The scene behind India’s cotton production

India is the world’s largest producer of cotton (it surpassed China recently), while Gujarat is the largest cotton producing state in India with a production of 125 Lakh Bales. Cotton is considered not only the most important fibre crop in India but the entire world.

Cotton is the most popular cellulose fibre in the textiles and fashion industry, yet it uses more than half the chemical pesticides used in the entire agricultural production in India. In fact, cotton production is very unsustainable and poses serious challenges to the environment through the excessive use of inputs like water, fertilizers and pesticides.
Although most of us consider cotton as a preferable fibre to other synthetic fibres, few of us actually know much about the process of cotton production. Our visit to a cotton production factory in Kutch was an eye-opening experience, and it made me think hard about my consumption habit and how it has to change in the future.






The cotton plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt and India. The essential requirement for growing cotton crop is high temperature varying between 21°C and 30°C.

Cotton is a kharif crop which requires 6 to 8 months to mature. Traditionally, cotton production takes about 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilogramme of cotton fabric. And since India’s cotton is grown in drier regions, government subsidises the costs of farmers’ electric pumps, placing no limits on the volumes of groundwater extracted at little or no cost. This has created a widespread pattern of unsustainable water use and strained electrical grids.

So what happens after the cotton has been picked? Raw cotton is then brought to the ginning mills or factories to be cleaned and processed, and we visited one of them in Kutch. From afar, the raw cotton looked like mountains of snow – I have never seen so much cotton before, and it looked incredibly fluffy!

cotton factory

cotton factory

cotton factory  cotton factory

cotton factory


However, when we entered the factory, it was another story… the dark and polluted environment was shocking. We could barely breathe properly inside, and I had to take out and wear my ’emergency’ face mask immeditately. The factory was filled with cotton dust – a mixture of many substances including ground up plant matter, fibre, bacteria, fungi, soil, pesticides, non cotton plant matter and other contaminants. Yet in this appalling condition, none of the young workers there were wearing face masks, which made us question our guide about the ethics of the factory.


cotton factory

cotton factory


The guide told us that the factory boss does provide face masks for the workers, though they refuse to wear them. He claimed that even social workers have tried to persuade them but failed. I found it a bit hard to understand, and said that the government needs to impose stricter safety regulations and fines in order to protect the workers’ health and safety. Even though we didn’t spend a long time inside the factory, we were already finding the air inhalable and very toxic; it was inconceivable to think that the workers have to work in this hazardous environment all day long. I am sure that the young workers here would develop respiratory-related illnesses from this. Yet this factory is only one of many in the region/ country; the overall situation is probably more horrific and depressing.


As we left the factory, I felt quite upset and helpless. The tour has made me reconsider my consumption habit and it reminded me of the importance of supporting eco-conscious fashion and textiles. Although I can’t help the situations of the workers, I hope that I can spread the message and let consumers understand the truth about the cheap cotton t-shirts and other garments that are costing lives of so many around the world.

Eat, drink & shop in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai

Kala Ghoda

Kala Ghoda


Since I stayed not for from the Kala Ghoda district in Fort, I spent much of my time exploring this area, where many cool shops and interesting eateries are located.

One of the coolest shops in the area is Kultre Shop with a focus on contemporary Indian graphic design. The shop serves as a platform for leading and upcoming artists, graphic designers and illustrators from India and around the world; enabling their work to be more accessible through the sales of affordable prints, stationery, homeware, t-shirts and books. When you walk into the shop, you are likely to be attracted by the colourful, modern and graphical prints on the walls and items on the shelves. The shop has two branches in Mumbai, and also sells online via their website (they ship worldwide).

Address: 9 Examiner Press, 115 Nagindas Master Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


kulture shop mumbai  kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai  kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai

kulture shop mumbai  kulture shop mumbai

Kulture Shop in Kala Ghoda


Not far from Kulture Shop is Filter, another curated design shop that sells a range of products from stationery to prints, t-shirts, books and homeware etc.

Address: 43, VB Gandhi Marg, behind Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


filter mumbai

filter mumbai



For more traditional and handcrafted items, the Artisans’ Art Gallery and Shop is the best place to go to. The shop and gallery was founded in 2011 by Radhi Parekh, a designer and art promoter who comes from a family that has a long-standing association with local textiles.

The shop sells a range of high-quality handmade textile items and jewellery. Although the prices are not cheap, the quality is much better than what you would find at the markets.

At the time of my visit, there was an Urushi Japanese lacquerware exhibition by Japanese artist Yukiko Yagi and Meguri Ichida showing at the gallery, which was a pleasant surprise.

Address: 52-56 V B Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


Kala Ghoda

artisans gallery mumbai

artisans gallery, mumbai

artisans gallery mumbai  artisans gallery, mumbai

artisans gallery, mumbai

artisans gallery mumbai


artisans gallery mumbai

Urushi Japanese lacquerware exhibition and Indian textiles at the Artisans’ art galley and shop


Nicobar is the younger and more affordable sub-brand of the city’s iconic sustainable apparel and homeware brand Good Earth (see below). Their minimal and organic clothing is comfortable, versatile, contemporary, and particularly suitable for travelling.

The shop is divided into the cloithing section and home section. The home section sells a range of home furnishings, homeware and ceramics that would not look out of place in most modern homes.

Address: #IO Ropewalk Lane, above Kala Ghoda Cafe








Obataimu is a cool conceptual clothing and design shop that is inspired by Japan and India. Influenced by both cultures, the founder Noorie Sadarangani likes to experiment and treats her retail business like an art project. When you step into the shop, you would notice that wood is the predominate material here, and at the back, there is a glass partition that enable visitors to see the workshop where the tailors/ artisans work (all dressed in white). All the clothing on display is not for sale, instead every piece is made to order to reduce wastage. The clothes here focus on innovative materials, traditional craftsmanship and sustainability, so what more can you ask for?

Address: B. Bharucha Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.



The shop front of Obataimu


Before my trip to India, I was unaware of the contemporary apparel scene in India, therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see some wonderful shops in Mumbai that sell handmade, sustainable, classic and affordable clothing and accessories. One of them is Cord Studio. The focus here is craftsmanship and nostalgia; you can find well-made leather bags and accessories, and clothing that is practical and contemporary.

Address: 21 Ropewalk street, Kala Ghoda, Fort. (Opp. Nicobar and Kala Ghoda cafe)


Cord studio

Cord studio

Cord studio


Even though I am not a tea person, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to lovely San-cha tea boutique. The two girls/staff were very friendly and knowledgable and made me two different cups of tea to try. The brand was founded by tea master, Sanjay Kapur in 1981, and they sell over 75 varieties of tea from green to white, black, oolong, and blended ones like masala chai. I bought some masala chai for myself and several friends, and I like it very much. Although I have not been converted to a regular tea drinker, it is nice to enjoy something different occasionally .


San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique

San-cha Tea Boutique


Kala Ghoda art Rampart Gallery

Kala Ghoda art Rampart Gallery

Art on the street: Rampart Gallery


Yazdani bakery and cafe

Yazdani bakery and cafe is well-known for its brun maska



Ice cream at Bombay Street Treat


I don’t usually visit a cafe/restaurant twice on a single trip, but I did return to Kala Ghoda Cafe a few days after my first visit. This relaxing venue is a cafe, bakery, wine bar and gallery. The cosy cafe part is housed inside an early 20th century barn with plenty of skylight coming through from the roof. I had a simple lunch here one afternoon, and I really liked the laidback vibe and atmosphere.

I came back to try the wine bar at the back one night because I didn’t want proper dinner. I ordered a fish tikka and a green salad (although I was told not to eat anything raw in India, I took the risk here, and I was totally fine afterwards), and I reckon the fish tikka here was the best I have EVER tasted! I even tried the local Indian rose, which was surprisingly refreshing and very drinkable. I really recommend a visit to this cafe and wine bar if you are in the neighbourhood.

Address: Bharthania Building, A Block, 10, Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


Kala Ghoda Cafe  Kala Ghoda Cafe

Kala Ghoda Cafe

Kala Ghoda Cafe

Kala Ghoda Cafe


I decided to try the popular vegetarian Burmese restaurant Burma Burma after reading many positive reviews online. I visited Burma two years ago, but I have not had the cuisine since.

The interior of the restaurant is sleek and modern, with a bar that serves very interesting mocktails. I had a set menu that included several classic dishes which were all very tasty, and together with the mocktail, the bill came to less than £10 – I (as a Londoner) would consider that a bargain.

Address: Kothari House, Allana Centre Lane Opposite Mumbai University Fort, Kala Ghoda


burma burma

burma burma

Burma Burma


Arguably Mumbai’s most famous seafood restaurant, Trishna’s restaurant front looks quite intimidating with a seated guard by the door. I decided to brave it and walk in with one aim: to eat their famous crabs!

