Pop: Road to despair

What the world needs now is love, sweet love, but don't expect to find it in Revolutionary Road. Kate and Leo may look as cosy as Barack and Michelle on the publicity poster but the marriage they bring to life (or death) on screen, care of director Sam Mendes, is anything but blissful.

In fact, the film paints a picture of marriage so bleak you may find yourself wondering if signing up for monogamy is more like selling your soul to the devil than the consummation of two complementary souls in spirit. If anything is to be gained here, it's the message that two people intent on gratifying their own desires do not a happy marriage make – unless those desires are in alignment and mutually beneficial (as one would assume is the case with Barack and Michelle).

Leaving their youthful dreams behind, when aspiring actress April falls pregnant, she and an idealistic Frank move from Manhattan to the suburbs, settling for the brand of 1950s suburban mediocrity they openly detest. She is frustrated by an unrealised dream, while he fears turning into his father, another corporate victim working in a job he loathes towards the 'American dream'. Their individual discontent pervades their marriage. Both dabble in affairs but, of course, while offering a fleeting escape from their Dystopian reality, their dalliances fail to satiate their longings for a better life.

We get a glimpse of what this 'better life' might look like when April convinces Frank that they, and their two children, who are largely absent from the film (again reflecting their self absorption), should move to Paris to start afresh. As they go about making plans and packing their things, they find passion again, and the remnants of their youthful idealism come to life.

But the glimmer of hope is soon dulled by the persuasions of the world – Frank is offered a promotion – and an unplanned pregnancy, which sees April succumb to a deep depression. We receive some dark comedic relief via the paranoid schizophrenic son of their real estate agent (played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon), who is unforgiving with his honest dinner-table appraisal of their marriage.

Accustomed as we are to our happy Hollywood endings, I wasn't surprised by the collective sigh of audience relief when the credits started to roll, nor the comment by a fellow movie-goer: "Thank God that's over." Indeed, there is no God to be found in Revolutionary Road – there is no hope, no forgiveness, no joy and no selfless love. We see the human condition laid bare and operating at its worst – selfishness, rebellion, depravity, arrogance, deceit, faithlessness and hypocrisy all come into play.

You might be left wondering, 'What is the point?'. I'm not sure what Sam Mendes was trying to achieve (unless Prozac was a sponsor?) and can only hope the film is not a reflection of his marriage to Winslet. Where American Beauty, which paints an equally abysmal picture of suburban life, was palatable for its humour and likeable characters, Revolutionary Road is the cinematic equivalent of jury duty.

Coming from a 'broken home' and being in a marriage that's suffered its share of trials, I'm no idealist and I'm sure many couples will identify with April and Frank and their struggle. But do we need to see it on screen? I loved the raw honesty of Lantana, for example, particularly Kerry Armstrong's character, but we were not left bereft. We wanted happy outcomes for the characters – we felt compassion for them; not disdain.

Thankfully, I had my copy of Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity, with its glimpses into her warm home life, to turn to as a reminder that not all is hopeless – we can choose to create our own happy havens; to eschew worldly expectations of success and financial security in favour of investing into our relationships and living out our passions, which are ultimately more sustaining for the soul, if a little idealistic (oh, reality, how you do spoil a good party).

But wouldn't it be nice to see the Brockets and Obamas of the world reflected on screen – now, they could teach us a valuable lesson or two.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit...look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Books: The Gentle Art of Domesticity

Jane Brockett's The Gentle Art of Domesticity ($69.99, Hodder and Stoughton) is not for women who take pleasure in discussing the wonders of Shower Power ('Do such women exist?' you ask. Yes – guilty as charged) or adhere to Stepford Wife standards of household perfection.

In fact, Brocket's book may be an antidote for women suffering from the kind of perfectionism that pervades their plastic-covered home environments to the point of rendering them sterile and practically unlivable – certainly not places where one can kick of his or her heels and feel 'at home' (leave your shoes at the door, please).

