Friday, August 14, 2015

Jean-Pierre Laffont – the most important photographer of late 20th century America

This piece originally appeared in Issue 12 of Umbrella magazine

He might be French, but Jean-Pierre Laffont is one of the great photographers of the American age.

Arriving from France, via his original home, Algeria, Laffont has spent the last 50 years documenting the people extraordinary country, from near-untouchable politicians to gang members who can barely speak a word of English. This diversity, and the warmth of the population, is what’s kept him in the USA since 1965.

A new book, Photographer’s Paradise, Turbulent America 1960-1960, showcases the best of his work: here he talks to Umbrella about his incredible career and what he’s taken from it.

You arrived in New York in 1965. What were your first impressions?
Everything was dirty and broken, the city was down. But each corner was interesting: garbage spills and abandoned cars everywhere. I did not expect it, but I loved the melting pot. I’m a photographer, I see in colour.

Did you have job?
No, but I had a camera around my neck, and started to photograph what I saw around me all the time. I was totally submerged by the beauty of Sixth Avenue, by the Empire State Building, by Brooklyn Bridge. Yet, it wasn’t what I expected, there were muggings everywhere. I was burgled, all my cameras disappeared one morning.

When did you start working?
I was a very good in the darkroom, so I worked in one 17 hours a day, sleeping on the floor, making money to survive. Then I met someone from Status magazine, and he asked if I wanted to work with him. I worked each night at Le Club – a disco near the United Nations. They used me so much they couldn’t pay me, but they arranged my green card – my permanent residence.

You took photos of the political heavyweights of the day…
I was at the White House for six years with Richard Nixon. I’d joined Gamma agency in ’69, so had a press pass accreditation. I followed him until his last day there. When he left in 1974, I wanted to see his departure from the White House lawn: his shoulder was down, but he gave that victory sign as he got in the helicopter. It was interesting. All the staff were crying, the maid, chef, the butler, the secretaries. Painful.

You also snapped Bobby Kennedy…
Yeah, it was very touching. They’re the sacred family of the USA, the Kennedys – going from one disaster to another. I stayed with him when he announced his presidency. When he came out, I was at the other side of the limo as I wanted to have his reflection in the roof. He did that gesture, trying to shake an admirers’ hand, it’s one of my favourites. They told me not to follow him on the trail to California, but of course, it was there he was assassinated [in 1968].

Can you tell us about photos of the gang in New York?
The gangs were mostly in the Bronx, with some in Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. This one was called the Savage Skulls. A journalist wrote they were pushing cocaine pushers from the roof of their housing block – it was repeatedly said. But there was no proof. I went to see them with a cameraman from a French TV station. I was in my small French car, and slowly drove on to the kerb to see the gang.

Were they suspicious?
They asked if we were going to photograph them. We said yes. Then they asked if were going to interview us and we said no, we just want to record your life. They said, “Everything that’s been said about us is wrong.” They were speaking like me in broken English, because they were Spanish-speakers.

The gang were curious, we showed them our equipment, as they wanted to see how it worked. They were always making a show, pretending they were fighting, acting like little kittens. With me, they were gentle. They lived in the blocks, but didn’t know Manhattan. Their gang protected them and they had their own law – normal laws of New York City didn’t apply to them. They had a club with music and strange lights, in which there were all kinds of weapons.

Is it easier or harder to take pictures now?
You come with me on the subway, and photograph a person and they’ll smile at you or turn their head. In Germany, they’d ask you for your pass. This is why I call my book Photographer’s Paradise. You have a welcome in this country that I love.

What sort of equipment do you use?
I used to have five cameras around my neck. We didn’t have time to change lenses or films, and you don’t want to lose those minutes. Now look at it today. We have extraordinary technology. I wish I was starting my career again! When I see the young kids photographing today, I envy so them much. I don’t know how you see life, but I see it in colour. Of course, I took a lot in black and white as we were forced to use it in the old days. But I hate the photographer today who goes into the jungle, and they come back with a pictures in black and white. They’re criminal.

Do you prefer the America of today or of old?
It’s hard to answer that. I made so many mistakes. When I arrived, we had riots of black people, and I thought, This is a revolution, they’ll get freedom. I was wrong. Do we have more justice today? I want to believe it. But we don’t care if people are gay or black or from Mexico. You get the benefit of the doubt. In Europe, you’re always on the defence.

One moment I’ll never forget is when the USA went to the Moon in 1969. At Cape Canaveral, I set up my stepladder. I couldn’t really see the rocket, but I had 20,000 people in front of me. Their joy was a moment of collective happiness I’ve never forgotten.

Photographer’s Paradise, Turbulent America 1960-1960 by Jean-Pierre Laffont is out now, published  by Glitterati Incorporated,

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten tips for aspiring journalists

A couple of months back, I received a letter from a 16-year-old friend of the family, asking me if I had any hints about how he could become a sports journalist. Here’s what I said in my letter back to him.

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your letter.

I think it’s great that you want to be a sports journalist – I can think of few better, more fun jobs in the world. It won’t make you wealthy, but it will make you happy and interesting. And rich chicks love interesting men. 

So, here’s a few tips to help you on your way.

1) Don’t listen to the doubters. People – often your friends – will tell you that the competition to be a journalist is too great for you to succeed. They do not say this out of concern but of fear. Fear that you might actually end up doing it. Ignore them.

2) Read the press every day, whether online or in print. Look at how the best writers construct their articles, then shamelessly copy them. Nothing is new or original, we’re all just doing a version of what’s come before.

3) Get blogging. Not only does it give you a platform for your work, but it also forces you to think about pictures and editorial direction, teaches you basic coding and makes you feel guilty if you’re not writing new content. Posting updates to Facebook doesn’t count.

