Roundtable Journal Issue 03: Skin Deep

A piece I curated in my role as Features Editor for Roundtable Journal. This was published in Issue 03, but you can read the full feature in PDF form here. The below image, which I creative directed in collaboration with the photographer Jenna Foxton, was shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Photography Portrait Prize, and displayed in the National Portrait Gallery.

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Roundtable Issue 03: Finding Your Fit

The third instalment of my feature for Roundtable Journal, Finding Your Fit. You can find the feature in our new print edition (available on the Roundtable e-shop) or you can read it in PDF form here.

Concept, styling and words by me. Photography by Hanifah Mohammad, hair and make-up by Nina Robinson. Featuring Mia Maxwell and Faith Aylward

Roundtable Journal: Fashioning Confidence

A challenge about taking up space with the clothes we wear, and finding a voice through colour.

Although I’m hardly a wallflower when it comes to dressing, a lot of the time I also hold myself back. I’ve noticed that I tone down my most conspicuous tops with black jeans, ditch the flamboyant  accessories as I rush out of the house and continuously dismiss certain items because I just don’t know how to wear them. I wonder if it’s a question of taking up space; if sometimes my clothes draw too much attention to me on days when I don’t feel confident enough or ‘worthy’ of the space.

So, for one week I challenged myself to push the boundaries. The shoes bought on a whim would finally get their star turn. The earrings I had forgotten about would dangle free and uninhibited. My initial urge to cower in a corner wearing all black would be firmly ignored. And somewhere, in a sea of colours louder than my voice, I might just find some confidence.3.jpgMonday: Fifteen-year-old me was something of a magpie. My friend and I used to rock up to antiques fairs at weekend and trawl through stall-upon-stall of bric-a-brac to find hidden treasures. These brooches have been adorning my bookshelves ever since, largely unworn due to how excessive they can feel for an average day of running errands and haunting the library. But, I actually really liked this look, and somehow wearing three brooches together (although one is technically an estranged earring fastened with a safety pin) made them feel less ostentatious. The beret presented its own challenges: I’m not normally a hat person, and the beret raised the question of what to do when you go indoors. I soon realised that the red line it left across my forehead was not a good look, so it stayed firmly planted (‘casually perched’) on my head all day.


5Tuesday: I look really tired in this photo and that’s because I was. Tuesday was a pretty dull day, and whilst I was still partially boycotting colour here, the snazzy shoes did brighten up my day a little. This was the first time they had gone out for a spin, and I didn’t get very far (they’re not the comfiest kicks in the cupboard). That said, I really liked how prim this look was and it made me feel like the kind of person who spends their days mooching around galleries.


2.jpgWednesday: This top is one of my favourites, but it needs ironing before every wear and that’s normally beyond my early morning capacity. I finally made the effort this week and it made my Wednesday in the library feel like a Friday on the beach. The earrings were mostly just my attempt to balance out those ballooning sleeves, but they also make me feel all cultured and arty because I bought them at the V&A. I guess I was dressing aspirationally in that sense. The unexpected consequence of this outfit was that it made me take up space, not just physically (those sleeves are BIG), but also emotionally. It gave me a nudge when my self-confidence started to ebb and stopped me from shrinking into the background as soon as my energy started to fade.


4.jpgThursday: Most of the clothes I buy are second-hand or high street, but this Shrimps coat was a treat to myself after a really hard time, and therefore makes me smile every time I wear it. Between the pink faux-fur collar and the animal print (though which animal I have no idea), it’s pretty out-there, so it’s not the kind of coat I can wear everyday. But the most challenging part of this outfit was the necklaces. I normally find them too fussy and my complete lack of jewellery organisation means they took about twenty minutes to untangle. Whilst they looked quite cool standing still, every time I moved I was reminded why I don’t do necklaces. Fun for a day, but I don’t think they’ll become a permanent fixture.


6Friday: Wearing white trousers past October can feel quite brazen, as if you’re taunting the inevitable English mud, but this challenge was craving some white flares. The blazer I paired them with was a kilo-sale find, and hasn’t seen much wear since I pulled it out of the bargain bin. Admittedly, this is more of an evening look, and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in it until sunset. What I did love about this look though was the red lipstick. It’s called ‘Lady Balls’ and I think that sums up how it made me feel pretty well. I’d been apprehensive about red lips, but by the end of the week it had become my signature.


7.jpgSaturday: This outfit was my favourite by far and I think it shows in the photo. The skirt – which is Kenzo Kids but somehow wound up at Portobello Road market – has an unparalleled way of brightening a dreary day. It’s like a beaming middle finger raised to the lack of sunshine. There’s not really much else to say on that one.


1Sunday: I love this dress. It’s insanely comfortable for something that looks so good and the colour/print combination is (in my humble opinion) one of the best things I’ve spotted in Zara for the last three years. Normally, I do it a slight disservice by covering the top half in a bulky jumper (my lazy attempt to make it appropriate for daytime), but this cute little jacket shows off the dress in all its glory. Of course, my new favourite lipstick made a reappearance, and I topped the look off with another pair of V&A earrings (can you tell I’m a little obsessed?).

By Sunday, I had gotten into the swing of dressing up. In fact, I actually felt more productive having wholeheartedly committed to my outfits. And whilst wearing heels on a daily basis still seems like something only steel-toed, taxi-takers can maintain, it was nice to let my lesser-worn shoes see some sunlight. By the end of the week, I fell into the stride of confident clothing choices (albeit a slightly slower stride than my usual trainers would allow for). Overall, I didn’t feel as self-conscious as I thought I would. I suppose that living in London, where people tend to express their identities more freely, it was easier to explore a different aesthetic. But the small changes I made had a bigger impact on my mood than I thought they would. I felt more confident, less restricted by other people’s opinions and just generally happier when I was wearing brighter colours. This challenge cracked the invisible wall I had built in my head and has given new life to some items I’d long since given up on. I might just keep dressing this way…

This blog post was written for Roundtable Journal. You can read it in its original context here. Photography by Sophia Gaede, collages by me. 