Brocket's mantra for living embraces imperfection ("domestic comfort lies in the knowledge that things do not have to be perfect," she writes). Her book is a flaws-and-all paean to adorning your domestic life with things that bring you pleasure, through embracing 'the gentle arts of domesticity', rather than by adhering to the rigid rules of household maintenance practised by Martha Stewart and co. Brocket is about finding pleasure in the activities that feminism forgot.

"The gentle art of domesticity is the felicitous application of practical skills to the spaces in which we live," she writes. "It requires a desire to make instead of consume, a triumph of activity over passivity, and a return to using our hands and imaginations rather than a reliance on screens and technology. It's part of that wonderful, traditional, often undervalued skill of 'making our own entertainment' – something we are wont to consign erroneously to the dim and distant past of radio, board games, jigsaw puzzles and, dread word, hobbies."

Thanks to Brockett, her book, her blog (Yarnstorm, which attracts 50,000 hits a week) and fellow craft/domestic bloggers, the girls who liked home economics at school but were pushed to pursue science or legal studies instead can come out of the linen closet and embrace their knitting needles and spatulas with fervour.

Why should fashionistas and dress designers escape feminist retribution while craftsters are accused of being subservient to traditional patriarchal roles, anyway? In fact, now we're no longer beholden to defined gender roles, it's almost subversive and romantic (certainly 'retro cool') to reclaim the lost arts – even if it's too late now to seek out our grandmothers for advice... and we're still doing most of the housework.

Lest we take her for a flippant housewife with too much time on her hands, Brocket spends the introductory paragraphs assuring us that she's anything but. She did the university thing and the career thing, but then found her groove after giving birth and moving to Germany with her husband, Simon:

"Instead of fighting the glaringly anachronistic corporate-wife lifestyle, I realised I didn't have to kowtow to that particular set of expectations. Instead, I saw that enforced domesticity could be tremendously liberating and would allow me to do all the things I had loved for so long and yet had felt guilty about practising. Knitting, baking, buying flowers and bread, exploring a different domestic culture, reading Elizabeth Gaskell – all this suddenly became worthwhile, and a way of being me in the face of impending motherhood and, that dreadful tag, a 'trailing spouse'."

Brocket warmly invites us into her life, her home, her inspirations (art, classic books, pineapples!) and discusses the challenges of motherhood and running a household:

"Some days my creative output is zero; life is more a matter of holding everything together until relief arrives in the form of Simon/a glass of wine/a child taken out of the equation/bedtime...".

The book is infused with personal anedcotes, her musings on each of the gentle arts, playtime (how many of us act impulsively on our need for play... of a non-sexual, non-shopping variety?), films, colour, sweets, dark chocolate, texture, fabrics, poetry, style, book covers, buttons, flowers, travel and her 'seven comforts'. There are also recipes (chewy flapjacks, oaty vanilla biscuits, Queen of Hearts jam tarts – yum!), craft instructions, life lessons and gorgeous photographs to admire.

It's a rich and rewarding read – sort of like falling through the rabbit hole and into Brocket's version of Wonderland. Or a grown-ups version of Gisele Scanlon's The Goddess Experience ($39.99; Harper Collins). Leave a copy on your coffee table for guests to thumb through, dip into it at leisure over an afternoon tea of jam tarts or gift it to a woman you adore.

Buy it here or here!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS New York News Desk - Inaugurationmania

I could sit here and talk about more layoffs in the media, the Vogue doco at Sundance, and the few bright lights in the publishing biz (Jennifer Aniston covers sell!), but, really, who cares today? It's useless to even think about anything other than Obama.

As the new President of the United States of America (oh, yeah!) gets ready for a busy night of Inaugural Balls, and everyone waits to see what Michelle wears, here's a few tidbits about her outfit from today:

- As you've all heard by now, Michelle wore a lemongrass-yellow coat and matching dress from Cuban-born, NY-based designer Isabel Toledo. Loving that she didn't go with a predictable choice and that someone a little kooky got a look-in on such a big day. The New York Times captured Toledo's delight earlier this morning: "I wanted to pick a very optimistic color, that had sunshine," she said. "I wanted her to feel charmed, and in that way would charm everybody."