4) Learn to self-edit. Write a match report that’s 500 words long. Then write about the same match in 200 words, then 100, then 50. You don’t get a prize for going over your word count, so you need this discipline. Read Stephen King’s On Writing*, he covers this brilliantly.

5) Constantly learn new skills. Today’s journalist needs to be able to take photos (and upload them to Instagram), write tweets, edit blogs and even shoot video. The good news is that this can be done from a smartphone, tablet or cheap laptop. Ask your parents for one.

6) Remember, you’re a brand, just like a pair of jeans or a coffee machine. Ask yourself why a prospective employer would take you on – then tailor your skills (and how you present them) to them. All purchases – and that’s what a job offer is – are about belief. Your skills will help them believe in you.

7) Ask every media organisation you can for work experience – especially the less glamourous ones (I’m sure The Non-League Paper is crying out for interns). Once you’re in, if you’re any good they’ll ask you back. For “any good” see Numbers 4 and 5.

8) Don’t forget, who you know is as important as what you know. That’s why work experience is so vital. When you’re in an office, you’ll be put in the corner and ignored (journalists are often too busy on Facebook to talk to you), but occasionally someone will ask yourself to do something, usually dull and clerical. Do it, but don’t be afraid of telling them what else you’re capable of. It may lead to something.

8) Start small. When you feel you’re good enough to get published, ask local magazines and websites if they want sports reports, gig reviews etc. It’s unlikely they’ll pay, but they will give you exposure, and you can use that to get work at more prestigious titles.

9) Develop a thick skin. You will be told “no” many more times than “yes”. Get used to it.

10) Find a goal, and go for it, but be aware that you may end up doing something different. The good news is that it’ll probably be even better than your original objective.

* The greatest book on the craft of journalism is Harold Evans's Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers. You can buy it here

Friday, August 22, 2014

My favourite famous preppies

Preppy – or Ivy League – is one of the core foundations of casual culture, even if your average terrace type wouldn't know his J Press from his J Crew, or a full term at Princeton from a weekend away in Martha's Vineyard. 

No matter, through osmosis, and prep's influence on Italian, French and Spanish luxury sportswear, Ivy style still pretty much defines what smart – and I mean, sharp – casual is about. 

Preppy grew out from an American take on traditional Savile Row tailoring, and reached its pinnacle in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when it absolutely defined the ideal of the clean-cut American male. 

From late-night Hollywood bars to the jazz clubs of Manhattan, the Ivy League uniform of button-down shirts, natural-shouldered jackets and penny-loafers was the go-to style for film stars, politicians and musicians alike. Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Jack Lemmon – they all wore it, and they'd never look better.

Here then, a pick of my favourite famous preppies in the years before America lost its innocence, when no one had heard of Vietnam or Agent Orange or dress-down Fridays. An America you really could believe in.

Keep it sharp, gents.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Six reasons why Belgium is cooler than where you live

This piece originally appeared in Esquire Weekly

For three years, Scandinavia has reigned at the top of the cultural charts. From TV drama to trendy, uncomfortable furniture, if it’s got a ‘Made in Sweden’ tag on it, there’s a good chance you’ll find a fawning article on it in the design mag of your choice. But, fickle souls that we are, Esquire Weekly’s head is now being turned by a nation less than an hour away from the UK by train, ferry or plane: Belgium.

The catalyst is Salamander, a crime series that’s replaced Borgen in the hearts of the BBC Four foreign-drama crowd. Following maverick cop Paul Gerardi’s quest to uncover the truth behind the robbery of a private bank, it’s got intrigue and murder in spades.

The show, which climaxes this weekend, isn’t the only thing this country of 11 million should be proud of, because Belgium – despite the difficulties between the Flemish-speaking north and the francophone south – has a cultural output that puts its bigger neighbours to shame. Don’t believe us? Here’s six reasons why Belgium is making the rest of Europe look, well, a bit like Belgium.

1 | Fabulous cities
You know that east London thing with bikes, craft beers and moustaches? Belgium cities were doing that decades before the first Home Counties hipster pitched up in Shoreditch and began to price the locals out of the area. The capital, Brussels, a French-speaking island in the Flemish north, has a reputation for bureaucratic drudgery, but according to Nicholas Lewis, editor of The Wordmagazine and the This is Belgium guide, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Brussels is a city that boasts a ton of hidden gems,” he says, “a town that lives below the radar with more substance than style.” It’s not all about the capital, either. Ghent is home to the brilliant SMAK museum, the legendary Music Mania record shop and La Fille d’O, a super-chic lingerie boutique. Antwerp, meanwhile is Belgium’s style city, but also, says Nick, famous for its “record stores, museums and good-looking, open and entrepreneurial people”.

You’ll find them around the eight-spoked hub of Marnixplaats on Friday and Saturday nights. Oh, and if you’re hungry, beautiful Bruges “serves the best lobster in Belgium”. Take that, Norway!

2 | Serious menswear
Belgian designers have been making aserious splash ever since the Antwerp Six – including Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Dirk Bikkembergs – graduated from the city’s Royal Academy of Arts in 1981. Alongside more recent stars like Raf Simons, Cedric Jacquemyn and Kris van Assche (now at Dior), they’ve made Belgium synonymous with menswear. Brussels-based fashion writer Philippe Pourhashemi says the quality of the shops matches that of the clothes.

“I love Louis in Antwerp, while Stijl in Brussels is great for established names as well as newcomers.
For trendier shoppers, try Hunting and Collecting, also in Brussels.”

And why is Belgium so prolific? “The schools provide students with excellent teaching,” he says.

“Belgians also appreciate luxury and elegant clothes. Comfort and practicality are important, as well as rebelliousness and a sense of irony.”

