Confessions of a Customising Addict

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  • “Hello, Fashion Addicts Anonymous? I’ve got a problem – I just can’t stop customising things. Wait. Oh God, is that a lamé bow…?”

    As crises of the soul go, it’s tame, I know. But my penchant for embellishment has got more and more extreme with age. As the high street has got ever more homogenised and pieces on offer have got less and less unique, I’ve become more obsessed with how to make everything I own just a little more, well, me. It means I’ve developed a well-trodden route around local stores in my hunt for unusual bits and bobs. There’s my favourite local charity shop (hi, Peaceful Solutions, Willesden branch!) where I always find designer mens’ shirts and merino V-necks crying out for a tweak. There’s also my local Indian haberdashery store where I can pounce on ribbons studded with paisley-patterned pearls, and crystal buttons galore. There’s the plethora of Harlesden sell-everything shops where I can buy African dashiki tunics in cotton (gorgeous with a belt and sandals for summer) not to mention crazy fake flowers to pop into my 1970s vases…To my mind, it’s a more mindful way of consuming. Rather than endlessly splurging on expensive new buys in the quest for that perfect piece, why not (kind of) make it yourself from something you already own…or from pieces found somewhere unusual? I’ve recently befriended the fabulous Kate McGuire of Converted Closet, and she’s been inspiring me to seriously up my customising game (stay tuned for some amazing Converted Closet conversions starring the Marie Claire team, coming to soon). But in truth, I’ve had an urge to embellish for as long as I can remember.

    If your budget is in the January kipper-season zone and you’re looking to breathe new life into your existing wardrobe, here are some of my favourite low-fi customising tricks…

    Essential kit before you start: a local tailor willing to work as directed (rather than putting their own spin on your ideas) and some concrete visuals of what you want to achieve. If in doubt, ask them to do a smallish job first and work your way up to more involved projects. I show my long-suffering friend Mohammed (of Tailoring by Blueman – highly recommended if you happen to live in North-West London) pictures from Instagram if I’m aiming at an existing look. If not, I draw a very basic diagram of what I want, just to be sure we’re seeing the same thing in our minds’ eye…

    1. Puffa makeover


    Photo credits: Gavin Dias

    This winter has been so bitterly icy, I crossed a personal rubicon and bought a puffa. But down with streetwear styling I am not. So I was troubled by the boyish, plain, sheer sportiness of all available options. In the end, I went for a hooded number from Gap in bright scarlet red and bought three different colours and widths of grosgrain ribbon – dark pink, pale pink, and navy blue. We (take this to mean ‘Mohammed and I’ for the duration of this story) stitched them one on top of the other to make one multi-layer length of ribbon, then gathered it. We sewed it down the front and shoulders of my jacket to make a ruffled trim. Voila – much more Pretty in Pink…

    2. Replace the lace


    Chloe Sims doubles up on black and white laces at a London premiere in November, 2018 (Getty Images)

    This one is about as easy as they come. If you look at the difference between, say, a designer Balenciaga hiking boot and the high street alternative, the laces on the expensive style will generally be more special. So I often replace the boring laces that come with my shoes for jauntier ones. My shearling-lined Golden Goose trainers came with plain white laces, which I swapped for some rainbow ones. Similarly, I switched the dark brown laces of my Kurt Geiger hiking boots for some authentic hiking laces – one blue and one red, for a mismatched vibe. I got both sets of laces on Amazon, for not a lot…

    3. Brooches on bags


    Photo credits: Gavin Dias

    After years of searching, I finally found the perfect everyday bag. It’s a brown and cream woven leather number by Wandler that ticks all my boxes: midi-sized, chic in shape, with a top handle and a removable shoulder strap. I love it. But (look away now, Elza Wandler), I felt it could do with an extra OTT something. I’ve always loved vintage brooches, but can never wear them as actual brooches without feeling like Dot from Eastenders. However, they’re the perfect embellishment for a bag. I decided on a look – yellow gold and not too ‘vintage’ looking, with no coloured stones – and found two of similar sizes on eBay for about £5 each. Then we removed the brooch-pin backs and attached one to the front and one to the back of the bag. Sturdy thick thread and leather-sewing equipment is called for – a cobbler would have the tools to do this if your tailor can’t.

    4. Denim jacket a la Dries


    Photo credits: Gavin Dias

    I’ve accumulated several classic denim jackets. I’m obsessed with my Hudson jacket in particular – it’s soft, square-cut and hits at the perfect point on the hips. But having worn it as is for years, I was dying to give it an update. While browsing round the haberdashery mecca that is VV Rouleaux in Marylebone, I came across some beautiful glass-beaded fringing. It called to mind one of my favourite-ever Dries van Noten collections, all chic indigo denim with beaded embellishments. I bought a couple of metres of the VV fringing – one in blue and one in green beads – and we layered one over the other (one slightly lower to peep out underneath) and attached along the back and shoulder lines of my jacket. Ding dong, the beads are going to chime…

    5. Vintage boots va va voom


    Isabel Marant cluster studded ankle boots (R), the look that inspired the customisation of Jess’ own boots

    If I had an unlimited fashion budget, it would mainly go on Isabel Marant boots. Flat, heeled, slouchy, tall, ankle…they’re spot on, every single time. But I’ve splurged on way too many in the past year (hello, hidden-wedge shearling snow boots), so when I fell in love with a flat black studded style, I decided to opt for a DIY homage. I found a pair of vintage 1980s flat tan leather boots on eBay and bought a heap of studs – crystal, stars, gold and silver metal – which we punched through in a Western-style pattern. Look for ‘leather studs’ for the right type to attach to footwear.

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