To my surprise, the decor inside is simple and unassuming. The waiter was eager to get me to try their famous butter garlic crab and so I did. It did not disappoint – the crab was rich and delicious (and I probably gained 2 lbs after eating it). The meal was the most expensive one I had in Mumbai, but it was worth it as that was the only Indian crab I got to try throughout my month-long trip!

Address: 7, Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.


Trishna mumbai

Butter garlic crab at Trishna


Not far from Kala Ghoda, there is a charming and nostalgic restaurant that stands out for its ambience and history, and it is a MUST if you want to experience ‘old Bombay’.

Britannia & Co. is a third generation Irani restaurant and one of the last remaining Parsi cafes in south Mumbai. The popular Dishoom chain in London was modelled after these once magnificent cafes.

Opened in 1923, Britannia’s Zoroastrian/Iranian proprietor, Boman Kohinoor, is now 96 years old, and yet he still visits the cafe regularly. It was lovely to see him greeting his regular customers and being photographed by them. The cafe was originally set up by his father, and he has been working here since he was 16. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the painting of Queen Elizabeth II next to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, both hanging beneath a gilt-framed picture of Zarathustra, the Zoroastrian prophet worshipped by the Parsis.






The most iconic dish is the Berry Pulav, a recipe that the owner’s late wife brought back with her from Iran. The barberries used in the pulav that give it its distinct flavour are imported from Iran. I ordered a paneer berry pulav, and when the plate arrived, the paneer was nowhere to be seen. Then as I started to mix the rice, I realised that the paneer and sauce was at the bottom of the plate – it would have been embarassing if I had called the waiter over to ask him about the paneer! I have never tried this dish before, and I found it very tasty and comforting; I guess it is probably regarded as a Parsi comfort food.

It is sad to see that only a few of these Parsi cafes are left in the city, and I sincerely hope that this cafe will still be around when I visit Mumbai again. There may be numerous modern and fancy restaurants in the city, but none can match the personal, historic and nostalgic cafe like this.

Address: Britannia and Co., Wakefield House, 11, Sprott Rd, Ballard Estate, Fort. (this restaurant only opens for lunch except Sats and closes on Suns)




Britannia and Co.


Elsewhere in Cobala, I visited Good Earth, a luxurious apparel and home furnishing shop founded by Anita Lal 24 years ago. The brand bridged the gap between craft and luxury, emphasising on craftsmanship and sustainability. The apparel and craft items here are more old school, traditional and pricey, which differs considerably from its sub-brand Nicobar.

Address: 2 Reay House, Apollo Bandar, Colaba


good earth

Good Earth


Not far from Good Earth, I stumbled upon Clove The Store, which is a new luxury fashion and homeware brand. Its founder is Samyukta Nair, who resides in both Mumbai and London, also runs a sleepwear brand called Dandelion, and the Jamavar Women’s Club in London. The clothing and home furnishings on sale here are unique, well-made, and contemporary. The female staff was also very friendly and helpful, which made me feel very welcoming.

Address: 2, Churchill Chambers, Allana Road, Colaba.


Clove The Store

Clove The Store


I returned to Mumbai for one night before leaving India, and I chose to stay in Khar West, which was closer to the airport. It is a relaxing residential neighbourhood, and apparently home to many Bollywood celebrities and business industrialists. Tucked away in the Chuim Village is a small DIY paper craft shop called Sky Goodies. I had to ring the door bell to be let in, but once inside, you would be surrounded by many colourful and delightful paper objects. Founded by two designers Misha and Amit Gudibanda, they drew inspiration from paper and hand-painted art, and started to create DIY paper kits. There are various themes to choose from, and you can make stationery, home decorations, calendars and paper animals etc. I think their designs are unique, fun, and affordable, so I bought a few as souvenir to give to friends, and they were all very impressed (and surprised) when they received the kits. You can also order online via their website or from their shop on Etsy.

Address: Ground Floor, Bungalow no 29, Chuim Village Rd, Khar West


sky goodies  sky goodies

sky goodies

sky goodies

Sky goodies shop


After visiting Sky goodies, I came across KCRoasters (Koinonia Coffee Roasters), which specialises in artisanal Indian coffee. The cafe is compact but stylish, with a laidback vibe, which kinda makes you forget that you are in Mumbai. I had a cold brew (as it was a very hot day), which was balanced and strong as I like it.

Address: 6, Chuim Village Rd, Khar, Chuim Village


KC Roasters

KC Roasters

KC Roasters


On the last day of my trip, I got to catch with my busy local actress friend (who never seems to get a day off work). She asked me what I wanted to have for lunch, and I told her that I was craving for salads (after having Indian food daily for 3 weeks)! She suggested the Bombay Salad Co. in Bandra, and it was exactly what my body needed. I broke the raw food rule again, but luckily, I was perfectly fine afterwards. There are many salads, juices and sandwiches to choose from, and everything we had was fresh and tasty. Looking around, I noticed that the cafe was full of health-conscious looking ladies, so I guess this is a popular spot for ladies who lunch.

Address: Shop No, 1, 16th Rd, near Mini Punjab Hotel, Bandra West.


Bombay Salad Co.

Bombay Salad Co.

Bombay Salad Co.




Boro textiles at Amuse museum (closed in 2019)

amuse museum Boro – real astonishment exhibition

Boro – real astonishment exhibition


After spending so much time in the rural countryside, I found it hard to cope with the hustle and bustle back in Tokyo, and felt slightly dazy and detached from reality. My original Airbnb booking was cancelled by a host in Tokyo at the last minute, (the 2nd Tokyo cancellation on this trip), and at the last minute, I found an apt hotel in Asakusa, which turned out to be excellent and very reasonable.

I usually avoid going to Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo because it is always packed and very touristy. This time, however, I thought it might be fun to explore an area that I am not familiar with especially while I was staying minutes away from the famous Senso-ji.

One day, I walked past an old building and saw the name Amuse Museum with a shop at the front. It was the poster and indigo textiles that drew me inside. I had never heard of this museum before and had no idea what was exhibiting inside, but seeing the textiles compelled me to purchase an entry ticket. And once inside, I was completely blown away… I couldn’t believe that I stumbled upon this museum right after my Japanese textiles workshop! Serendipity, perhaps?!


amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum


This private museum opened in 2009 and specialises in Japanese textile and ukiyo-e. The amazing collection consists of 30,000 pieces of Boro clothing and textiles (from the 17th and 19th centuries) collected by folklorist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, of which 786 items have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro grew out of necessity rather than fashion. Its concept is almost the opposite of what fashion has become in the 21st century – you can even call it the precedent of ‘slow fashion’ and ‘upcycled fashion’.

There are two Japanese terms and concepts that are deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture: Mottainai meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste’, and Yuyonobi meaning ‘the beauty of practicality’. In the old days, impoverished rural farmimg families (especially those who live in the north like Tohoku) would mend, repair textiles (clothes and bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching to extend their use. Since the region was too cold to grow cotton, hemp became the most popular choice of material. Later, when old cotton clothing from the south made its way up to the north, scraps of indigo-dyed cotton would be used, and sewn with sashiko stitching (a type of functional embroidery) to reinforce and to quilt layers of cloth together. These ‘rags’ and garments would be handed down over generations, as the testimonies of decades of mending.

Interestingly, this concept is similiar to the robes worn by Zen Buddhist monks in ancient times, when monks used to collect rags and sew them up to create their one-of-a-kind patchwork robes.


amuse museum

boro textiles

amuse museum

amuse museum boro

amuse museum


For many centuries, Japan was a relatively poor country, and it was around the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912) that the overall living standard started to rise. This meant that much of the Boro textiles were discarded, and new clothing was bought as fixing or mending became a tradition of the past.

Thanks to the effort of one ethnologist – Chuzaburo Tanaka – we are now able to admire this intricate and fantastic ancient craft and art form, and appreciate its unqiue value.

The special 10th year anniversary exhibition: Boro – Real astonishment showcased a collection of boro textiles along with 34 photo images published by Kyoichi Tsuzuki (the photographer and author of “BORO Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan”). This is a touring exhibition, and will be touring until 2020, so people outside of Japan can learn about this outsider art/craft form.


amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum


Besides the temporary exhibition, the permanent collection also showcases a rotating collection of 1500 pieces of boro clothing and textiles, alongside with other antiques and folk arts from Mr. Tanaka’s collection.