3 | World-class beers
Belgium’s reputation for producing fantastic – and dangerously strong – ales is unrivalled. Whether it’s the dark, strong “tripel” beers brewed by monks in one the country’s six trappist breweries or light, drinkable ales like De Koninck and Orval, Belgians take their brews every bit as seriously as the French do their wine.

Durham Atkinson, owner of specialist pub Hops and Glory in London’s Islington, is a regular visitor to Belgium’s breweries. “Strong beer isn’t considered something to be scared of there,” he says, which explains the conviviality of pubs like Brussels’ Le Corbeau and Kulminator in Antwerp.

“There isn’t really a ‘craft beer scene’ to follow, it’s more just a part of their culture to enjoy, appreciate and drink great ales regularly. Before you die, try the Westvleteren 12, which I’d consider to be the best beer in the world.”

4 | Super-talented footballers
The country may not have the reputation for “total football” artistry enjoyed by its neighbours The Netherlands, but a quick scan of the most exciting players in Europe will turn up plenty of Belgian (though not Belgian-sounding) names, many of them now playing in the Premier League.
As a result, the much-hyped national side is expected to make an impact at the World Cup this summer.

Gabriele Marcotti, World Football Correspondent ofThe Times, says: “The great thing about Belgium is that all the top footballers, apart from Vincent Kompany, are between 20 and 25 years old. Players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen have played together since they were kids so they’re very settled. People put this generation’s emergence down to the quality of Belgian coaching, but they’ve always trained on little pitches and played small-sided games. I think it just comes down to luck. There are more to come, though — Yanick Ferreira-Carrasco is a regular in the Monaco midfield, while Eden Hazard’s younger brother Thorgan is also excellent.”

Get those bets on now.

5 | Its vibrant music scene
As the enlightening The Sound of Belgium documentary showed last year, Belgium – along with Chicago – pretty much invented electronic dance music as we know it with the “new beat” sound of the Eighties. John Power, who worked on the film, and now manages Belgian bands, says its legacy can’t be underestimated.

“This tiny country made a big sound that influenced the world before imploding as the government and police cracked down on it.” Over the last ten years the disco-Balearic sound championed by Eskimo records has soundtracked many of the country’s cool clubs, but today you’ll also find a thriving underground electronic scene.

“In Brussels you have FUSE, one of the oldest and longest-running techno clubs in Europe,’ says Power. “If you want it a bit sexier or trendier, there’s Libertine Supersport, which hosts DJs like Erol Alkan and Simian Mobile Disco every month.”

And when the weather warms up, things get really interesting. “Brussels comes alive in summer: the streets are full of people drinking and relaxing after work, there are loads of markets on and there’s always a party happening on the roof of a car park or in the woods.” We’re sold.

6 | Quirky art and great photography
It should come as no surprise that the country that gave us the surrealist Magritte has an art scene that’s almost impossible to pin down.

Owner of the Alice Gallery in Brussels, Alice van den Abeele, says that at the moment photography is really strong. “My favourite artists are Belgian photographers Nicolas Karakatsanis and Lara Gasparotto. In terms of actually seeing art, Brussels is probably the strongest place for galleries, but I like the Tim Van Laere gallery in Antwerp best.”

Like the country’s fashion designers, Belgium’s artist are defined by their free-thinking spirit. “There’s no such thing as Belgian art,” says Alice. “There are Belgian people making art and they’re all unique in a very different way.”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The simple pleasures of dim sum

This article will appear in Issue Ten of Umbrella

Good things often come in parcels. And that’s as true with food as it is with consumer durables found under the tree at Christmas. Perhaps that’s why dim sum always feel like such a treat.

Dim sum is linked with the older tradition of tea drinking (yum cha) in Cantonese culture and consists mainly of a variety of dumplings, served fresh from bamboo steaming  baskets. Like many Chinese dishes, the onus is on sharing, though that often goes out of the window when the spare ribs arrive.

To see a dim sum chef at work is to see someone completely at one with their craft. A huge amount of skill is needed to create that translucent dough that embodies the perfect dumpling. Though, like ravioli for Italians, it’s the filing that gives each dumpling its individual character. As Vinata Frans, head chef of dim sum chain Ping Pong says: “Chefs must have a delicate but speedy touch. To make each dumpling exactly the same size and consistency takes practice and our chefs each have over eight years’ experience making dumplings. A good tip – cool hands make better dumplings.”

The staple dumpling is the har gau, a parcel of chopped or whole shrimp wrapped in a wheat starch skin. When split open its juices merge with the dipping sauce to create a cocktail of deeply savoury flavours. Heat is a factor, too. You’re not really getting the full dim sum experience unless you spend a good portion of the meal desperately trying to cool a freshly opened dumpling by blowing on it.

Of course, it’s not just about prawn. A dim sum feast can encompass guotie (north Chinese dumpling that are boiled then fried), char siu baau (a pork bun) and the slightly less appealing, but very authentic “phoenix claws”, better known as chickens’ feet.

Like tapas, dim sum works on the principle that food is best when it’s shared and the diner experiences a wide range of flavours. In the perfect dim sum environment, one will taste sweet, hot, sour and savoury all in the space of a few mouthfuls. And, if we’re doing it properly, the lot should be washed down with tea – a relic of dim sum’s beginning as byproduct of the tea ceremony.

Best of all though, is when you reach that point when it becomes clear that the original order wasn’t quite enough to satisfy the appetites of those present. And so the waiter’s eye is caught, more har gau is ordered and the experience continues long into the night, just as it always should.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Terry O' Neil: the photographer who helped define the ’60s

This interview appears in the new issue of the Christopher Ward magazine

The 1960s may have been defined by its soundtrack of Beatles, Stones, and Kinks, but it was those that produced images of these – and other – stars of the who held the key to their success. 