Roundtable: The self-education of Joy Crookes

I visited singer-songwriter Joy Crookes at her South London home to talk life, music and Frida Kahlo over juice and jollof rice. Photos by Tineka Ashley & make-up by Marielle Mata

This post was originally published on the Roundtable Journal blog.

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Joy Crookes describes her music as a nostalgic take on little stories about her life. Others have described her as a South London sensation with a hypnotising sound, but this isn’t a description she relishes. Joy grew up in Elephant & Castle and  still lives now, just down the road from her mum. “When you’re from Peckham, Brixton or Elephant & Castle, people expect you to be a ‘South London girl’ but that’s not me. I was listening to punk bands, and being different, for no one other than myself. I’ve never felt a part of this. I spent a lot of time by myself, just working things out and figuring out who I wanted to be.”

Self-reflection is a big part of Joy’s life at the moment, and it helps explain the soulful wisdom at the heart of her lyrics. “I try and read, self-educate.” Her cosy flat is crammed with books, from The Great Gatsby to One Day, but the streets of Elephant & Castle are where she learns the most. “It’s a very grief and poverty-stricken area but it’s so diverse and beautiful in its sadness. Every time you walk down the street, you’re constantly learning things you’d never learn at school.”

Joy’s self education continued with music. “Piano is easy to teach yourself, because it’s all there in front of you. If you press that, it makes this sound, and if you press those three together, you get this chord. I’m pretty anti-theory, but I know what sounds right.” When the piano began to feel limited, she picked up a guitar. “I learnt the guitar when my mum was away one weekend. It’s harder than piano, but I wanted to learn it so I could become a songwriter.”

Once she’d nailed a few basic chords, she started performing covers: everything from her dad’s favourite artists to the song at the end of the film Juno (she starts humming: “you’re a part-time lover and a full time friend…”). After putting a string of covers on YouTube, she gradually started throwing her own songs into the mix. But, it was when she covered Hit the road, Jack with a friend that Joy was first noticed. “It took us six hours to record the bloody cover, because we forgot to press record on the best take. We just used a microphone that cost £100 and recorded it in my bedroom, no software or anything. And that just blew up out of nowhere; it’s got like 500,000 views. I got signed off the back of that.”

Apart from the vocals, most of her songs are still recorded at home. It’s at her desk, under the watchful eye of a Frida Kahlo poster, that the magic happens. She pauses here and points to the huge poster: “That woman there is a huge inspiration to me. There’s a difference between not giving a fuck and wearing your heart on your sleeve. She didn’t give a fuck, but she did it in such an honest, relatable way. She was incredibly brave, especially for a woman who, on paper, should have had all her bravery stripped from her.” Beyond the poster, Kahlo’s face adorns postcards stuck by the window, a pillow squashed into the corner of the sofa, and the case on Joy’s phone. There are books about Frida’s life on the crowded shelves and an iron-on patch of her face, waiting to embellish the right t-shirt or denim jacket. The daily reminder of Frida’s bravery is what keeps Joy going if she starts to lose faith.

Musically, The Clash has had a huge influence on Joy. “They just had no boundaries. I have every single album, and each one is so different; they were sponges to everything around them. There was a murder outside one of their studios once, so they wrote a song called Somebody Got Murdered. And they’d be listening to reggae for a week and decide to make a reggae album – but not in an appropriating way, in their own way. They were just fun.” When she spotted lead guitarist Mick Jones in Notting Hill a few weeks ago, she chased him down the street.  “I realised afterwards that I’d been crying and bowing. He was like ‘babes, I thought you were gonna ask me for directions.’ He thought I was mad.”

It’s clear that Joy’s love of music runs deep; it’s a key part of her everyday life and the way she experiences the world. “You always want to listen to a song that emulates how you’re feeling. I know if I stub my toe, I’ll want to listen to White Riot by The Clash. When I’m walking past a good-looking guy, I want These Boots are Made for Walking.” Beyond these little moments of musical mirroring, songwriting is a powerful form of therapy for Joy. But, she admits, “It scares me a little bit that expressing my feelings through music has become my job.”

Her process reflects the way she sees her career unfolding. “My music is solely dependent on what’s going on with me at that moment in time. I might start a verse and finish the song six months later, because I know that whatever I’m talking about will come to a conclusion where I’ll be able to write about it. I’ve got a song at the moment that I think is going to be about the whole Harvey Weinstein thing; how every time you go on BBC news, there’s another woman who’s been abused. And everyone’s shocked, but at the same time no-one’s shocked, because it happens to everyone. Songs like that take time and I’m not here to be a hype artist, I want to be an artist who’s respected and here for a long time.”

At just 19, she’s just been on her first European tour, a big milestone in any artist’s career and one that she counts as a learning curve. “It helped me realise that London is a bubble,” she ponders. Travelling and performing alongside her friend Jacob Banks, she visited Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Madrid and Zurich. “There are memories in every city,” she says wistfully. “Like in Zurich, we ended up in a brothel because it was called Chilli’s and we thought it was a food place.”

Joy doesn’t have a master plan, and she’s not in any particular rush to find success. “I’d like to eventually release an album, but my main goal is longevity. If I do release, I want to do it at the right time for me.” She hesitates here: “It’s hard to put a deadline or a timescale on creativity. Sometimes finding what you actually want to do next is part of the journey.”