I was particularly glad to see the indigo-dyed firefighter’s jackets hikeshi banten often mentioned by Bryan at the textiles workshop. Made in the Edo period, these reversible jackets often feature a plain side and a decorative side. Firemen would expose the plain side while fighting the fire, but after the fire had been extinguished, they would reverse their jackets to display the decorative side to a cheering crowd. Hence, many firefighter’s jackets were decorated with tsutsugaki (a resist dyeing technique that is similar to Katazome) symbolic images that were meaningful and important to the firefighters. Indigo dye was chosen for its antibacterial and flame-resistant qualities, as well as its resistant to ripping and tearing, cutting and abrasion due to impact. With roots dating back to the 1600s, indigo-dyed fabrics were worn under the armour of samurais to keep bacteria away from wounds and to repel odor and dirt. Therefore, the indigo dye was used not for aesthetic reasons but for its excellent practical properties.


amuse museum  amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museumamuse museum


amuse museum


Although I saw Akira Kurosawa‘s “Yume” or “Dreams” years ago, I could barely remember the costumes featured in that film (I watched it again after seeing the exhibition). It was fascinating to learn that the costumes featured in the film were lend to the director by Chuzaburo Tanaka himself. The folk clothing was beautifully showcased in the last segment of the film, Village of the Watermills, and the scene where the villagers all paraded down the village was heartfelt and memorable.


yume costumes kurasawa  yume costumes kurasawa

yume costumes kurasawa

The folk costumes featured in Yume/Dreams


The museum also has an interesting collection of woodblock prints, and it houses an indigo-dyeing studio where visitors can take part in workshops.


woodblock print amuse museum   woodblock print amuse museum


Woodblock prints and Indigo-dyeing studio


After my inspiring tour of the museum, I went upstairs to the rooftop and spent some time admiring the panaromic view of Asakusa and watching the sun set behind Senso-ji (there was literally no other visitor there!). Spending a few hours at the museum made me forget that I was in Tokyo; while watching the sunset was the icing on the cake, it was a perfect end to my day.


senso-ji asakusa


N.B. Sadly, I learned that the Amuse Museum closed in March 2019, but hopefully it will revive again in another venue somewhere in the city. Fingers crossed.











Mr Shindo’s shibori map of Arimatsu





One big mistake I made when I was planning my trip was that I underestimated the traveling and transferring time of using the public transport in Japan. Trains are punctual and frequent if you are traveling to major and more populated cities, but it becomes more complicated if you want to go to smaller towns/ rural villages. I learned that local buses are infrequent, unreliable and time tables would change without prior notice. This had caused me many problems throughout my trip in different prefectures. Meanwhile, navigating your way around major train and subway stations can be utterly daunting, stressful and time-consuming.

After I left Miyama by bus in the morning, I had to change at Sonobe train station to take a train back to Kyoto (luckily, I had already forwarded my suitcase to Nagoya before I left for Miyama), followed by another train ride to Nagoya. Then from Nagoya, I had to take another 30-min train ride to Arimatsu, a small historic town famous for shibori/tie-dyeing. When I was chatting to Mr Shindo about my trip to Arimatsu the day before, he drew me a map of the town and all the places he recommended including his friends’ shops/ restaurant. I regarded this as my treasure map of shibori and kept it safe in my bag.


arimatsu  arimatsu





With only 1 day/ night in Nagoya, I decided to skip all the sightseeing in Nagoya and headed straight to Arimatsu. Aside from shibori, Arimatsu was also the site of the Battle of Okehazama in 1560 – one of the most important battles in samurai history. The town survived the battle and was established as a post station between Chiryu-shuku and Narumi-shuku of the Tokaido Road in 1608. Tokaido Road was an important ancient route that connected Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), and it included 53 post stations where travelers would rest or spend the night before continuing their journeys. The town flourished during this time; it is said that an immigrant Shokuro Takeda and his peers developed the “Arimatsu-Narumi shibori” fabrics which became very popular with travelers.






arimatsu   img_9713-min


The historic architecture in Arimatsu: the 4th row and 5th left is the Arimatu Festival Float Museum


Most tour groups and foreign visitors visiting Nagoya would focus their sightseeing around the city centre, so Arimatsu is off-the-beaten-track unless the visitors are interested in shibori. And on the day of my visit, the town was virtually tourist-free, which was a sharp contrast from the touristy Kyoto. The Arimatsu Townscape and most of the buildings have been preserved as Tangible Cultural Properties, so it is like stepping back in town when you walk along the main avenue.

Holding Mr Shindo‘s handrawn map, I headed towards Suzusan, a shibori and textiles company founded in Arimatsu. After a quick browse around the shop, I hesitantly walked up to the young guy behind the counter and told him that Mr Shindo had sent me to the shop. The young guy smiled and said: “Yes, Mr Shindo called about an hour ago to let me know that you were coming, and now I will take you to meet my father.” I was rather gobsmacked because I didn’t expect this at all. I told him that I knew about the brand from my visit to the Maison et object trade show in Paris last autumn, and I love their shibori products.

Based in Arimatsu, Murase family has been making stencil-patterned shibori for over 100 years. The current creative director is the Dusseldorf-based Hiroyuki Murase (fifth generation) and the eldest son of Hiroshi Murase (4th generation), who is a shibori master, chairman of the company and a good friend of Mr Shindo.


suzusan  suzusan




Suzusan has two shops in Arimatsu: one is a contemporary fashion shop and the other focuses more on traditional techniques and styles


The young guy in the shop is actually the brother of Hiroyuki, and he told me that his older brother originally studied in the UK, followed by sculpture at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. After graduation, he wanted to preserve and introduce the traditional technique of Arimatsu-Narumi shibori to a wider audience, so he worked with his father to create Suzusan Accessories and Suzusan Luminaires to showcase the beauty and techniques of traditional shibori in a modern context. Their three dimensional and heat-treated lighting textiles are handmade in Arimatsu before being turned into customised shades in Germany.


arimatsu  img_9662-min




img_9650-min  img_9655-min



Mr Hiroshi Murase teaching a student the different shibori techniques at his bathhouse-turned-workshop space


After walking down an alley a few minutes from the shop, we reached a house – it is actually a former bathhouse – where I met Mr Hiroshi Murase. Mr Hiroshi Murase greeted me and said that Mr Shindo had called him to tell him that I would be visiting the town for the day (Mr Shindo is so thoughtful!). He was in the middle of conducting a 2-day workshop with an Australian lady, and he offered me to join them. In normal circumstances, I would have joined them, but I declined the offer politely and told them that I only just arrived and had yet to visit the museum and other shops. However, I did watch them for a while and took some information for future reference.


arimatsu  img_9681-min 


img_9676-min  img_9677-min

Set lunch at Show Kuro restaurant


My second stop was a new restaurant called Show Kuro that was not listed on the tourist map/ websites, but recommended by Mr Shindo. Mr Shindo told me that his good friend and shibori specialist, Kozo Takeda, sadly passed away a few years ago, and his widow has just opened a new restaurant within the historic House of Takeda. The house is an important heritage merchant house in Arimatsu because it belonged to Shokuro Takeda, the creator of Arimatsu-Narumi shibori. Now the family business is run by the descendants of the Takeda family, and at the restaurant, I met the elegant and welcoming Ms Nakamura. I told her that I met Mr Shindo and he recommended this restaurant to me. Ms Nakamura was delighted when she heard this, and said she would give me a tour of the house after lunch.

The restaurant is cosy, calm and tasteful. The room has high ceiling with original roof beams, shibori lighting and indigo textiles wall hanging. The food was fresh, delicious, and reasonable-priced – it was particularly satisfying after a hectic morning.



dsc_0772-min  dsc_0777-min




House of Takeda


After lunch, Ms Nakamura led me to the house and shop, but a group of clients had just popped in and so she had to excuse herself. She then asked her son to show me around the historic house, which includes a traditional tearoom and a garden. He also showed me the shibori kimono that took an artisan two years to complete (see below)!

After the tour, Ms Nakamura introduced me to her brother-in-law, the president of the company, Mr Kahei Takeda. It was wonderful to talk to the friendly and warm Mr Takeda, who did not mind spending his time chatting to me. I cannot thank Mr Shindo enough for introducing me to his circle of friends in Arimatsu – I never would have anticipated that I would meet these important figures of the shibori world before my arrival. It was all beyond my expectations.


shibori kimono  shibori arimatsu


Kahei Takeda

Top left: the shibori kimono that took over 2 years to complete; bottom row: Mr Kahei Takeda, the president of the Takedakahei Shouten Co., Ltd.