Terry O’Neill, along with David Bailey and Terence Donovan, was that very ’60s animal, the celebrity photographer. As pop music exploded, so printed media needed young, savvy snappers to capture the equally youthful stars who were elbowing the long established celebrities out of the way. O’Neill fitted the bill perfectly.

Like Bailey and Donovan, O’Neill was from an ordinary background (working class people simply didn’t do jobs like his before the ’60s), a Londoner with a love of jazz absolutely in tune with what was starting to ferment in the capital’s clubs. A lucky break and plenty of hard work led him on a path that would lead to him photographing, not just domestic celebrities, but Hollywood stars like Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Brigitte Bardot, and perhaps most famously, Frank Sinatra, who O’Neill developed a strong friendship with over 30 years. To be photographed by Terry O’Neill was to become an icon.

Described by Michael Caine as “one of the best photographers in the world”, it’s fitting then that O’Neill’s work has finally been documented in one volume, which showcases his reportage-influenced portraits of everyone from Muhammad Ali to Amy Winehouse to his stunning photo the Queen. It reads less like a photography book and more like a retrospective of the pop culture age.

Here, in an exclusive interview, he tells Christopher Ward about leading a very charmed life in pictures.

Hi Terry. Growing up, were you one of those kids who liked taking photos? 
No, I never took pictures, I got forced into it. I was a jazz drummer and wanted to play in America, so I went to BOAC [the forerunner of British Airways] in 1960 as they’d starting flying to America, and applied for a job as an air steward. They weren’t taking anybody on for three months, but if I took a post there I’d stand a better chance of getting a steward’s job. So I got a job in the photographic unit and learnt how to the trade. We used to photograph the inside of aircrafts or went up to take photos of planes in flight. As I was just an assistant, for homework they got me to take pictures around Heathrow at weekends – and that’s where I accidently took a shot of a bloke in pin-stripe suit surrounded by African chieftains.

That photo changed your life…
A reporter came up to me and said, “Do you know who that is?”. I said no, and he told me it was [the politician] Rab Butler, and asked if he could have my roll of film to show the picture editor at his newspaper. I gave him it, and rang up this guy who was the picture editor of the Sunday Dispatch. He told me he loved all the shots and was going to use the Butler picture, for which he paid me 25 quid. He said he wanted me to cover the airport for him every Saturday. I told him that I didn’t really know what I was doing and he said, “Just do what you’ve been doing on that roll of film.” That was the start of my career.

What happened then?
I met up with another guy who I worked with for a while, then he died in a plane crash, so I got his job on the Daily Sketch. I still didn’t really know what I was doing! When I was there, the paper said they wanted to attract younger people by doing pop groups – in those days it was all individual singers, a pop group was unheard of. They said, go down to Abbey Road and cover this group, The Beatles. I took this amateurish shot of them. The paper published it and sold out. Suddenly, everyone was tuned into the ’60s.

And it wasn’t just the Beatles, who you covered, was it?

They said, who else is any good? I loved the blues, so I told them the best group was The Rolling Stones. They were horrified with them, and said, “Can’t you get a good- looking group?” So I told them about the Dave Clarke Five, though only one of them could play anything. They said it didn’t matter, go and photograph them. And they ran the photos under the headline of “Beauty and the Beast”. That was first picture spread of a pop group in a newspaper.

What did it feel like to be in the eye of that pop culture storm?
We all used to go to a place called the Ad Lib club – me, The Beatles, the Stones and all the models. We used to talk about what proper job we’d get when it was all over in a couple of years. It was only when I went to Hollywood a couple of years later and met Fred Astaire, and all he wanted to do was talk about the Beatles, Stones and Jean Shrimpton, did I realise that it must be for real if someone like him wanted to talk about it.

What was Hollywood like then?
That was around 1964-’65 – I loved it. It was like the south of France. I got on great with all the movie stars as they were used to posing with 5x4 cameras and I0x8 cameras, they’d never met someone with a 35mm one. I got paid by the film companies to work on films for two weeks – photographing people like Paul Newman working, not working, hanging around. I often feel God was looking down, pointed his finger and the light shone on me.

You famously took a snap of Raquel Welch in the Chelsea strip…
Yeah, I got her in Peter Osgood’s outfit. She was great and loved Chelsea. They were all great. Obviously, if you’re with people too long you’ll see a bad side, nobody’s perfect, but I was around Sinatra 30 years and he was fantastic. I never overstepped the line. There was a time when I could be the one out drinking with him, but I didn’t want all that.

What pictures are you most proud of?
Brigitte Bardot with the wind blowing in her hair, Sinatra on the boardwalk, Paul Newman. Audrey Hepburn, she was fantastic, too. My only regret is that I didn’t work harder. When I tell people that, they laugh. But I could have worked harder.

What did you have that made you so in-demand?
I have no idea. I still don’t know. I was young and hard-working, quietly spoken. Never pushy.

Out of everyone, who was the most amazing to be with?
Frank Sinatra. When he was in town, the whole town revolved around him. He had an incredible personality, very strong natured. He lived up to it. He wasn’t loud though… a very cool guy.

Who are you snapping now?
I don’t take many pictures now, I did photograph PelĂ© as he’s the face of the World Cup. There’s not many people I want to photograph any more – I’ve done everybody who’s anybody.

It’s been good to you, this job. Are you happy?
I am happy. Really happy with my life, I don’t worry about anything. I’ve had cancer, I’ve had heart problems, but I just keep pressing on.

Terry O’Neill is published by ACC Editions. Go to for more information. Find out about Terry’s exhibitions at

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A proper wind-up merchant: the Omega De Ville watch

This piece was originally in Esquire Weekly

A few years ago, the death knell was being sounded for the men’s wristwatch. What do we need a watch for, people reasoned, when we’re never more than seconds from finding out the exact time on our phones?