- For more on Michelle Obama's style, check out Mrs O, the blog dedicated to charting her fashion choices. Sure to provide lots of eye candy over the four – no, eight! – years to come.

- In March last year, The New Yorker ran a great profile of the kinda eccentric Toledo (and her husband, illustrator Ruben Toledo). Definitely worth a read. (GWAS adds – Ruben Tuledo lent his pen to Nina Garcia's Little Black Book of Style and The One Hundred).

- New York Mag's blog tells us that the First Lady once wore "Glacier" pumps by Jimmy Choo.

Stay tuned for more NY News Desk reports in the coming days – as soon as Obama-fever calms down.

Signing off,
Rebecca Wallwork/GWAS New York News Desk

GWAS Playlist

This week's pick of pop culture, magazines & pretty things...
1. The Confessions of a Shopaholic publicity machine is in full drive with Isla Fisher battling it out with the babes of Bride Wars (Kate Hudson for Australian InStyle and US ELLE), He's Just Not That Into You (Scarlett Johansson for US Harper's Bazaar) and Gossip Girl (Blake Lively for US Vogue and CLEO; Leighton Meester for Teen Vogue; both for Dolly), as well as GG golden girl Kate Winslet (UK ELLE; US InStyle), for February cover supremacy.

Fisher, 32, has made the February cover of beauty magazine Allure (and also UK InStyle). She's currently planning her wedding to Sacha Baron Cohen, while also penning a film script (working title, Groupies) with fellow comic actress and mum Amy Poehler. It's fabulous to see this Aussie, a one-time Home and Away cast member like fellow success story Melissa George, glowing amongst the ranks of the international glossy bunch.

2. Kate Winslet, who fronts the February edition of US InStyle, has had her boobs praised by Oprah Winfrey: "I love that you have real breasts, because in all the breast scenes [in Revolutionary Road], your breasts do what real breasts do. There's that wonderful thing, you know, if you are a woman, you're lying on your back, your breasts they part, but if you look at a woman who hasn't got real breasts, their breasts are sticking straight up. That's how you know. God bless your real breasts!" Watch the clip!

3. While Blake Lively is questionably in Vogue, Gossip Girl's aspiring, precocious fashionista, Taylor Momsen, is Page Six Magazine's latest cover subject. The self-conscious 15-year-old says, "I don't leave the house without thinking of how to represent myself. But I’m not a little kid playing dress up. It's all very real." As if to prove her point, Momsen says she prefers her fashion high-end, naming the likes of Alexander Wang, Balmain, YSL, Dior and Dolce & Gabanna as just a few of her favourites. Page Six also weighs in on Anna Wintour's rumoured retirement.

4. Josephine Tovey (not to be confused with Jessica Tovey of Home and Away - back on screens this coming Monday... um, not that I watch it or anything!) writes on the influence of teen magazines for the SMH. While it's accepted that teen mags need to adopt a level of social responsibility, Professor Catharine Lumby, who is in the midst of a study involving teen girls, dismisses the notion that they are the sole cause of eating disorders in young women: "There's no question that girls were very aware of pressures on them about appearance but they felt this didn't just come from the media, it also came from things like behaviour modelled by their mothers … To isolate magazines is really to miss the broader social context: that we still live a very gendered society that puts pressure on women of all ages."

5. Perennial single gal Renee Zellweger graces the cover of US Marie Claire, resplendent in a hot pink power dress, alongside the cover line: "Angelina, Jen, Gwyneth, J.Lo: The Men They'd Rather Forget". On being single, she says: "The thing is, I’m away all the time. I suppose if I sat still long enough to get to know somebody beyond a dinner date, maybe. But I don’t feel like my life is empty or that I have to make something happen. I have projects to develop. I want to study American history and political science, live in an apartment in France, and fix my bad French. And is there really time for all of it? Last summer, when I said it wasn’t the right time for something I wanted to do, a friend asked, ‘How long are you going to live?’... I’m not single, I’m busy. That’s my line.”

