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Letters from Edinburgh: Term Break Fashion

In the sixth installment of her letters from Scotland, our writer, who is living in Edinburgh for a year, considers the weather on her term break, then jaunts down to London and attends an alternative fashion show.

Scotland has crap weather; there’s really no better way to say it. When it’s not chilly and overcast, the skies like to blow this pissy, drizzly shit at you from all directions. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve seen some gorgeous days, but I’ve also lived here long enough to know that when the sky is blue and the sun is glaring you better drop everything and get outside because chances are it won’t stick around for long. Sometimes I feel like Captain Ahab of Edinburgh, shaking my chubby fists at the blustery gray above.

However—much to my delight—the weather is astonishingly decent when my friend Pavlik comes to visit. It’s the first week of my term break and we’re bouncing around the Scottish Highlands for a few days, checking out old castles and crashing at bed and breakfasts. The days are so freakishly nice that I begin to think Pavlik is a bad-weather talisman.

When we get off the bus in Fort William, though, I begin to think otherwise. Rain is pouring down in cold, heavy sheets and turning the ground to rivers and marshland. We’re in Fort William to catch the West Highland Railway back to Edinburgh. The line is considered one of the world’s most scenic routes and is without a doubt the most famous railway in Scotland. By the time Pavlik and I reach the train station we’re dripping small lakes on the floor and we’ve missed the early afternoon train. The only other train leaves at five o’clock, which leaves only an hour and a half of daylight to see the mountains, lochs, and forests along the train route. It also means we have four hours to kill in Fort William’s train station—a single room that houses only a snack stand and a guy playing video games on his mobile at top volume. Noting this, Pavlik and I venture out to find a small local café, where we make an order of parsnip soup, apple crumble, and hot chocolate stretch three hours.

The train ride home proves worth the wait, the rain clearing up a few minutes after we settle into our seats. We gaze out the window at the mazes of branches and rocks, wet and rugged, lit up by the setting sun. The scenery grows patchy and dark until I’m left staring at my own reflection. When we pass a series of scattered lochs the window glows briefly like someone splattered the train with silver, phosphorescent paint.


* * *

I have plans to fly to Bulgaria in late March but I have a good chunk of term break to spend before then, so I hop the train to London to hang out with my friend Miya at her mother’s flat in Shepherd’s Bush in the West End.

Within the first hour I am in London I witness a car accident, an antiwar demonstration, a man holding up a sign reading ‘I CAN CURE ODD ERECTIONS,’ and a guy in a tiger costume handing out a socialist workers’ newspaper. I’ve only been to London a few times, but thanks to its liveliness it’s becoming one of my favorite places to visit.

If you ask Miya where she’s from she’ll pause to debate whether to give you the short version or the long one. Miya splits her life between Edinburgh, London, and Tokyo. Born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, she moved to Tokyo at the age of four and returned to Edinburgh when she was 11 to attend boarding school. Her mother soon moved to London to establish her own architecture firm and now Miya attends the University of Edinburgh and spends her time rotating through the three cities.

Her mother’s flat in Shepherd’s Bush stands near a playground and a corner store and, according to Miya, is in a constant state of repair and has never had a door buzzer that works. Inside sits a pine bench Miya designed and constructed based on a snake’s vertebrae and ribs. Resting on it, I notice a series of pearly purplish strokes on the wall across from me.

‘Hey, cool, you guys have wall graphics?’

Miya tucks her head in and giggles, ‘No. My mom got drunk one night and thought the wall needed a picture.’

I take to Miya’s mother the minute she starts talking. She’s funny, smart, and says exactly what she thinks and feels without a hint of self-consciousness. The day we meet is her first day back from Qatar, where she was getting to know the man whose house she will be designing. She makes no apologies for how tired and unsociable she feels; instead she hands over two gigantic bags of dried hibiscus and sage from an outdoor Qatari market and a stack of exquisite Iranian jewelry and costume books her client, a Middle Eastern art collector, gave to her. She smiles kindly at us and saunters off to bed.

For the remainder of the evening Miya and I drape ourselves across the sofa, sipping hibiscus tea, rifling through books, and mindlessly watching rubbish on the BBC.


* * *

London’s Alternative Fashion Week is good fun and Miya and I can’t get enough. The event is held in Old Spitalfields Market, a few blocks away from Liverpool Street Station, and features a handmade clothes, jewelry, and textiles market as well as fashion shows by starving young designers and art-school students.

For two days we’re there from open to close, touring the booths and watching beautiful people in outrageous outfits walk down a makeshift catwalk of conference tables. Old Spitalfields Market is a gigantic tent with no backstage or closed-off space for the designers to prep the models. All the fluffing out, sucking in, and zipping up is done right beside the catwalk, for all the crowd to see. It feels like a big elementary-school art show-and-tell, where at the end of the day everyone gets to play with each other’s projects and gab proudly about their own.

The show collections range from floaty dresses to cheeky costumes; there’s kabuki makeup, masks, headdresses, bloomers, and pantaloons. There’s not a sign of gray, beige, or ‘griege,’ and not much you could get away with wearing to the office—though maybe to the opera. Standing at the foot of the catwalk with pitas crammed full of falafel, Miya and I watch a petticoat-heavy collection by Shoreditch Community College, admittedly inspired by Romeo and Juliet. A woman in gold face-paint struts out in a stiff bodice and loses her straight face to a smile. I think it’s stuff like this that makes London worth coming back to.