There’s some logic to this. By rights, wristwatches should have gone the way of video recorders and David Moyes’ managerial reputation. The reason they didn’t is because timepieces like this, the Omega De Ville Co-Axial Chronometer 41, are about so much more than telling the time — they’re a wearable extension of our values.

The Swiss watchmaker’s De Ville range, which began in 1967, marries elegant, classic styling with cutting edge timekeeping technology. Slimmer and a little less showy than the (admittedly great) Speed- and Seamaster, a watch like this belongs on the wrist of a man who’s secure with his place in the world. And being an Omega, it’s no slouch when it comes to telling the time with pinpoint accuracy either.

The soul of a watch is its movement — the mechanism that enables it to tell the time, and the De Ville’s is one of the best, an Omega Co-Axial Calibre 8500. Forget batteries, this work of engineering genius uses the wearer’s wrist movements to power the watch with a mind-blowing array of gears, cogs and springs. And, unlike a lot of mechanical watches, the De Ville Chronometer has enough in reserve to keep going for a decent amount of time when you’re not wearing it — a full 60 hours. Not that you’ll want to take it off for that long.

Then there’s the case. Made of stainless steel and measuring 41mm across, it’s far smaller from the giant “footballers’ watches” that have gained popularity over the last few years. The face is protected by scratch-resistant sapphire cover, with a date window at three-o’clock and raised Roman numerals on the hour. And being water-resistant to 100m, should you fancy a quick exploration of your local Tudor shipwreck at lunchtime you won’t be late for that 2.30 sales call.

So, in a world where everything else is digital, the man who tells the time with a beautiful, mechanically powered watch is the one who really makes his mark. The Omega De Ville Co-Axial Chronometer 41, yours for £3,950.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Naamyaa: perfect food, tasty design

Thai restaurants don't tend to lead the field in the style stakes – they’re usually a mish-mash of ‘spiritual’ gap-year chic with no coherent visual language to tie everything all together. Naamyaa Bangkok Cafe, in London’s Islington, is different. 

The brainchild of Alan Yau, the founder of Wagamama and owner of Busaba, Naamyaa’s outstanding food is enhanced by a comprehensive design ethic that perfectly encapsulates the restaurant’s values. Unlike the pan-national minimalism of say, Wagamama, Naamyaa adds splashes of traditional design to a soft modernist interior – here designed by David Archer Architects. It also has some Bladerunner-style animated lighting in the window, replicating the neon-lit madness of nighttime Bangkok.

With an interior that's both stylish and welcoming, it’s unsurprising to see Naamyaa hasn’t skimped on the menu design either. Not only does the menu illustrate what your dish will actually look like, but it uses subtle Thai patterning to make it feel an integral part of the experience. The fact that the main font is Mac OS9 favourite, Chicago, illustrates perfectly Naamyaa’s attention to detail. 

While Michelin-starred restaurants and monster-ego chefs are still fawned over by the culinary press, places like Naamyaa show that creating wonderful, but simple, food in a beautifully thought-out environment is the key to a great dining experience. You should go.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Adidas World Cup football boot – a football/fashion classic

This article originally appeared in the brilliant Esquire Weekly

September and October is the time when Sunday league football really gets into its stride. And a new season means new boots – after all, there’s no excuse for not maintaining sartorial standards just because weekend mornings are spent kicking a ball of sodden pigskin around a windswept public park.

But which to choose? Many a Hackney Marshes Messi will rock up with the latest lightweight, fluorescent striker’s boot – all space-age materials and multi-coloured uppers. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re after a football boot that marries functionality with classic sports style you can’t beat the Adidas World Cup.

Originally designed for the 1978 World Cup tournament in Argentina, the boot was the last shoe that Adidas’ founder Adi Dassler worked on. Thirty-five years later it’s still worn by players all around the world at every level.

The first thing you notice when holding the World Cup – and its moulded stud brother, the Copa Mundial – is the softness of its kangaroo leather upper. Qulited around the toe to enable the player to get more control of the ball, there’s a luxurious feel that you just don’t get with any other boot. And that’s before we look underneath.

Make no mistake, the sole of the World Cup is one of the most beautifully designed pieces of equipment in footwear history. Six screw-in studs – all slightly splayed for extra stability – sit on a perfectly proportioned sole in red, white and black with the Adidas trefoil at the centre. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Good design marries form and function, and the World Cup boot epitomises that. No wonder that Adidas have released a limited edition ‘78’ version complete with leather holdall and cleaning kit. For those who can’t get hold of that rare gem, the original remains on sale – a relic of a time when shorts were short and the World Cup was the greatest thing you’d ever seen on television.

The sole is made of dual density plastic – the harder white section sits on the softer black platform, giving the shoe increased flexibility

The World Cup comes with an extended, foam-filled tongue which can be folded over the laces for extra padding when striking the ball – something that was popular with late-’70s strikers like Liverpool’s be-permed genius Terry McDermott

The heel is reinforced with extra pieces of leather for more stability – and to protect the wearer’s Achilles tendon

The six screw-in studs work best on soft grass pitches. Adi Dassler is credited with the  invention of the screw-in, an innovation that gave the West Germany team an advantage in the rain-sodden World Cup final of 1954 against Hungary