6. "Empathy chic" and "recession-apropos silhouettes" at the Golden Globes, "dumpster chic" at the Green Inaugural Ball (coat made from campaign flyers, anyone?) – on top of "recessionista chic", "credit crunch chic", "eco chic", "geek chic", "cheap chic", "rock chic", "heroin chic", "bogan chic" and "shabby chic", what will they think of next (says she of the 'Cute & Chic' posts)?

7. Habitual desk snacker? Me too! So you'll appreciate this genius idea care of Daily Candy London. Graze is a delivery service for healthy snack boxes (just like the 'brown lunch bag' canteen/tuckshop service of your primary school days). There are 128 (!!) things to choose from, including nuts, rice crackers, dried and fresh fruit, veggies, seeds and olives. Nutritional boxes include Graze Energy (to help keep blood sugar levels stable), Graze Wellbeing (boost your immune system), Graze PreWorkout (high in carbs for glucose and Graze PostWorkout (for replacing key nutrients), while you can opt for small (a day's snacks sorted), medium (for the daily grazer) or large (a fest for the day) box sizes. Unfortunately, Graze only operates in the UK, but there's no reason why you can't use the inspiration (see 'Browse our food') to fill your own lunchbox. Snack, anyone? Meanwhile, Gwyneth has been GOOPing about her butt-lifting Tracy Anderson workout (it's also rumoured she and Tracy will be opening a chain of gyms).

8. SMH writer Lenny Ann Low has penned a very funny "guide to the ridiculous global phenomenon that is the celebrity." SMH journalist Charles Purcell writes about how to not score a celebrity interview (it's hilarious). Trespass magazine has compiled a list of 200+9 Things To Do in 2009. The Sartorialist's (aka Scott Schuman) debut book will be published by Penguin Books in the US this September, in hard cover and paperback format. British celebrity blog PopBitch also has a book out via Random House, PopBitch: Celebrity Excess and Other Monkey Business.

9. Hello, cuteness! Conceptual beauty lines are the cosmetic marketing gimmick dujour, with M.A.C taking the lead with its celebrity-endorsed lines (most recently collaborating with Dame Edna Everage but also artist Fafi and designers Heatherette) and now Too Faced Cosmetics has caught on with the Smurfette Collection. (Source: Adore Beauty)

10. Swapping her MacBook for a microphone, gregarious go-getter and former Cosmopolitan Australian editor Sarah Wilson is the new host of Channel 10's Masterchef series. She started shooting this week in Perth.

Me, me, me! Tomorrow Girl With a Satchel celebrates its second bloggy birthday!

Thank you to everyone who's sent an email of encouragement, commented on a post (unless
you were particularly nasty), and also to my wonderful sponsors and contributing writers (you rock!).

Props also to the glossy mag teams, without whom
GWAS would be really boring. And, in true Oscars speech style, thanks be to God, who has kept the blog bubbling along even when I wasn't feeling bubbly myself.

The cupcakes are on me!

The Word for the Weekend: "The Lord is my strength and my song: he has become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents and private dwellings of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord does valiantly and achieves strength!" Psalm 118: 14-15

Times are tough; support The Big Issue!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS Shops: Oops, I slipped...

Companies are downsizing (full-time employment down 44,000 jobs), families are going into baked-beans-for-dinner recession mode and, yet, I still can't help myself...

I slipped into a certain department store en route to Coles last night to buy necessities, like loo paper, toothpaste and Herbal Essences shampoo, when I saw them. Like Baby spotting Patrick Swayze (God bless), I was instantly smitten. There, amongst the scattered sale debris was a single tan Tony Bianco pump waiting to be rescued... by moi.

I caressed it with the same affection one might reserve for a Shitzu puppy and checked the size... 5 1/2. Oh, no! This lovely, "Almond Vogue Ana" t-bar was a size too small. Still, I approached the sales assistant and requested its soul sole mate (ah, punny!), clasping my hands together like a hopeful nun in prayer. She returned five minutes later and I took a seat...