Soon after I left the House of Takeda, I saw a small shop called Hisada Shibori on the opposite side of the street that sells shibori leather accessories. I really like the shibori effect on leather, and the fact that everything is handmade by the young artisan behind the counter. The prices of the products are reasonable, so I bought a small beautifully-made key wallet to replace my old one.


img_9693-min  img_9697-min


The young artisan at Hisada Shibori


Realising that time was running out, I rushed over to the Arimatsu Narumi Tie Dyeing Museum before its closing time. There is a gift shop on the ground floor, and the exhibition area is on the musuem’s upper floor, where some stunning shibori kimonos, textiles work, and samurai outfits are on display. Visitors can also watch the artisans demonstrating various shibori techniques here. I was amazed by the speed of the young artisan demonstrating there – it was simply eye-opening.


arimatsu shibori museum

arimatsu shibori museum

arimatsu shibori museum

arimatsu shibori museum  arimatsu shibori museum

arimatsu shibori museum

arimatsu shibori museum  shibori

arimatsu shibori museum

Arimatsu Narumi Tie Dyeing Museum


My day in Arimatsu was coming to an end, and my last stop was a small shibori shop near the train station recommended by the young guy from Suzusan. He told me that the shop is run by two young women, and they are using the traditional techniques to create vibrant textiles and fashion accessories that target a younger market.


img_9715  img_9716



Marimomen shop and products


The two artists who run Marimomen are Mari and Yuu, and their shop is hidden behind an alleyway. After seeing all the traditional shibori textiles, it is refreshing to see some bright, bold, and colourful shibori clothing, textiles and accessories. Their tabi boots remind me of Sou Sou‘s, but they are even bolder and brighter.

Before I took the train back to the centre of Nagoya, I reflected on my day at a cafe near the station. The hospitality I received in this town was almost overwhelming, and again, I felt incredibly grateful towards Mr Shindo for pulling a few strings for me.

Japan is a country that loves festivals, and many towns and villages would celebrate different festivals related to the local culture, traditions, arts or crafts. Aside from an annual shibori festival in June, Arimatsu also has an annual Floats Festival in October, where three floats of Arimatsu (they can be seen inside the Floats Museum) are pulled around the town in a big parade, accompanied by flute and drum music. If you love the festive atmosphere, you can pay a visit to the town during these festivals.







Art & design exhibitions in Portugal (Jan 2015)

casa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Rego

 Casa Das Historias Paula Rego


Lisbon offers an abundance of world class museums and galleries, and on my previous trip, my friend and I visited some excellent ones like National Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, Fado Museum and the wonderful Puppet Museum. On this trip though, the seaside resort Cascais turned out to be a prodigious surprise for me. Aside from Casa Das Historias Paula Rego, I did not have any concrete plan for the day, and yet I ended having quite an ‘art-full’ day!

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Portuguese artist Paula Rego‘s stunningly-designed museum. It was impossible to miss the earthy red pyramid-shaped towers from a distance! Designed by Portuguese architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura (chosen by Rego herself), the building was inspired by the region’s historical architecture (i.e. the twin chimneys of the National Palace in the nearby Sintra) and it is surrounded by a lush garden.

Architecture aside, the museum’s current exhibition is ‘Parodies – Paula Rego/ Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro’ (until 12th April), a non-illustrative dialogue between the works of the two artists, separated by over a century, yet both express a critical view of the Portuguese life and customs of their times through their art.

Rego and Bordalo Pinheiro‘s works share a great deal in common despite living in two completely different era. Both artists’ works frequently feature humanised animals and animalised humans; they are dark, perspicacious, critical with a sense of sarcastic humour. This is a thought-provoking exhibition that reveals the creativity of two important Portuguese artists and how they used/use art to express their critical voices towards politics and society.


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Centro Cultural de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Bryan Adams exposed; 4th & 5th rows: Carlos Marques; Bottom middle & right: Painted glasses of red hall


After some random sightseeing, I stumbled upon a massive dark pink building, which turned out to be the Centro Cultural de Cascais. Housed inside the former 19th century Palace of the Viscondes da Gandarinha, the centre has been turned into an art centre with permanent and temporary exhibitions. While I was there, I saw the photography exhibition ‘Bryan Adams exposed’ (which I missed in London) and discovered the singer’s talent in creating powerful images through the lenses. Downstairs, there was also a fascinating exhibition by Portuguese artist Carlos Marques, who created a set of shrines dedicated to different artists as his tribute towards them.

Next door at the Casa Duarte Pinto Coelho, there is a small but intriguing exhibition “Painted glasses of red hall” (until April), which showcases some East-meets-West paintings from 18th century China. The production of glass and painted mirrors were introduced to China by Jesuit missionary G. Castiglioni in the early 18th century, and soon after glass paintings developed into a highly skilled art form in China. These works were commissioned by Europeans, and they were intended primarily to satisfy the West’s passion for Eastern-inspired products. Although glass-blades were produced in Europe, particularly in England, they were being sent to the factories of Guangzhou in China where they were painted after returning to the Western market. This manufacturing process is not so different from how things are made today in the 21st century! Perhaps the world has not changed THAT much after all!


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Cidadela art district


As I was walking down the road back towards the town centre, the Cidadela art district signage by the old fortress wall caught my eye and so I decided to explore the district ‘hidden’ behind it. The art district is part of the Pousada de Cascais, Cidadela Historic Hotel set within the walls of the historical fortress of the emblematic 16th century Citadel of Cascais. The Art District comprises six galleries, including six Open Studios where artists can be seen during their creative processes.


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Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Frenéticas no pós-guerra exhibition; Bottom row: Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória 


Within the same square, there is the Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais, a former summer palace for the Portuguese monarchy until 1910 when the country became Republic. Neglected for fifty years, restoration and renovation work by the architect Pedro Vaz was commissioned by the President of the Republic, and the palace was opened to the public in 2011. The former palace now serves as the summer residence of the President of the Republic, but the public can visit it when it is not being occupied. Usually a minimum party of two is required for a guided tour around the palace, but the friendly staff kindly offered to show me around, hence I was able to enjoy a private tour of the palace with a humourous and knowledgable guide.

Due to the recent renovation, the palace looks newer than most other palaces that I have visited. One notable aspect is that the wall hangings are mostly contemporary art works including some unfinished tapestry drafts. This is highly unusual but quite refreshing to see as most palaces are just filled with old Master paintings or simply ‘old’ paintings. Another surprise is that Eastern-style objects and antiqes are ubiquitous; from tiles to furniture, lighting and decorative pieces, this again reveals the Portuguese’s passion for Eastern style as previously seen at the glass painting exhibition earlier. The tour ended at the stunning baroque style Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória, with azulejos on both sides of the walls depicting Portugal’s glory past.

The palace also hosts temporary exhibitions, and during my visit, I saw ‘Frenéticas no pós-guerra’, an exhibition showcasing more than 100 articles, objects and original documents from the 1920s post war period in Portugal. The main focus was on women and so there was an interesting selection of fashion garments, accessories and some wonderful art deco style objects on display.



A free exhibition of Christmas trees made by recycled materials in Cascais


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Top row: Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista in Evora; Bottom two rows: a paper craft exhibition at Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval


In the historical town of Evora opposite the Temple of Diana stands a beautiful 15th century church, Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista, which belonged to the monastery Convento dos Lóios. Now the monastery has been converted into a historical hotel Pousada dos Loios and the church became part of Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval.

It would be hard not to be awestruck by the church’s sublime floor-to-ceiling of blue azulejos by António Oliveira Bernardes (early 1700s), which depict scenes from the life of São Lourenço Justiniano, founder of the Lóios order. This church is considered to be one of the most beautiful private churches in the country, and it certainly does not disappoint. The palace next door however, is pleasant enough and has some interesting art work and artifacts, but it lacks the grandeur that one would expect from a ‘palace’. Without much antipication, I followed a set of narrow staircase that led me up to the attic… which turned out to be the space for a temporary exhibition called ‘Four corners of the world’. The die-cut cardboard installation of architecture from around the world was not what I was expecting and it immediately brought a smile to my face.


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Top & 2nd rows: Fórum Eugénio de Almeida – As high as the eye can reach exhibition; Bottom: Carriage Collection


After visiting the historical Cathedral and its museum, I decided to skip Museu de Évora and opted for something more contemporary opposite – Forum Eugenio de Almeida. The contemporary art and cultural centre was endowed by the privately-owned Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, as part of the scheme to regenerate and restore the city of Évora.

Their current exhibition ‘As high as the eye can reach‘ (until 15th March) proposes a cross-reading between sacred art and contemporary art, marking the culmination of more than a decade of inventorying the artistic heritage of the Archdiocese of Évora and dissemination of contemporary art. The exhibition approaches the question of the relationship between art and transcendence in the past and present day. This is an ambitious exhibition, however, the lack of context esp. with the contemporary art works was an issue for me. Perhaps I am biased as I am not a big fan of contemporary art, but instead of feeling stimulated, I left the exhibition feeling somewhat apathetic. I applaud the curators’ effort in tackling a subject that is quite inscrutable and provocative, though I think they have only scratched the surface of a complex subject.

The foundation also owns the nearby Páteo de S. Miguel, a group of buildings including the Paço dos Condes de Basto (the Palace of the Counts of Basto), the Eugenia de Almeida Archive and Library, the Coach Collection and the S. Miguel Chapel. The palace, library and archive can be visited by appointment with a guide, whereas the Carriage Collection is open to all. The small Carriage Collection has an interesting display of coaches, carriages and harnesses of different styles and traveling from the 18th and 19th centuries.