Friday, September 13, 2013

Behind the scenes with the Lotus F1 racing team

This piece was originally in Nuts magazine

Think a Formula 1 team consists of a few mechanics, a couple of drivers and someone to neck the free champagne? Wrong. Nuts heads to Silverstone for practice day at the British Grand Prix to find out exactly how the Lotus F1 Team goes about its business… 8.05am We’re at Silverstone! It may be raining, but Nuts is just one of the tens of thousands of people who’ve turned up to see the first day of practice at the British Grand Prix. A flash of a posh pass gets us into the ultra-exclusive paddock – and a date with the Lotus F1 team. This is more like it. 9.15 Every team has a portable HQ the size of a small hotel in the paddock complete with restaurants, offices and private rooms for drivers to chill in. With 80-100 staff working for Lotus on every race, it’s a big operation – thank the Lord for all that TV and sponsorship money! 9.52 Nuts is invited into the pits where crews of technicians make constant adjustments on Lotus F1’s two cars, one each for drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Each driver has his own personal team, with the whole lot overseen by the Trackside Operations Director. 10.04 Roman gets into his car for an “installation lap”, to get the car running. When he returns, the tyres are immediately taken off and put in their own heated  “sleeping bags”, to keep the temperature up and enhance their grip. The garage stinks of burning rubber.

With cars from every team screeching past us, Roman comes back and has a word with Nuts. “I love doing this job,” he says. “You know, I’m just a normal guy, but I love winning, whether it’s on the track or playing tennis.” We’re sure Kimi feels the same way! 11.00 As the teams waits for the rain to stop we’re told that while Lotus sponsors the team, they don’t actually make the cars. Instead, the the engine’s manufactured by Renault, while the rest of the car is put together by a team in Oxfordshire, who’ve been in the F1 game since 1981. 12:00 Nuts corners Lotus F1’s fuel technician Dave. So, do you fill the cars up with four-star? “No, this is specialist racing fuel made by our sponsors Total. We calculate how much we’ll need for each race, because too much fuel means extra weight and that slows the car down.” 13.05 It’s lunch, and we’re given a look at the amazing steering wheel by Lotus F1 lady Fleur: “All the gears – except first – are controlled by paddles on the back. The DRS (Drag Reduction System) system, which alters the angle of the rear flap, is also controlled from here. 2.30 With the rain petering out, drivers Kimi and Romain come into the Lotus garage for the afternoon session. Kimi has a word with his personal physiotherapist, while Romain get into his seat and starts the ignition. The noise is deafening as he drives off – no wonder the crew wear ear plugs. 2.40 On the track, Roman’s in constant touch with his own dedicated engineer, who gives him orders and informs him how the car’s running. Meanwhile, the Lotus F1/Renault telemetrics team study the data transmitted by the engine so it can be tuned for the next run-out. 3.30 After several spins around the circuit, Kimi and Romain arrive back in the Lotus garage, quickly departing the scene. The cars are disassembled with the wheels and engines taken away within a matter of minutes. If only all garages operated at this speed.

4.00 As the fans leave, the technicians begin work on the cars, including two of the eight engines that the team posses. While the lure of top-notch nosh in the Lotus HQ is tempting, Nuts decides to do its bit and polish the car for tomorrow’s qualifying session. Well, someone’s got to!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to pitch an article idea – and get it commissioned

One of the most daunting things for young journalists starting out is how to pitch article ideas to commissioning editors. Here’s my – in-no-way-guaranteed – recipe for pitching success. 
  1. Tailor your pitch to the magazine or website you’re getting in touch with. Got a great idea that you think could work in GQ and Elle? They’ll want very different things from it, so don’t send the same treatment* over.
  2. Find out the name of the commissioning editor you want to pitch to. Start off with an introductory email, outlying briefly what you do and what you’re interested in writing about. If you’ve not written for a “proper” title yet, point them to your blog. If you’re an unpublished journalist and haven’t got a blog, then you’re obviously not serious about making it in this game. Go and work for the council instead.
  3. Get your “treatment” right. This is where you outline what what your piece will be about, who you’re going to talk to in it and where it will fit in the publication. Make it any more than 200 words and the editor’s will glaze over and it’ll end up getting binned. Use bullet points, too – people get lost in long paragraphs.
  4. Email your pitch over, and follow it up with a) a phone call and b) a second email. After that, give up – you’re just becoming a nuisance. Try somewhere else.
  5. Remember, people with commissioning jobs in the media are lazy – they’ve been on staff for too long (no-one leaves of their own free will any more), so all they’re looking for are writers who’ll deliver winning copy that keeps them in their cushy jobs. Getting invited to posh parties and receiving free gifts through the post is very hard to give up.
  6. Do the commissioning editor’s job for them. If they’ve asked for 1,500 words, write 1,500 words – you don’t get extra money for going over your wordcount, but you will increase the editor’s workload. Also, check out your chosen title’s style guide – how they write numbers, headlines etc – and follow it. The sub-editors will appreciate the fact they’re not having to completely rewrite all your stuff, and they’ll let your commissioning ed know.
  7. Develop a thick skin. Your work will be mocked, dismissed as worthless and even ripped off by the person you sent it to. Deal with it.
  8. Finally, your fee. If your idea is commissioned, the editor will more than likely give you the rate for the job. If not, ask them. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tailor your mind: quick fixes to make you smarter

This article originally appeared in MR PORTER's Journal As a regular visitor to MR PORTER, you’ll no doubt have your appearance thoroughly down pat, but what about your brain? In this informative guide, Mr Anthony Teasdale provides the pointers your mind needs to stay as sharp as the cut of your trousers… The book that tells you why we are the way we are Guns, Germs and Steel by Prof. Jared Diamond