Then came my Cinderella moment – they fit! Giddy with excitement – these shoes are the missing link in my shoe wardrobe of approximately 326 pairs of tan heels/flats/wedges/sandals, I thought – I handed over my credit card. Then, as if to seal this fateful shopping experience, the sales assistant gleefully informed me that they had been marked down even further... from $129 to $79 to just $53! To not buy them would have been irresponsible. God wanted me to have these shoes, I was sure (stars aligning and all that). Plus, I reasoned, I am doing my bit for Myer the economy and keeping this helpful sales assistant in a job.

Ah, the fine art of female economic rationalism...

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS Scoop – Meet Vogue girl Clare Press

Following in the chic, stiletto-clad footsteps of ex-magazine editor/scribes Lee Tulloch, Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman and Zoe Foster, after five years working for Vogue Australia, former features director Clare Press, 32, has embarked on the next phase of her career. And that involves writing her first book.

But that's not all there is to Project Press: between penning fashion stories for The Australian and working on designs for her fashion label, Mrs. Press, a delectable selection of vintage-inspired slinky frocks, slips, knickers and camisoles, the witty wordsmith is also launching a beauty brand tie-in, Mrs. Press Dressing Table. With all this on her (fashion) plate, UK-born Press still managed to find time to speak to GWAS (who's had a bit of a girl-writer crush on Press for some time!)...

You've left what could be considered one of the most covetable and respected positions in Australia fashion magazine journalism. How did you come to the decision to leave your Vogue post? Mrs. Press started as a hobby and grew. In the end, I was working fulltime by day, then coming home to another five hours on the label. Something had to give. But every time I thought of resigning, someone would say, ‘You have the best job in the world!’ And, timing-wise, the media is in massive flux; with people facing redundancy, what kind of lunatic gives up an amazing job at Vogue? So I suppose I am crazy, but my goal posts shifted. I want to write books, and give my label the attention it deserves.

Had you always fancied a career in fashion design, or was that something that evolved as you worked for Vogue? It was always in the back of my mind, this idea of trying to build a brand around the dressing room, the dressing table, an old-fashioned approach to slips and lingerie and vintage sensibilities. I’m working on candles and soaps and boudoir treats to go with that. It’s all part of what I want to do with my first book, too.

Given your associations with Vogue, do you think it will be harder for you to gain press support for Mrs. Press? So far I’ve been incredibly lucky. Today I saw a pair of my French knickers in the new Marie Claire and jumped for joy. That’s very exciting for me.

Do you think most magazine jobs should come with an expiry date? Can a girl work in glossies forever? For me, yes, but there are plenty of people who stay on the same titles for decades and it works for them.

Can you tell us who has filled your shoes at Vogue? The very clever and fabulous [former beauty editor] Alexandra Spring. She will do great things.

Did you always aspire to be a fashion writer?
No, my degree is in politics, and I always wanted to be a novelist. Still do…

How did you get your start in magazines? I didn't know a soul when I [migrated to Australia] at 23, but I made connections. I was in Melbourne first and I called up Rachelle Unreich, who was doing an online mag back then and begged to work for free. Then the gods sent me an angel in the form of Jeff Apter, then Music Ed at Rolling Stone, who gave me my break - he published an interview I did with an unheard of band (Goldfrapp!!) then let me interview all my idols; it was a blast, trial by fire. I'd walk backstage, this girl in a frock, and they'd say, 'So where's the Rolling Stone guy?' Then Charlotte Scott gave me a job at Oyster. We got paid peanuts but had so much fun, and she and the other girls I worked with are still my best friends. I was lucky in that I made lots of friends in fashion. But I am also very driven - I put the hours in.

How did you get the Vogue gig? I was writing freelance for The Australian and Harper’s Bazaar when I got offered the job at a Christmas party given by a friend. [Editor Kirstie Clements] was there and we were chatting quite casually. When she asked me I nearly fell over. That said, we had met before more formally to talk about me writing for the magazine.