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 Museu do Artesanato e do Design


On the other side of town, I walked past the Museu do Artesanato e do Design (Museum of craft and design) and was curious to see what was inside. The museum is not very big, but the display includes a wide range of locally made crafts, ceramics and furniture etc. Aside from local crafts, there is another section that displays an impressive selection of household and industrial objects designed by world-renowned designers like Dieter Rams, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Kenneth Grange etc. It’s not exactly MOMA, but it is worth visiting if you happen to be doing some sightseeing nearby.


Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian


Back in Lisbon, I was keen to visit one of Portugal’s best museums, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian as I missed it on my last trip. I did not anticipate to spend most of my day there (but I did), and so I ended up feeling like I had completed an epic art marathon. I had not realised that the museum is connected to Centro de Arte Moderna, and the complex is enormous, so be prepared to spend hours here! At the museum, the ‘A Shared History: Treasures of the Royal Palaces of Spain‘ exhibition showcased significant art works and artifacts from the Spanish monarchy spanning 350 years. The historical ties between Portugal and Spain could be seen at this exhibition through portraits, drawings, paintings, furniture and even decorative objects.


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Centro de Arte Moderna – Top two, 4th middle & right, 6th left: António Dacosta; 4th left: Paula Rego’s ‘The Vivian Girls as Windmills forms’ & 5th row: Paula Rego’s ‘Proles wall’; 6th row right: Julio Pomar’s ‘Le Luxe’; 7th & 8th rows: Salette Tavares


At the Centro de Arte Moderna, there were several exhibitions taking place at the same time including: ‘António Dacosta 1914 I 2014‘, ‘Salette Tavares: Spatial Poetry‘ and the ongoing ‘Arshile Gorky and the Collection‘ (until 31st May). It was a great opportunity to see the retrospective of Portuguese artist António Dacosta, and a small selection of works by Arshile Gorky. However, it was Portuguese artist Salette Tavares‘ (1922-1994) work that blew me away. I have never heard of this artist before, but her visual exploration of text and poems still seems ground-breaking in today’s standards. I love the fact that she experimented with a wide range of media and materials, I am merely astonished that she was not as recognised internationally.



Shadows of Asia at Museu do Oriente


The Portuguese first established their roots in India around 1500, and gradually they moved eastwards and became a dominant powerhouse in the region through force, religion and trade. Even today, we can see the influences and imprints left by the empire in their former colonies like Goa, Malacca, Macau, and Nagasaki in Japan. Not many people acknowledge that the beloved Japanese tempura (the Portuguese version: Peixinhos da horta) was introduced by Portuguese Jesuit missioneries when they founded Nagasaki during the 16th century. And the popular Chinese egg tarts that are ubiqutious in Hong Kong and Macau today can also trace its origin back to the Portuguese custart tarts (pastel de nata).

Opened in 2008, the Museu do Oriente is situated in a massive former 6-storey factory used for the processing of salted cod (bacalhau) by the port in Alcântara. Originally designed by Portuguese architect João Simões Antunes in the 1940s, Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos was commissioned to convert the factory to a museum containing a collection of artworks from Portugal’s Asian colonies. The museum has an impressive array of historical artifacts, paintings, furniture, crafts and puppetry and over 13.000 pieces were donated in 1999 by Paris’ Musée Kwok on after its closure.

I have never seen such an extensive range of shadow theatre puppets before. The permanent collection here is diverse and extraordinary, and the collection focuses on China, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malasia and Turkey where shadow theatre played was seen as a highly significant form of folk art.


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Top right: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ and the rest: Lisbon impact by Deviprasad C Rao 


The two temporary exhibitions that took place while I was there were: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ on traditional ikat textiles from Indonesia; and ‘Lisbon impact’, a solo exhibition of Lisbon-inspired art works created by self-taught Indian artist, sculptor and muralist, Deviprasad C Rao. The artist created his perspective on Lisbon through abstract drawings, paintings, photographs and a video installation. His works capture the city’s vivid colours, density, geography, architecture and essence stupendously and it is hard not to be amazed by his metculous abstract streetscape of Lisbon.


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Museu do Design e da Moda – ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ 


Housed in a historical building that used to be the headquarters of the bank BNU in the city centre, it is worth visiting the MUDE (Museu do Design e da Moda) for its architecture/ interiors alone. The building has had several major transformations, first in the 1920s by architect Tertuliano Marques and then by Modernist architect Cristino da Silva in the 1960s. The third transformation took place around 2001 but the project was abolished after its interiors had been demolished. Finally in 2008, Lisbon City Council acquired the building and commissioned Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos to create a new contemporary space while conserving the historical elements.

The ‘deconstructed’ museum space reminds me of Paris’ Palais de Tokyo where the concrete structure is exposed rather than being painted over. The industrial rawness allows the design objects and colourful fashion articles to stand out more. And this is best demonstrated at one of its current exhibition ‘De Matrix a Bela Adormecida’ or ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ (until 29 March), which showcases around 300 pieces (clothing, hair props, jewellery and shoes) designed by Portuguese set designer, costume designer and artist, António Lagarto. The stunning dresses, architecture and lighting all work brilliantly (see above), creating a theatrical effect that is immensely captivating.


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Museum of design and fashion – Top row: From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty


The ground floor of the museum houses its permanent collection, providing a chronological history of design through its display of fashion items, furniture and other classic design objects. I was lucky to be able to catch the two Japanese-themed exhibitions before it ended: ‘Naked shapes‘ and ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘.

At the ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘, 54 pieces of kimonos, purses and tatamis created by the traditional Japanese technique Boro method were on display. The technique consists of stitching and weaving different fabrics together (like patchwork) and subsequently dyed with indigo. The technique was employed especially by peasants from the late eighteenth century to mid-twentieth century. It also embodies the Japanese motto of ‘mottainai‘ or ‘waste not‘ as it creates garments that are eco-friendly and practical.

At ‘Naked shapes‘, I was thrilled to see the 200 aluminium household objects, home appliances, furniture, and toys manufactured in Japan between 1910 and 1960. The minimalist designs reflect the Japanese aesthetic values perfectly, and the beauty of these objects lies in its simplicity and bareness. Functionality, craftsmanship and material are the priorities here, and so little design is required for their creations. I am sure that design guru Dieter Rams would appreciate them too!

Last but not least is the exhibition on eyewear ‘Behind the shadows (until 29th March) in the basement of the museum. The setting of the exhibition is the highlight because over 400 vintage eyewear are displayed inside the safety deposit boxes behind the bullet-proof steel door! It is no doubt one of the coolest exhibition venue that I have come across, what a playful and cool idea!


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Atelier Museu Julio Pomar


The best thing about Lisbon is that you can wander around the city and you will always come across something interesting. After a disappointing visit at the Casa Fernando Pessoa, I came across Atelier Museu Julio Pomar by chance, which I think is a well hidden gem in the city.

Housed inside a former warehouse, the spacious and bright museum was designed by the same architects behind MUDE, Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos (see above). The collection here includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, ceramics, collages and assemblage by Portuguese neo-expressionist artist, Julio Pomar. On the ground floor, there are many of the artist’s delightful woodblock prints, while the larger and more abstract paintings are upstairs. You can also find his other well-known works at the Centro de Arte Moderna (see ‘Le luxe‘ above).


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British Council: 3rd row: The tile panel at the entrance by José António Jorge Pinto


Being curious can be a positive trait as it often brings me surprises (pleasant or not)! I was intrigued by a pink building as I was walking uphill in Estrela district (which has strong British roots and connections), and when I saw the British Council sign, I decided to go inside to explore further. After walking past the gate, I was immediately drawn towards the two long panels of azulejos that depict rural farming scenes from the past. I later found out that they were designed by José António Jorge Pinto, a Portuguese Art Noveau artist.

The current site of the Coucil was once the Palácio do Menino de Ouro, and it was acquired by the British Council in 1942. This historical building has quite a fascinating story behind it. Originally built by José Luís Seixas Fernandes in 1885, who was a collector of art and porcelain, and therefore transformed his home into a private art museum for himself. Three years after his death in 1925, the building was purchased by Alves dos Reis, a famous fraudster/criminal who printed counterfeit notes in London (of all places!) in the name of Banco de Portugal (Bank of Portugal). Considered to be one of the largest frauds in history, the ‘Portuguese bank note crisis‘ has inspired TV series in Portugal and Italy in recent years.

Once inside, I asked the receptionist if it was possible for me to visit the building and she said ‘fine’ as long as I didn’t take photographs inside. And to my surprise, the building is filled with works of art by an amazing array of famous artists including a huge painting by Paula Rego (who studied and lives in London) in the foyer. Currently on display is a selection of British contemporary art in the last 60 years, and you can find works by Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Julian Opie etc.