Professor Diamond is an unusual fellow, spending a fair proportion of his existence in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, studying both its wildlife and traditional societies. One day, a local politician asked him a question that went along the lines of: “If we agree you and I are as smart as each other, how come people from the West have so much wealth and power?” The answer Professor Diamond eventually came up with is the title of this tome. In the book, Professor Diamond charts the history of Western mankind’s rise, and why our privileged place in the world came about by a combination of geographical good fortune, communication links and proximity to animals that could be both tamed and eaten. The website that will make you the ultimate know-it-all There are few more disheartening feelings than finding out that the “fact” you’ve been wowing your friends and colleagues with for years is actually an urban myth. Happily, those with a thirst for real knowledge would do well to check out the excellent website. From the politics of Silicon Valley to the greatest steakhouse in London, ask a question about any topic on Quora and soon enough it’ll be answered by one or more experts in the field, beating Mr Stephen Fry’s illuminating QI programme at its own game. And unlike other user-generated sites, Quora is noted for the civility and manners of its contributors. The business magazine with a digital pulse Fast Company Forbes may be the in-house magazine of the super-rich, but for cutting-edge businesses keen to make use of our increasingly connected planet, then Fast Company is a must. Making sense of social media, new business thinking and mobile technology, the magazine mixes brilliant journalism with enlightening interviews from the leaders of the world's most innovative companies. The business world has changed – Fast Company helps you navigate it. The book that will help you cope with a chaotic world Mindfulness by Prof. Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman

When you’re in a position of responsibility either at home or work, having too many tasks to complete or even choices to make can overwhelm you and make you feel anxious and unable to make decisions. Messrs Williams and Penman’s book lays out a plan to combat this stress with the technique of mindfulness, which involves taking time out for just a few minutes a day to observe your own thoughts and feelings. Afterwards, you’ll feel happier, sharper and able to see things in their true perspective. And you’ll stop snapping at people, too. The DVD box set that redefines documentary film-making The American Civil War – Directed by Mr Ken Burns There are few documentary series that deserve the epithet “great” – Mr Laurence Olivier’s World at War is one – but Mr Ken Burn’s dissection of the American Civil War is perhaps the greatest of them all. Over ten hours of television, Mr Burns tells the story of the war that set North against South, brother against brother and completely changed America – turning it from a loose conglomeration of states to a unified country in its own right – but at the cost of 750,000 lives. The American Civil War took Mr Burns six years to make and garnered over 40 awards – it’s what DVD players were made for. The management book for the new breed of managers Quiet Leadership by Mr David Rock As much a manifesto as a management book, <Quiet Leadership> seeks to transform the way we think about management, basing its findings on scientific studies of the brain. With that knowledge, managers are able to work out how to make their teams happier and more productive. Which, if we have it right, should leave time for more post-work cocktails – a most civilizing way to reward collaboration. The podcast that brings history to life Hardcore History, written and presented by Mr Dan Carlin Can’t face the Kindle on the commute? Mr Dan Carlin’s regularly updated Hardcore History podcast is an excellent alternative, telling the story of the the great events of the past in exhaustive detail. Styling himself as a “history fan” rather than an “historian”, Mr Carlin brings passion and empathy to such subjects as Genghis Khan’s Mongol expansion, the collapse of the Roman Republic and most memorably, the horrific conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. The TED lectures that will make you look at the world anew Underwater Astonishments by Mr David Gallo Human beings have only explored three per cent of the ocean, and in this short presentation David Gall, demonstrates just what we’re missing. Truly illuminating – in both senses of the world – the lecture finishes with an astounding example of disguise by a most extraordinary octopus. Lessons From Death Row by Mr David R Dow In this speech, Mr Dow illustrates why murderers seemingly all have the same biography – and how that can be used to prevent killings happening in the future. Where Good Ideas Come From by Mr Steven Johnson For MR PORTER readers in search of inspiration, Mr Johnson’s talk about what sparks creativity takes us from the coffee houses of 1700s London to the physics labs of 1950s America and the invention of GPS. The indispensable style manual The MR PORTER Paperback by Mr Jeremy Langmead

From style icons to essential modern manners, Mr Langmead provides a guide on how to dress, and more importantly, how to conduct oneself in modern society. Ideal for when you’re facing those “Do I wear brown in town?” conundrums.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The angry brigade: why are Liverpool fans perpetually annoyed?

The vilification started within minutes of Luis Suarez sinking his teeth in Branislav Ivanovic's arm. Forums and social media networks buzzed with anger, and by 7pm the villain of the peace was being hung out to dry by fans, incandescent with rage. The villain being Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who had the temerity to point out at a press conference that, no matter how good they are, “all players are replaceable”. 

Later, Ian Ayre, the club’s Managing Director, would also feel the wrath of Scouse social media mob for his handling of the incident – though his competent performance, and action of getting Suarez to apologise within a couple of hours of the event, was in sharp contrast to the bungling that characterised the Evra affair. 
Yet Suarez, whose moment of toddler-like madness started the storm, escaped the worst of the criticism. On Twitter and the forums – and it's the forums that dictate what being a Liverpool fan is these days – some Reds criticised our mercurial Uruguayan, but others, many others, laughed it off, and directed their vitriol at the manager, Sky TV (and its “agenda”), Sky’s pundits, the press, the FA, Chelsea fans, Liverpool fans, Ivanovic. Everyone except the man who’d started the whole thing off with his bizarre impression of Rod Hull’s Emu.
To an extent, this is understandable: Suarez’s presence has far more of a bearing on Liverpool’s fortunes at the moment than Rodgers’ (or if he were to come back, Rafa Benitez’s) tactics. But this wasn’t really about matters on the field, this was about turning to what has become the default position in the red half of the Scouse nation over the last few years: anger. 
Quite simply, Liverpool fans are seemingly in a perpetual state of annoyance. There was, in the not-too-distant past, a “Liverpool way” that was defined by a devotion to the men in red, a sportsmanship that involved applauding those who’d performed well against us and an ability laugh at both ourselves and those unlucky enough not to be Liverpool supporters. 
And it wasn’t purely a myth, this Liverpool way – it was, bar the odd “welcoming committee” for away fans in the late-’70s to mid-’80s – real. Real enough that even today, one of the main accusations against Suarez is that he betrays it. Far from hating us, the individuals who make up the modern media grew up admiring Liverpool, supporting us in Europe as a surrogate for the poorly performing England team. We revelled in our status as carriers of the Scouse flame, an exotic strain of Britishness, part Beatles charm, part well-travelled merchant seaman. For the most part, others fans didn’t want to fight us when we came to town – they wanted to look at us, meet us, be us. So what happened? When did we become so sensitive? When did jibes about the lack of employment opportunities really get to us? When Man United’s fans sing about us, why does it prompt pages of outrage on our club forums? Seriously, who cares? If you went to Anfield in the mid-’80s when we were at our peak, United got it in the neck every week. And not just about their lack of success on the pitch.
A Liverpool fan recently said to me that the club’s supporters had become “addicted to negativity”, and there’s something in that. When Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly fans organisation formed to combat the cancer that was the leveraged ownership of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, its brilliant campaign helped end the Americans’ reign at Anfield, bringing Liverpool supporters together into a cohesive unit, making them realise just how powerful they could be. And that felt good. 
On the field, the Yanks’ disastrous tenure led to the downgrading of the team and eventually the sacking of Rafa Benitez, who spotted they were shysters from the off, and called them out on it. When he was sacked the fans protested once more, as was their right, and again made them feel part of something, a rarity in modern football. 
Since then, we Liverpudlians have revelled in our anger, felt it out, got used to its power. When the Suarez/Evra affair took off we defended our man to the hilt, researching the street slang of Uruguay to – in our minds at least – prove his innocence, forgetting our reaction was based purely on the fact he played for Liverpool (the same, of course, could have been said about United).
Yet when Suarez then went on to embarrass the club’s greatest ever player, Kenny Dalglish, by refusing to shake Evra’s hand in the return match, we blamed Sky, Man United, anyone – except the player himself. “He’s like a Scouser,” we told ourselves. “He’s one of us,” – forgetting the long-lasting effect he had on a man who really did sacrifice everything for Liverpool FC.
We fumed and fumed, and even abused Liverpudlian journalists for expressing honestly-held opinions that didn’t follow the standard Kopite response. But when people who love the club are “cunts”, what does that leave us to say about vermin like Kelvin McKenzie? 
Since then we’ve fumed about the press conferences of Brendan Rodgers, the refereeing of Howard Webb, the supposed Manchester bias of the Football Association, the songs of Sunderland and Man United, and Evra’s joke with the plastic arm at Old Trafford when United won the league. When we got knocked out of the FA Cup there was a weird sense of satisfaction because it meant we weren’t following the now-hated “traditional” priorities. Scouse not English at the expense of everything else. Supporting a football club is supposed to be fun. It gives a predominantly young audience the chance to travel, bond and witness moments of the highest drama in the flesh. But at the moment, following Liverpool feels like entering a perilous den of mistrust where the slightest word out of place can result in castigation. 
Today, with a team that’s languishing just above mid-table, the voices demanding the removal of Brendan Rodgers are getting stronger, as Liverpudlians realise once again that they hold the career of another man in their hands. The fact that with our matchday revenue dwarfed by that of the Top Four, there isn’t a manager alive who could make Liverpool a title-challenging force again is irrelevant. The knives are out. And to those who wield them, it feels good. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Brompton bicycle: a bone-fide British classic

This article appears in Issue Eight of Umbrella magazine. See it here

It seems fitting that one of the TV programmes of the last year featured prominently one of the defining objects of our time, too. The show was the brilliant Twenty Twelve, the so-true-it-hurts comedy that satirised the actions of the team working on the delivery of the Olympic Games, a group led by the long suffering Ian Fletcher, who turned up for work on a bike that sums up perfectly the modern urban experience: the Brompton.

The Brompton folding bicycle, built in a factory in Brentford, west London, is a beautifully designed riding machine – a bike that goes from nippy road runner to hand luggage in less time than it says, “Actually, it's not as heavy as you think.”

With cycle crime at epidemic levels (533,000 offences in 2010) this piece of fiendishly clever British engineering can be carried from meeting to coffee shop to office desk without having to give London's bike snarers the chance to prove their skills. Sure, if you drop it in the canal it's not going to float, but the Brompton offers a freedom that no other bike can match.

It also, once you get over the shock of its small 16-in wheels and curved crossbar, looks fantastic – taking it from utilitarian mode of transport to object of desire in just a few moments. See a Brompton, want a Brompton.

Folding bikes have been with us since the late 1880s, but the Brompton takes the idea and reduces it down to its most beautifully basic level. On a Brompton, nothing, from the tiny wheel on top of the mud guard (for ease of portability) to the folding pedal on the left side, is superfluous. There are other folding bikes around, but they look clunky and ungainly – especially in their folded state – compared to the Brompton.  

Brompton began life in 1975, when engineer Andrew Ritchie began designing folding bikes in his flat overlooking the Brompton Oratory in west London. In 1980, after several prototypes had been produced and tested, Ritchie manufactured his first 30 machines for sale. When large scale investment arrived in 1986, the new bike company was ready to enter the mainstream  market. By 1987 the Brompton was in full production.

Our possessions say a great deal about us, and this is particularly true of the Brompton. Riding to work on one is like shopping at Waitrose – it shows that you're willing pay more money than is necessary for an experience that chimes with your values. It also says that you either live in a tiny flat where's there's no room to store a bike or so far out of town that riding all the way in is an impossibility – but you're happy to have a quick pedal to the station. 

In short, there are few more succinct definitions of how modern urbanites lives. And with the Brompton Dock cycle hire scheme starting next year at 17 UK train and tube stations, its visibility can only grow.