).

Myself, many decades later, discovered this collection and immediately fell in love with its timelessness, its versatility, its oblique quality, the mere fact that many of these bags were in pristine condition after close to 40 years spoke to that. I love that in the same way that my mum had worn and loved and woven that battered bag into her life, I was now giving them a new lease of life, incorporating them into my everyday, carting around my essentials, giving them a tale or many to tell.

This bag has come everywhere with me: from my first internship with a legendary shoe couturier who educated me on their value and was hilariously shocked at my 17-year old self nonchalantly swinging it around on the tube,  to more places a python skin bag should probably never go (namely my university student club, the opposite of sophistication, eek)!

img_0140

Bedtime at the wedding in India on the last night of celebrations. Each night we would come home to a beautiful present from our hosts, the cutest!

In the midst of this small little bag traversing continents and clubs it began to accumlate stories and start conversations that wove people together within the fabric of life’s ebb and flow. I was in India for a wedding and travelling with one of my best friends when our guide took us to an incredible pashmina shop containing every colour, texture and style imaginable.

The owner knew his stuff and taught us about the craft and composition of an authentic, well made pashmina, which of course, the fashion-geek in me was absolutely loving. Suddenly he noticed the little python skin bag I was carrying and conversation turned to its origins and craftsmanship. Having found mutual bonding ground (namely our obsesssion for fabric, materials etc.) we started having a real conversation which went beyond small talk. It was amazing to be able to bond with this lovely Kashmiri guy, sipping chai tea in the Northern region of India. He opened up to us about the long distance relationship he was in with his fiancé who was still living in Kashmir which then led us to speak about all the apps anyone with a smartphone in a long distance relationship knows all too well! It was so funny to find intimate talking points with someone who had relatable experiences from a completely different walk of life (I was also in an LDR at the time). The bag had bridged the conversation, one of many it had started over the course of our adventures together.

Every colour, texture and style imaginable…

img_0139

The colours of our hotel wardrobe in Udaipur: borrowed, pre-loved, scoured from a vintage store rail and kindly donated by dear friends and family.

Fast forward to one summer later and a full circle incident occurred when I was in Malaysia with some of my family. It was back in Kuala Lumpur eating mangosteens around my auntie’s kitchen table when the bag was finally seen again by its gifter. This was the same aunt who had bought the bags for my mum back in the 70s, and they originated from Lagos, Nigeria where she and her family were living and working at the time. She laughed as she recognised the bag which had literally crossed continents and decades to reach that moment resting on her kitchen table and I guess could only have imagined the path it must have taken to get there. Its prescence opened up conversations about life in Lagos, my cousin’s childhood as they then moved to Hong Kong and their eventual settling back in Kuala Lumpur. Who would have known that so much history, love, movement and family intricacies could be contained within this small, crossbody bag? All these stories provoked by that one object, crafted with care and attention.

Through a nostalgic lens, that coat you love, the bracelet you inherited from your grandmother, the shoes you wore on your 21st birthday are not just objects, they contain life. To get a little philosophical (literally) Heidegger wrote about the ‘fourfold’ and how objects can often contain mini worlds and microcosmic universes as when you use something manmade you imbue it with life. The perfect balance of dwelling within the fourfold which refers to the earth, the sky (the beyond or the future), mortals and the divinities is found by being aware of all four; in other words the past and present, the future, our humanity and finally the divine, whatever that may mean to you. Treasuring craft, provoking memory and encompassing both the living and eternal is what that python skin bag did (and may continue to do if I pass it onto my unborn daughter)!

If this story was to have a moral, which it doesn’t need to have, it would be to invest wisely. In this day and age, not many items that we buy would be able to tell a story four decades later and beyond. So maybe this story is in some ways about anti-materialism, slow fashion (as opposed to fast) and how something can only tell a story if it was made to last and withstand the passage of time. Heirloom items and generational dressing inherently require excellent quality. More on this in chapter two…

Bisous for now,

Jenn x

 

 

P.S: I am not an advocate for the use of exotic skins in fashion, however my brief philosophy with vintage fur/skins is that if they’re not being used in the modern day then any suffering was entirely futile.