Unfortunately, aside from the structure, foyer and main staircases, most of the rooms have been turned into MFI style offices and classrooms except for the former music room (now a conference room) at the back. The room has wooden panels, exquisite early 20th century tiles made by the Sarreguemines factory in France, and some exceptional stained glass windows.

After my self-guided tour, the receptionist urged me to visit the garden at the back. As I expected, the garden is well-maintained with some outdoor sculptures, a traditional well, lemon trees, exotic plants and a lovely groomed hedge around the back stairs.

This British Council must be one of best hidden gems in Lisbon as it is not even listed in guide books! This is the reason why a guide book is not needed to explore Lisbon, all you need are a pair of comfortable shoes (for walking up hilly cobbled streets) and your eyes, then you will uncover a city that is full of history, beauty and charm.


London winter 2013/14 art & design exhibitions

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Main and bottom left: The new Serpentine Sackler Gallery designed by Zaha Hadid Architects opened in Sept 2013; Bottom right: Paul Klee at Tate Modern


I intended to publish this a while ago, but I have been traveling and it took longer than I expected to complete. It is a recap of the art and design exhibitions that took place or are still taking place in London this winter and spring. Here are 5 of my favourites:


Paul Klee – Making visible at Tate Modern (until 9th March) I used to love Klee‘s work when I was doing A-level art, mostly because of his use of colours. And this retrospective reaffirmed me that the artist was a true master of colour. This exhibition is huge ( with 17 rooms) and will take about 2 hours, but it is really worth the time as we see how the artist developed his ideas, techniques and style. Aside of his masterful use of colour, it was his inventiveness, playfulness, and humanity that made him one of the greatest Modernist artists.


Shunga: sex and humour in Japanese art 1600-1900 at the British Museum (ended) It is hard to imagine that the repressed Japanese society was once so open about sex and pleasure. This exhibition explored the boundary between art and pornography, and although many Shunga paintings and prints are very explicit, they are also highly artistic, humourous and sometimes rather ridiculous. I love the woodblocked prints and the beautiful detailed textiles/ fashion worn by the people in the paintings. I did not find the work seedy at all, instead I found the exhibition entertaining and absolutely mesmerising.


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‘Travelling to the Wonderland’ installation, by Xu Bing at the Victoria and Albert Museum


Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900 at the V & A Museum (ended) I really wished that I had more time at this outstanding exhibition which showcased  masterpieces from China spanning over 1200 years. I have been to exhibitions on ancient Chinese paintings and art museums in China as well as Taiwan, but this had to be one of the best that I have ever visited. The curation was top-notch and it offered insight into China’s history, culture, social movements, economy, religions and artistic styles. At the exhibition, we could see how the Chinese art and culture influenced the Japanese and Koreans, and perhaps we need to re-evalute the word, ‘copy’.

A miniature landscape was also installed by Chinese artist, Xu Bing in the John Madejski Garden. Inspired by a classic Chinese fable, The Peach Blossom Spring, Xu collected authentic stones from different places in China and made them into a layered mountainscape, accompanied by light effects and sounds of birds and insects.


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Top left: ‘Istanbul Contrast’ by Dice Kayek; Top right: Mounir Fatmi’s video installation; Bottom left: Nasser Al Salem; Bottom middle: Pascal Zoghbi; Bottom right: Laurent Mareschal’s ‘Beiti’


The Jameel Prize 3 at the V & A Museum (until 21st April) The Jameel Prize is an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. The exhibition showcases some extraordinary work by talented artists and designers working today. Laurent Mareschal‘s ‘Beiti’ (spice tiles) is quite mind-blowing, and equally impressive is furniture and product designer, Nada Debs‘s ‘Concrete Carpet’ that fuses Middle Eastern craftsmanship with Japanese minimalism. Arabic calligraphy is creatively used in a lot of the work, including ‘Modern Times: A History of the Machine’, a video installation by Mounir Fatmi, and graphical work by calligrapher, Nasser al-Salem and type designer, Pascal Zoghbi. The winner was awarded to the Turkish fashion label Dice Kayek established by sisters Ece and Ayşe Ege for their ‘Istanbul Contrast’, a collection of garments that evoke Istanbul’s architectural and artistic heritage.


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Top left: Only in England: Photographys by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Science Museum; Top middle and main: Andy Warhol at the Photographer’s gallery; Top right: Derek Jarman: Pandemonium at King’s College London.


Only in England: Photographys by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Science Museum (until 16th March) I have not been to the Science Museum for a few years, and was surprised to learn that this documentary photography exhibition is being held here. It turns out that Media Space is the museum’s new gallery, which aims to explore photography, art and science.

This exhibition is wonderful… it is nostalgic, humourous, humane, sentimental, quirky and ultimately, it is a celebration of Britishness. The black and white photographs capture England during the 1960s and 70s, and two photographers’ work complement each other extremely well. It was a shame that Ray-Jones only lived until 30, but Parr, who was very much influenced and inspired by him, not only ‘succeeded’ him but also became a pioneer in his own right. This exhibition is not to be missed.



Derek Jarman: Pandemonium at King’s College London (until 9th March) – I was surprised when I found out about a new exhibition on Derek Jarman, as I haven’t heard his name mentioned in the media for years. As an art/design student who used to spend time watching British art house films at the ICA, Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway were the two directors whose films regularly featured there.

This small exhibition is part of the Jarman2014, a year-long celebration of the life and work of the multidisciplinary artist/ filmmaker/ activist, Derek Jarman who died twenty years ago of HIV-related causes. The show focuses on Derek’s relationship with London, displaying a range of work including paintings, journals, film posters, photographs and film clips etc. Each visitor is also given an audio device with music and sounds that accompany the viewing. After the exhibition, I felt the need to re-watch his films again to understand the legacy he left behind.


Kara Walker at the Camden Art Centre (ended) – Africa-American artist, Kara Walker‘s first solo exhibition in the UK was small but powerful nonetheless. The life-sized silhouettes/ cut-outs looked ‘joyful’ from afar, but then when examined closely, they depicted some not so innocent tales. Even her shadow-puppet films are not made for comfortable viewing. Walker’s work deals with racial, gender and historical issues, it is dark, disturbing, critical and highly significant.


Wael Shawky at the Serpentine Gallery (ended) – I wanted to see The Chapman brothers‘s exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler gallery but left the place disappointed (see below). Yet at the Serpentine Gallery nearby, I was pleasantly surprised by Egyptian artist, Wael Shawky‘s work. I had never heard of this artist before but was genuinely impressed by his two films, Cabaret Crusades thatdepict episodes from the medieval Crusades enacted by marionettes based on historical references and stories from both sides. Shawky is not only an accomplished story-teller, but an insightful one too.


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The manufacturing of tennis balls, chair and pencils at the In the making exhibition, Design Museum


In the making at the Design Museum (until 5th May) – This small exhibition is probably slightly overshadowed by the Paul Smith exhibition downstairs, but it is a real gem. The show is curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (founders of Barber & Osgerby, and the designers of the 2012 Olympic torch), and it features over 20 everyday objects at the earlier stages of their production. It is so fascinating to see seemingly familiar objects in their unfinished states, and some of them are almost unrecognisable… like the tennis balls above. The show allow viewers to understand the manufacturing processes and learn about stories behind these everyday objects. Even though these unfinished pieces are not functional, the rawness makes them look almost more beautiful and intriguing than the finished designs!


Liu Wei: Density at White Cube Mason’s Yard (until 15th March) – Liu is a conceptual artist from Beijing who works in various media such as installation, drawing, sculpture, painting and video. His first solo exhibition in the UK explores the issue of urbanism by using architectural materials. The artist’s new installations contain no ‘stereotypical’ Chinese elements, yet they are about important issues facing China today. The enormous geometric sculptures in the downstairs gallery are constructed from books, iron and wood. Their over-bearing presence enables visitors to experience the spatial crowdedness he refers to in urban areas. Thoughtful and intriguing.


The rest:

David Lynch: The factory photographs, Andy Warhol: photographs from 1976-1987 & William S. Burroughs at The Photographer’s gallery (until 30th March) It’s hard to describe how I feel about the three exhibitions within the gallery… as a semi-fan of David Lynch‘s earlier work, I was slightly disappointed with the work shown here. His black-and-white photos of empty and derelict industrial sites in Europe and America are moody and ‘cold’, but they are also repetitive and hard to engage. I found Burroughs‘s work quite intriguing but was more fascinated by Warhol‘s obsessive documenting, as it also revealed him and his relationships with his subjects. Overall, a very mixed show, but perhaps it was due to my high expectations beforehand.


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Left: A surreal pop-up Georgian garden appeared at the British Library; Right: Garden at the Estorick Collection.


Georgians revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain at the British Library (until 11th March) – This major exhibition focuses on the culture, architecture, fashion and leisure of the Georgian period. It is very informative, but I found some aspects are more interesting than others. My favourite of the show was the last room, which is full of enlarged prints of Richard Horwood’s 1790s map of London… utterly captivating.