What did you wear to the interview? An eccentric gold disco dress, if I remember rightly! But had I been going to an interview, I would have worn a Miu Miu skirt, a little white Marnie Skillings blouse and metallic ballet flats, and I would have had a manicure – first impressions count.

What is the difference between a features editor and fashion editor on a glossy? A huge one: Fashion editors are stylists; they conceive of and direct shoots and they also attend the shows and distill the essence of the season for readers. Features editors work with words. My job was to write and commission stories for the magazine, to seek out wonderful writers and woo them into the Vogue fold, to generate and field story ideas on anything from politics to opera, and to interview fascinating people for profile pieces. It was my dream job.

What part of your role gave you the most satisfaction? The people it gave me access to, both those whom I interviewed and those I commissioned. Lee Miller’s eminent biographer Carolyn Burke comes to mind, and Alfredo Bouret, who illustrated for Frogue in the 1940s and 50s.

What kind of opportunities were you presented with while working at Vogue? One Christmas I got an Air New Zealand beanie hat! It’s a misconception that we’re all dashing about on free trips and taking delivery of mountains of free handbags every day. I did go to LA to shoot actors. And I once flew to Austria to a party, which is the stuff movies are made of. I was single at the time and dreamt of meeting a mysterious count who’d sweep me off my feet, but when I got there it was exactly like being at a fashion party in Sydney – loads of gorgeous women and three gay hairdressers.

Did you ever feel constricted or conflicted by advertiser arrangements? Never. But then features is different from fashion and beauty.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the women who work for Vogue Australia? That the offices are glam. News Magazines on the trucking route from the airport next to Bunnings.

And, of course, is working at Vogue like The Devil Wears Prada? Yes and no. Can I leave it at that?

Any advice for aspiring fashion writers? As an editor, my mantra was read, read, read. Liking clothes does not a fashion writer make; you have to learn your craft and reading the work of others is a key part of that. The best fashion journos are brilliant wordsmiths with their own distinct voices, and reliable opinions based on a total understanding of the context.

I like Nigella Lawson’s point that a good writer can write interestingly about anything at all – be that vegetables, shoes or, in her case, make-up. She was the first make-up columnist at London’s The Times Magazine, even though her then partner John Diamond tried to stop her, saying writing about lipstick would make her appear dumb, that she should stick to book reviews. She proved him wrong, didn’t she?

Do you think working in a glossy environment warps a girl's perceptions of the world? Certainly.
Are magazines to blame for eating disorders? Certainly not.
Did you feel pressure to look or dress a certain way, or did you just accept this as part of the job and/or relish it? Dressing up for the office is the fun part! I don’t do casual. Right now I’m trying to work out what to wear to work from home – at the moment I’m in a Talitha Getty phase typing away in a floor-length bell-sleeved peasant dress and a lot of jangly bangles. It’s a great outfit, but I fear it’s wasted on my cats.

Where do you like to shop?
The Society, my friend Sibella’s shop in Paddington, NSW. It’s a whole house and everything in it is for sale, from the paint on the walls to the furniture and frocks in the armoires. She works on Grazia and styles incredible interiors and every three months overhauls this space from top to bottom and themes it with new colours. I don’t know where she finds the time.
Most loved item of clothing... Changes every day.
Favourite holiday destination... Oak Beach, Port Douglas.
Weekend breakfasts are best at... East Ocean in Sydney for yum cha.
To relax you... Loll about in a kimono with a book and a glass of bubbles.
Favourite film... Out of Africa.
Album on rotation... Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room.
Mentor, role model or inspiration... Jane Roarty, executive fashion director at Marie Claire, is my surrogate mamma here, as my family is in England. She is adorable, incredibly stylish and full of wonderful stories. One of my favourite writers is my friend Kathryn Heyman. Her latest novel, Captain Starlight’s Apprentice, is brilliant – buy it!
And, most importantly, which magazines do you buy and read? All of them - I'm an addict! I read all the local glossies. Words-wise, my favourites are Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Monthly. Online, I look at The Daily Beast every day. For inspiration: Lula, Another Magazine, Sky Parrot's new one (Dossier), V and Purple...

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel