Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You want to know about luxury bed linen? Pull up a seat, I'll be here for a while.

One of my ongoing copywriting jobs is writing the fortnightly newsletter for Melbourne-based online retailer Bear & Duck. If you’re after Egyptian cotton, bespoke-packaged bed linen that’s delivered to your door with a healthy dose of humour and humanity, then sign up to receive their sales alerts. I’m lucky the retail manager lets me cut loose and showcase my expertise – celebrity shoe trends, stupid baby names, “where are they now?” info on iconic 90s stars… you know, all the big issues. FYI – product specials are inserted into the newsletter after I’ve finished the copywriting, but that’s not my department.
The best thing about Bear & Duck is its unwavering mission to debunk the earnest drivel that’s churned out most lifestyle and consumer marketing departments.


If you believe all those health and lifestyle product ads on late-night TV, there’s a wealth of secrets “out there” (cue X-Files music) that are guarded tighter than inmates in a supermax prison unit. How generous is it, then, that these companies advertise them exclusively – oops, we mean “let us in on the secret” – through the medium of low-budget infomertials, televised at times that incidentally also offer bargain-basement ad rates and cater to vulnerable viewers (namely, desperate insomniacs and stoned couch potatoes). Seriously, if the “secret to younger looking skin” – ummm… avoid boozing, smoking, and sunbaking? – was that revolutionary, surely the next generation of nuclear physicists and biochemists would be lining up to intern at the Ponds Institute instead of NASA, right? As for Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices… Our bet is that he took that one to the grave, because nothing inside a KFC snack box remotely resembles anything derived from a living multi-cellular organism – chicken included.

Yet conversely, in this Twitterific age of instant information, a confessional culture has become the norm where “too much information” is never enough (we’re looking at you, Lily, Jordan, and the entire Kardashian family). If you’re burdened with a secret you need to unload don’t bother seeking a trusted confidante, just get online and clean your slate infront of an anonymous audience. Jilted bridesmaids and barmy bridezillas tell all on TruuConfessions.com, but the revelations are generally more salicious and creative on Post Secret – although it can be a tad NSFW… just a warning!

You know how obvious it can be when littlies try to lie, but they haven’t mastered the intricacies of body language and hiding evidence? One of the B&D team revealed the secret of her honest and obedient childhood: she grew up believing that if she told a fib, black spots would immediately appear on her tongue. Failure to clean teeth, shower, make bed and all those other tedious chores were caught out and remedied as soon as you could say “Poke out your tongue: BLACK SPOTS!”. OK, so it’s slightly hypercritical, but we think it’s a great one to add to the artillery of fantastical fibs you can tell gullible tots to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Prevarication, deception, call it what you will. Universally acknowledged as appropriate when prefaced with the questions pertaining to muffin tops (“I’ve just washed my jeans – do they look too tight?”) or culinary seasoning (“I slipped with the Chinese five spice – does it taste OK?”). Universally condemned in a court of law – no matter if you’re a Grammy-winning rapper or a millionaire author. In this competitive jobs market you might be tempted to “over-optimise” your skills and experience when writing your CV, but rest assured there are ways to side-step awkward issues without lying out your ass. If in doubt, check out recent Emmy-winning screenwriter Ben Schwarz’s succinct demonstration of “what NOT to do” when it comes to job interviews and prospective employers.

Posh might have 100-odd variations of the real mccoy – the classic Hermes Birkin handbag that is, starting price $7,600 – but the closest most of us will get to this is a dodgy imitation from Bali, Bangkok or Hong Kong. Not that we’d ever condone “luxury” products in shoddy materials – polycotton sheets gives us hives, honest to God – but when you’re comparing leather and suede Louboutins (£570) to those from the high street (£110) it makes you wonder what all the fuss is about. DISCLAIMER: For any loved-up readers planning surprise engagements, we’d advise against offering the fake Tiffany solitaire when you go down on bended knee… Some things just shouldn’t be faked, and diamond engagement rings is one of them.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Benefit's scents evoke Mad Men and Desperate Housewives

Benefit Cosmetics, best known for its 1950s pin-up aesthetic and tongue-in-cheek taglines, takes inspiration from the city of Bath and Desperate Housewives for its new range of fragrances. The Crescent Row collection features three scents based on three characters with their own unique style and personality, not unlike the residents of Wisteria Lane. Since the San Francisco-based company launched the range in Paris last month all three scents have remained in Sephora’s top 10 list of best-selling fragrances.

The story goes that the daughter of one of Benefit’s founders (identical twins Jean and Jane Ford launched the brand in 1978) visited Royal Crescent in Bath and imagined the ladies residing behind the street’s brightly-coloured doors. As far as televisual references go, the marketing behind the range definitely has a Mad Men vibe to it – think pearls, chaise lounges and pink flamingos.

It’s the most imaginative packaging you’ll see on a fragrance counter this season, with each box opening like a doll’s house to reveal the character’s lounge room within. Each bottle is shaped like miniature cocktail shaker, undoubtedly a key item for a house-bound lady of leisure. The three scents cover all tastes, the lightest (Lee Lee) is fresh and citrusy with jasmine and lily; Sofia features oriental blossoms, mango and vanilla; and Gina – the resident seductress and bombshell – combines patchouli, wild raspberry and pink pepper.

The Crescent Row collection looks set to become Benefit’s signature fragrance range; sales reps will helpfully point out that all three scents can be layered without interfering with each other, so you can create your own unique scent (I’m guessing the rationale is, why flog one 30ml bottle for 29.50 when you can sell all three…).

Yes, that really IS Hermione for Burberry Autumn 2009

In what’s set to be Burberry’s most accessible and successful advertising campaign in recent years, Harry Potter ingénue Emma Watson has made her first foray into a modelling career, as the face of the Brit brand for Autumn 2009. The campaign, shot by Italian maestro Mario Testini, was shot near Burberry’s London headquarters (yep, that’s the Thames in the background) back in June.

It’ll be hard to miss the ads if you happen to open a high-end glossy this month, or wander past one of Burberry’s stores in London or Manchester. It is, however, easy to overlook 19-year-old actress, given her look is altogether more grown-up and sophisticated than the tunic and capes audiences are most familiar her in. When the time comes for French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld to make a biopic of her life, Watson would be a sure bet for the lead – with her smoky eyes and caramel tresses, she looks more like French style maven than Roitfeld’s own daughter, model Julia Restoin Roifeld.

Modelling the brand’s iconic trench coats and tartan scarves, she nails the “understated cool” look like a seasoned pro. While the 695-pound pricetag on the Burberry Technical taffeta trench she models might be out of most 19-year-olds’ budgets, on Miss Watson it looks utterly convincing (which is not surprising, given her net worth from the Potter franchise will nudge 15 million pounds by the series’ end).

The celebrity covergirl marks a change in direction for the 153-year-old luxury fashion house, which has relied on the supermodel appeal of Lily Donaldson, Agyness Deyn and Eden Clark in recent seasons. The result, however, is right on target – she provides an utterly aspirational vision for the typical (albeit, slightly older) Burberry customer, while at the same time anchoring the brand back to its British roots. Despite the campaign’s back-to-basics inspiration, it’s refreshing to hear its covergirl’s response to the job, describing it as “the biggest ego boost of my life!”

The Melbourne Design Guide, and a relocation "abroad"

I opened this space at the start of 2009 with the same intentions as most new bloggers: to write about things that interested me outside of the hilarious daily email exchanges to friends, and my 9-5 commitments of corporate copywriting and online content management. Since then, a big exciting freelance project took over my time, and then I decided to pack up my life in Melbourne and make the move to London (via Paris, Marseille, Barcelona and Valencia).

Sadly, I left Melbourne before the launch of the Melbourne Design Guide during the State of Design Festival in July. I'd worked on the project as an Assistant Editor since November last year, and co-ordinated the "Products/Objects" section of the chunky little tome. I think we can all agree it's an impressive development from the first edition, and the graphic design and layout certainly possesses The Wow Factor (what used to be a take-the-piss reference to non-aesthetically-minded clients trying to describe a brief to graphic designers has now, sadly, cemented itself in my vernacular).

It's the perfect housewarming/Christmas/birthday present for an artsy creative who's new to Melbourne. I guess that's the main PR line, although I do think it's Indispensible for any self-respecting hipster going on a first date. The "Eat/Drink" section is so comprehensive I think it lists nearly every bar or restaurant included in last week's 2010 Good Food Guide awards.
Now in London, I'm still freelancing for a few websites back in Melbourne, but looking for regular writing gig. Preferably one that involves a purpose-built workstation that's not a couch, or a leather bench seat with a wooden "desk" that's sticky with cider or beer. In this part of the world, it seems pubs are the new Starbucks for wifi-needy freelancers...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Melbourne Comedy Festival 2009

A version of this review was published on Arts Hub during the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The Pajama Men – Versus vs. Versus
The Bosco
City Square, Cnr. Collins and Swanston Sts, Melbourne.
Tues - Sat 8.15pm, Sun 7.15pm.

Wacky, young American duo; bare minimum of props (two chairs onstage, both men wearing pyjamas); a synopsis that hints at frenetic leaps between a myriad of characters and historical eras. I’ll admit I entered the Bosco Theatre in the City Square (think a smaller, more rickety Spiegeltent with tiered, wooden benches) with some trepidation – done badly, this could resemble the longest and most clichéd Spacejump routine ever witnessed by a non-Theatresports-playing audience.

Thankfully, my expectations were blown as quickly and absolutely as performers Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez’s lightning-fast transitions from one sketch to the next. I’m aware that describing this duo as “masters of improv” or “witty and inventive” might repel readers (especially if they’ve endured Spontaneous Broadway, or Pig Island’s Simply Fancy at last year’s festival… that’s 55 minutes of my life I’ll never get back) but this show was so wonderfully paced and its manic stars so damn talented and engaging that it restored my faith in the genre. Their musical accompanist at the back of the stage, Dominick Campbell (a folk musician who performs under the moniker Luminous Craft), is the calm in the storm, tying the show together with musical interludes and spot-on sound effects.

I’d struggle to recall the scenarios and characters that they jumped between, although they did tie up the recurring storylines succinctly, in a characteristically manic and surreal fashion at the end. What can I say – it’s hard to relay the comic genius of a bat playing chess, or miming a horse’s mouth with two sets of hands, or why gargoyles really are the most ironic of mythical creatures… you really need to see if for yourself.

Underpinning the seemingly random progression of skits and musical interludes is a razor-sharp script that senses when to shift down a gear and give the audience a moment’s respite (whether that’s by conducting the crowd as a mouth-clicking orchestra, or imploring us to wave our arms above our heads like trees in the wind). It’s no surprise to learn that Allen and Chavez have been performing as the Pajama men since 2004, when they picked up a Perrier Best Newcomer nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you’re looking for wet-your-pants-laughing hilarity, devoid of Obama/Facebook/stimulus package references, then book a date with the Bosco Theatre and the Pajama Men.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Golden Plains 2009 wrap up

I heard this saying about Meredith Music Festival that I now repeat ad nauseum every December: going to Meredith for the music is like going to the movies for the popcorn. After rocking and partying out (Phil style) at its little sister event, Golden Plains, last weekend – by now the other official bookend to summer– I’ve come up with a new one (no, it wasn’t hatched at 3am in the Ecoplex Cinema, thanks for asking). Going to Golden Plains for the music is like going to Christmas for the presents. Ok, so *obviously* the best/most important thing about Christmas is the presents, especially if you have a boring, tea-totalling family or relatives with food allergies or limited culinary skills; I mean, it’s a standard question to ask friends at New Years: “How was Christmas? Yeah? Get any good presents?”. And yes, live music generally IS the reason you shell out $200 for a music festival. Furthermore, since its inception three years ago, I reckon GP has delivered more impressive musical line ups than Meredith. But it’s quite telling that most people who rated last weekend as one of the best ever – still riding high on the Supernatural experience – could only recall or offer insightful analysis on less than 50% of the acts on Saturday and Sunday. Just like an awesome family Christmas that culminates in Shirley Bassey and Neil Diamond karaoke medleys (and where your unwrapped presents are left perilously close to the rubbish bin in the lounge), last weekend seemed to be all about the off-stage fun.

This pretty much encapsulates the weekend. See? No bands or music in the frame. When you’re sitting on the hill with a fancy deck chair and esky, what more could you want? In other revelations, the sooner Fosters wakes up, smells the coffee and realises there’s a market for Mercury cider in cans, the sooner we can stop decantering slabs of Mercury longnecks into 1.5 litre plastic bottles, and the better the Summer festival season will be. (Just on Meredith/GP’s “no glass” policy – it was interesting to see the volunteers on the gate going through every car boot and esky this year. Also interesting how good-natured everyone seemed to be if punters were caught with glass on arrival. No fuss, usually just a “shit mate, sorry – forgot about those ones, there you go”, and the vollies nod and smile, knowing their Sunday night is going to be that little bit larger.)

If I read another fashion magazine focus on “music festival chic” this year, I think I’ll hurl. Thankfully I don’t think there were too many ladies around our camp who’d painstakingly recreated “Alexa Chung at Glastonbury 2008” or “Mischa Barton c.2006” (a.k.a. anything boho/noho/fauxho, mocassiny or fringed leathery). For god’s sake, if your biggest issue is matching accessories to your tan slouch boots, you need to get stuck into a 1.5 litre bottle of Mercury and reset your priorities. (Buying novelty fluoro emo-inspired fingerless gloves at the Ballan market on route to the festival does not count though, OK? As long as there’s a cool story to explain your purchase – “I needed to break a $10 note so I could buy two sausages in bread at the Rotary Club stall” – you’re sweet.)
For practical ladies – or anyone who prefers a slim line on their pant pockets – the only sartorial “must-have” for a music festival is a bum bag. My trusty Kathmandu number has been mocked and acclaimed in equal measure since Splendour ’06, but let’s face it – when you can whip out lip balm/chewy/photo ID/sunscreen/ciggies/water bottle/ciggie lighter/hair band/ sunnies or $20 quicker than Michaelangelo could quick-draw his numchucks, who’s got the last laugh now? Despite our long partnership and innumerable good times, I’d swap it in an instant for a leather belt with separate press-studded compartments and internal zippy pockets. We're pretty much talking about the Godfather of fanny packs. That’s it above on the left, FYI.

Even the insects were feeling the love in the Supernatural Ampitheatre. This fat and furry bee well-and-truly got jiggy wit it when he came upon my hat on Sunday afternoon. He must’ve thought it was the biggest, brightest and most OTT tropical flower he'd ever had the pleasure of pollinating. He just wouldn’t buzz off. We really should have videoed his little humping dance, he kind of had a Ginuwine thang going on.

It’s always great when a festival-goer brings something completely ostentatious to the table - err, mosh pit. But it’s a fine line between unexpected performance art and antisocial invasion of dancing space. Dude crowd surfing in full-sized inflatable dinghy to Regurgitator at Falls Festival two years ago? Spectacular. Excitable (and excited) naked man dancing inside a moat of empty beer cans after Gary Numan early Monday morning? Yep, a little creepy. But the young guy who popped up on top of the crowd inside a giant inflatable bubble provided one of the coolest moments of the weekend. Especially when he cracked the can of Melbourne Bitter from his pocket and managed swigs while his bubble was bobbing along (during My Disco’s set I think?). We ran down for a closer inspection just as his friends pulled him down, unvelcroed and unzipped the bubble and he popped out, good as new.

Think camping festivals and toilets, and suddenly catheters, constipation and dehydration appeal as conveniences rather than afflictions. It’s a scientific fact that port-a-loos are only safe for the first four hours of Day 1. Which makes it all the more amazing that the permanent blocks of composting toilets provided some of the happiest moments at GP (and no, I’m not talking about Dan Deacon’s guerrilla performance outside the Bush Camp dunnies on Saturday night). Seriously, the totally environmentally-friendly loos are the best things since the flat-bottom taco shell and the esky on wheels. Best discovery of the weekend? Toilet no. 29 near Bush Camp. It’s pimped out with a fancy chandelier.