Emilio Greco: Sacred and Profane at Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art (ended) I don’t often visit this Italian art gallery near Highbury/Islington, yet I have always enjoyed my visits here. This exhibition featured work by the Sicilian sculptor and artist, Emilio Greco (1913–95), who is considered to be one of Italy’s most important modern sculptors. His powerful portrait busts and sensual nudes were the highlights, but his drawings and etchings were quite impressive too. This wonderful gallery is often overlooked by tourists and even locals, yet it is one of the best galleries in north London and its cafe provides a chill-out zone that overlooks a small landscaped garden with several life-size sculptures.


The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS (ended) – This exhibition was bigger than I expected, and it showcased a lot of historical artifacts and manuscripts, as well as a walk-in fire temple. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and it originated amongst the Iranian peoples in Central Asia during the second millennium BC. It spread east along the Silk Road as far as China and south-west to Iran, and was once the state religion in Iran before Islam. The religion’s belief is based on good (Ahura Mazda) versus evil (Ahriman), and that the world will come to an end once Evil has been fully overcome. The exhibition offers an educational opportunity for visitors to learn more about this ancient and rather mysterious religion.


Art under Attack: histories of British iconoclasm at Tate Britain (ended) – This exhibition examined the history of physical assaults and vandalism on art in Britain from the Reformation to the present day. I found the earlier work more interesting than the recent ones, especially work that was destroyed or defaced due to religious reasons. The subject matter here is quite fascinating, but the exhibition itself was quite inconsistent and it became irrelevant and less engaging towards the end, which was a shame.


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Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined. Top left: Álvaro Siza’s installations outside; Top right: Diébédo Francis Kéré’s interactive installations; 2nd & bottom row left: Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s Blue; 2nd row middle: Grafton Architects; 2nd row right & main: Kengo Kuma’s installation; Bottom row middle and right: Li Xiaodong


Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined at Royal Academy of Art (until 6th April) I suppose it must be very challenging to curate an exhibition on architecture. But this major exhibition at the Royal Academy demonstrate what can be achieved within the confined gallery space. The exhibition is all about the visitors’ sensory experiences… with the surrounding space, the installations and even other people at the show.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen‘s ‘Blue’ installation is an imposing wooden structure with four cylinders/ staircases that led visitors to the top deck. It brings out a sense of adventurous within us and makes us want to ‘explore’ more.

I have always liked work by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, his scented bamboo installations at the show are poetic and quite sensational. In another room, Chinese architect Li Xiaodong uses twigs to create a meditative labyrinth that eventually led us to a mirrored space with pebbles, which is the zen garden and ‘temple’.

The overall experience at this exhibition was a light-hearted one, and I applaud the Royal Academy for putting up such a brave show that is very different from their standard exhibitions.


Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore at the Somerset House (ended) – I did not expect the crowd outside of this exhibition on a cold Saturday afternoon ( I guess I haven’t been to an exhibition in the weekends for a long time), so I returned on Monday since the entrance fee was reduced by half on the day. As expected, the exhibition was all about creative and cutting edge fashion, and was dominated by pieces from her two favoured designers, Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. The show focused more on Blow‘s fashion legacy rather than her personal life and tragic end. Aside from the amazing wardrobe, there were also correspondence between her and various fashion publications that revealed her eccentricity and spending habits. The show allowed us to get a glimpse into the world of a colourful and unconventional character driven by a passion for creativity. It is not only a celebration her legacy, but more importantly, it reminded us of human’s vulnerabilities despite of the glamourous and successful facades.


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Hello, my name is Paul Smith at the Design Museum


Hello, my name is Paul Smith at the Design Museum (until 22nd June) – I often see Paul Smith as a successful entrepreneur, collector, and a down-to-earth guy who is a rarity in the fashion world. I met him years ago in his flagship store behind the counter and he was so friendly and genuine, which really left a strong impression on me. However, I never saw him as a cutting-edge designer, and perhaps this is one of the reasons for his success. This exhibition is not so much about his designs but more about him, the person behind a highly successful global brand: a designer, collector, photographer, entrepreneur, perfectionist, traveler, loving husband, and most of all, someone who is passionate and true to himself. The show itself perhaps is too aesthetically-driven, but it is able to convey Smith‘s spirit and passion. And it is not hard to understand why he is one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs around today.


Most disappointing

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 at the National Gallery (ended) – I came to see the show for two reasons: Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, but left the show disappointed. Yes, there were some great work on display by the two artists as well as many other well-known artists from the same period, but the show was stuffy, unfocused and apathetic. The problem was not to do with the work but the curation itself. I left the show with some historical facts and dates yet completely emotionless.


Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See at Serpentine Sackler Gallery (ended) Once upon a time, British artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and The Chapman Brothers were YBAs (Young British Artists) who ruled the British art scene. I have never been fond of work by the group but I thought The Chapman Brothers‘s work was darker, deeper and more provocative. Yet at this show, the ‘shock’ tactic, a theme that runs throughout their work seems repetitive, calculating and dated. McDonalds, the Nazis and consumerism are just some of the villains here, but their cynicism and humour is no longer refreshing and thought-provoking, instead I found it rather egocentric and jaded. The show offered nothing new and I left the exhibition devoid of much emotion except for boredom.


Summer fashion accessories from Asia

I rarely write about fashion here because I am not a fashion blogger, nor do I follow the current fashion trends. These days, I would rather buy less but spend on quality items that are well-made, timeless and slightly unusual. As a huge fan of all things Japanese, I am surprised by the lack of choices for independent Japanese fashion brands here ( and I don’t mean Uniqlo or Muji), so I would splash out more than usual when I travel to Asia.

I love canvas made fashion accessories because they are light, durable and functional. The Japanese are especially well-known for their canvas designs, and so they are almost essential in many Japanese people’s wardrobes.


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During my trip to Asia, I discovered the Japanese shoes brand Tokuyama and immediately I fell in love with their colourful and beautifully made canvas shoes and slippers! I couldn’t find an outlet outside of Japan selling them, so I contacted them directly. In the end, I decided to order their Tote and Tote sneakers designed by Mag design labo./ Keita Hanazawa after exchanging a few emails with the company ( something that I rarely do).

I was quite excited when the shoes arrived because they both came in lovely shoe bags! However, the Tote were slightly too tight and I had to exchange them, but the company was helpful and did not charge me for sending the second pair. I have been receiving many compliments whenever I am out in my Tote sneakers, but more importantly, they are really comfortable thanks to the soft microfibre insole material.


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Bag n Noun is a fashion accessory brand set up by Takeshi Ozawa, who draws inspiration from European military and work wear. His colourful and functional bags are all made in Osaka and are extremely well crafted. I love my mustard toolbag, because it is roomy and very functional. There are several UK stockists here that carry this brand, but for something more unique, the only way is to go their shops in Japan. I bought this lovely two-toned blue bag in their small shop near Tokyo station, it can be stored flat but is surprisingly roomy when you open it up. There are 4 vertical outer pockets, so apart from looking good, it is extremely functional too!


plus minus bag


Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa‘s name is often associated with Muji, but he is also the design director of ±0 ( or ‘plus minus zero’). Just like Muji, the brand’s products are simple, minimal and functional that are suited for contemporary living. Their cute sole bag is inspired by the rubber soled shoes worn by school children throughout Japan. On the surface it looks like an average canvas bag, but the bottom is shaped like a shoe, so the bag can stand on its own on the floor! How funny and cool!


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I haven’t bought a new watch for years, but I was tempted when I discovered boat or ‘be optimistic and thankful‘, where customers can customise their own designs from an extensive array of options. I love the fact that each watch’s sealed wax face is stamped individually, it definitely makes the watch more special. Hong Kong designers Leo Chiu and Siu Man are the brains behind this wonderful concept, the watch resembles Uniform wear but it is much cheaper ( at 85 USD) and more fun. It is hardly a watch for the connoisseurs but it is certainly good enough as a fashion statement.


Shopping in Kyoto

My last Kyoto blog entry is on shopping…

Since I spent much of the time in the rural area exploring temples and gardens, there was barely time for shopping. The day before I left for Tokyo, I went into the city centre during the late afternoon and spent a few hours exploring the shopping district.



Traditional shops selling local crafts and souvenir on Saga-Toriimoto preserved street


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Kitsch-style shop and geisha-themed stationery



Nishiki Market, known as as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, has been trading since 1310 is a must for foodies. There are fresh seafood, vegetables, dried and pickled food, knives and cookware etc. The market is one of the cleanest markets I have been to, unfortunately, I arrived quite late and many stores were closing, otherwise, I could spend hours here…


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Nishiki market

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Beautiful food packaging and different types of Kit Kat including matcha flavour & a Kyoto edition


Stationery & paper crafts

As a city known for its strong heritage and traditional arts and crafts, it would be a waste not to visit the stationery or paper crafts shops while I was there. However, these shops are scattered in different parts of the city and due to the limited time, I was only able to visit a few of them within the same district. It is essential to do a bit of planning beforehand as some of them are not easy to find, but shops tend to open until 7.30 or 8pm, so I was able to do some last minute shopping.


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Traditional stationery shops can still be seen in the city centre


Suzuki Shofudo – this 115-year old paper craft shop not only sells colourful and graphical washi paper and stationery, it also provides paper-making workshops at its premise. If time is limited, this shop is a good place to visit if you are looking for stationery with a traditional touch. I also love the shop’s “frog” identity, it’s just too cute ( see below)…

Not far from the shop is Rokkaku, a more contemporary paper shop that designs and prints customised invitations and cards, but it also sells greeting cards and letter sets. Many of the cards are letterpressed, they are simple and yet elegant and come with very nice envelopes.


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Main, middle left & middle: Suzuki Shofudo. Middle right & bottom: Rokkaku


Benrido – I stumbled upon this stationery shop when I last visited Kyoto and I could still remember my excitement when I stepped into the shop. I love the art-inspired stationery and postcards. I have this odd passion for plastic folders and I have a few of them in A4 and A5 sizes. I find them particularly useful when I travel, but it’s only in Japan where I can find different graphical patterns. Here, the shop has a variety of plastic folders with traditional and contemporary motifs and patterns, which made me very happy. This shop is also a great place to find traditional-inspired stationery for friends back home.





Uragu – this tiny paper shop hidden in an alleyway was surprisingly busy when I visited. It was not an easy find, but the traffic police knew the shop as soon as I showed him the address. There are beautiful greeting cards, postcards, letter sets and notebooks neatly displayed on dark wooden shelves here. The prices are not cheap but the items are one of a kind and are hard to find elsewhere.





Opposite Benrido is the Kyoto design house, located on the ground floor of the Nikawa Building, designed by architect Tadao Ando. There are many beautiful design items on sale here from contemporary to more classic designs that showcase Japanese traditional craftsmanship.


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Kyoto design house



Although I love new and cool designs, I also love traditional designs that beautifully crafted by hand. And in Kyoto, I was constantly drawn by various hair combs and pins behind the glass displays while walking down the streets. Besides hair accessories, graphical tenugui ( a traditional cotton towel or cloth) and tabi socks can also be seen in many shops here.



Traditional fashion accessories

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Main: sushi-inspired accessories; Bottom left: tabi socks; Bottom right: tenugui bags


From its cool shop display, it would be hard to imagine that Raak has been around since 1534. It specialises in tengunui, which can be used as a scarf, wine bottle wrapper and even bags. There are many colourful graphical patterns available and are mostly seasonal, a visit to the shop will make you realise how creative one can be with just a piece of cloth.





SOU SOU is the Japanese equivalent of Marimekko and is one of my favourite Japanese fashion brands, originally from Kyoto. I bought a pair of canvas shoes from their Tokyo shop a few years ago and I think they are cooler than Converse. In Kyoto, their main shop occupies three floors selling tabi socks, shoes, bags and their collaboration with Le coq sportif. Opposite the building, there is a womenswear shop, a menswear shop further down, as well as a few shops specialising in childrenswear, soft furnishing and textiles nearby. I love their bold graphical prints and their merge of traditional craftsmanship, techniques with modern designs. As far as I know, most items are made in Japan, so the quality is ensured.


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When in Kyoto, it will be hard to miss Yojiya‘s brand identity… a simple black and white sketch of a woman’s face. Founded in 1904, this cult beauty shop is famous for its “Aburatorigami” (Oil blotting Facial Paper), which is particularly useful in summers. There are several shops located in the city but my favourite is the one on Philosophy path, which has a shop and a tea house next door.


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Yojiya’s window display and green tea solid perfume made and sold at Taizo-in


TN29 by Tracey Neuls


Drop by Tracey Neuls x Tord Boontje


For an ex-shopaholic like me, I am now buying only about 10% of what I used to in a year. I spent years using shopping as a means of stress relief from work, and it was only when I started selling all my unwanted stuff on ebay that I realised how ‘insane’ I had been!

These days, I rarely buy fashion items on impulse, and even when I see something I love, I would walk away and wait a few days before deciding on whether I really want the item or not. Most of time, I would forget about it almost instantly after I walk away, so this tactic has proven to be quite successful and has saved me a lot of cash!

When I used the same tactic after trying on some cool shoes at the Tracey Neuls/ TN29 store, I eventually returned a week later because I love them THAT much!


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I have always been liked the TN29 collection for its quirkiness, but I thought they are slightly out of my price range ( I have also turned into a fashion cheapskate these days), so it was only during the sales period that I allowed myself to step into their very cool shop in Marylebone.

Within minutes, I fell in love with Geek Natural, a collaboration between Tracey and Dutch furniture designer, Tord Boontje, but was told that they had ran out of my size. The sales assistant then persuaded me to try the classic Brogue and the shockingly bright neon orange Geek ( both are their best sellers for many seasons). After trying them on, I was surprised by how comfortable they are… it was quite unexpected, but I struggled to decide and left the shop emptied-handed.

When I returned the second time, I left the shop with a lighter wallet ( well, not literally because I don’t usually carry so much cash on me) and the ‘brightest’ shoes I have ever bought in my life. When I got home, I had to console my guilt by reaffirming myself how ‘cool’ they look and that they will last for many years to come… It worked and my guilt disappeared almost instantly.





Dress for yourself

2013 is here and I have a sudden urge to change my personal style…

I consider my character to be quite tomboyish, but being a ‘tomboy’ is more about an inner attitude rather than the sexual orientation or appearance, and often people get confused by this term. Even when I was young, I hated wearing dresses or anything in pink, and I longed to be like the boys. During my teenage years, I wasn’t interested in boys from neighbouring schools, make-up nor other ‘girly’ activities, and so other girls at my all girl school started spreading rumour about my sexual orientation. This was extremely distressing for a 14/15 year old, and so I felt pressurised to conform, yet I never felt comfortable with it. When I eventually became one of the few female 6th form students in a boy school, I felt quite at home there. Finally I felt like I was one of the boys/lads and I had the best two years of my life there!

Then I went through a rebellious period in my mid 20s, and intentionally created an androgynous look with very short spiky hair and wearing mostly black/dark unisex outfits. I hung out with lesbian colleagues (I worked in the world of advertising!) or people who dressed similar as me. This made people wonder about my sexual orientation (again), it amused me but didn’t bother me much. I felt good about my ambiguous image, this was my quiet protest against the society’s mainstream/ stereotypical image of women.



Are you what you wear?


I am lucky that I have never had to work in a corporate environment, so I have always been able to dress for myself, but problems began to arise when I took up tango a few years ago. In the world of tango, how you dress definitely affects the chances of being asked to dance. I constantly felt out of place because I have never dressed to impress others/men before. Surrounded by women in seductive or glamourous outfits striving to catch the eyes of the opposite sex at milongas made me feel like I have been transported to a few centuries back in time. As much as I love the dance, the sexist and egocentric environment is a constant struggle that my strong-minded female friends and I have to deal with. Most of friends eventually gave up, while I continued to find ways to survive without feeling that I have betrayed myself! Recently, I started to switch role; learning to dance as a leader is very challenging but at least I don’t have to sit around all night ‘eyeing up’ men to ask me to dance. Meanwhile, I am also seeing more women leaders on the dance floor, which I think this is a healthier sign.

From what I observe through tango in different cosmopolitan cities made me realise that gender equality is still far from being a reality. I do not intend to compete with men, but I feel that women do not deserve enough respect from men and the society. When I heard about a poor young woman being gang raped on a bus in India; not only it triggered my anger and empathy, it also made me wonder if sexual objectification of women will ever end? I sincerely hope that her tragic death would eventually bring about positive changes in India, but as always, collective effort/ consciousness is needed to make a real impact.

You can sign the petition (on the link below) to the government of India to help end violence against women at

As an independent woman living in the West, I feel lucky that I have never had to ‘work’ on pleasing the opposite gender, but I have also experienced being ‘objectified’ in the past which utterly disgusted me. I know that many women still associate femininity and confidence with what they wear, yet I firmly believe it is an inner quality that should shine beyond what you wear.

As we get older, it’s not always easy to stay completely true to yourself, there are times when we have to conform or compromise for one reason or another. So if fashion is a personal statement or expression, then we should use this opportunity to stay true to ourselves and not dress for other people (this excludes religious dress codes). One of my new year’s resolutions is to strive to be as honest to myself as possible, which is easier said than done.

As for my new look in 2013, I will say goodbye to my hair and welcome the return of the less feminine short hair again. However, I no longer feel the need to create an image or make a statement because comfort is my priority these days, and I will continue to live by the motto – dress for yourself.