How I experienced the life of a model, with Gudrun Sjoden

I haven’t exactly been blessed with the looks of a model, so no-one was more surprised than me to receive an offer to be photographed for a fashion catalogue. In fact, my first reaction may have been a snort.

But it all makes sense when you find out that the invitation came from Gudrun Sjoden. They regularly photograph their clothes on models who are “non-industry standard” — older, more characterful or larger than most brands would touch with a bargepole. (Makes perfect sense to me: their clothes are made for all ages and spread across a massive range of sizes, so why not reflect customers’ own looks?)

In this case, the shoot was to feature ‘friends of Gudrun’: bloggers, artists, novelists and other creative types. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with some events in Gudrun’s London store, and that’s what put me on the early plane to Stockholm for two of the most pleasurable days I’ve had in a long time!

Drawing this sketch diary allowed me to relive the whole 36 hours, bringing back all the enjoyment again. Massive thanks to Gudrun Sjoden for such a fun trip, and wonderful memories. Oh and by the way, the friend D you see in these pictures is http://www.ivyarch.co.uk. Visit her blog to see the amazing clothes she makes!

Click on any of the images to see them larger.

Stockholm Diary p1 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p2 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p3 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p4 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p5 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p6 Myfanwy Tristram

Painting staff and customers at Gudrun Sjödén

gudrun shop by Myfanwy Tristram

Today is International Women’s Day, and it was very nice to be invited to celebrate the day at the shop of Swedish fashion label Gudrun Sjödén. I took my watercolours and brushes up to Covent Garden in London, and had a really pleasant, if somewhat hectic, afternoon.

You might remember my post a couple of weeks ago, in which I tried out a technique of photographing women and then painting them in a composite image. That was in preparation for this project.

This time, I approached women in the shop to ask if I could snap them. If I’d been worried about people saying no, or looking at me oddly, I needn’t have been: everyone was lovely (even the woman who didn’t speak English, but had a kind husband to translate for me).

I love drawing clothes anyway, and you can rely on Gudrun customers to be brightly-dressed and a bit different from the mainstream. There was plenty of detail to work with.

After four hard-working but fun hours, I had a finished piece of work, which I’ve donated to the shop.

It’s not perfect, but it does, I hope, sum up the diversity and cheerfulness of both the staff and the customers who were in the shop that day.

 

Gudrun Sjoden painting by Myfanwy Tristram

Gudrun Sjoden painting by Myfanwy Tristram

Footnote: Gudrun Sjödén don’t just celebrate International Women’s Day for the sake of it. They’re a company who actually do quite radical things for women, within the norms of the fashion world, anyway.

For example, their models are all ages, including far more elderly women than we’re used to seeing in catalogues. Their clothes come in all sizes, up to XXL: unlike lots of shops, they’re not telling larger women that they have no right to dress in bright colours or bold patterns. They don’t use sweatshops and they have a fair trade policy.

For all these reasons, I’m a fan. And also for the less noble reason that I really like wearing their clothes.

Meeting Gudrun and the women who wear her clothes

Yesterday, I had the very singular experience of sitting in the London Gudrun Sjödén shop, sketching away while customers came to greet Gudrun herself, who was in town for a flying visit.

Gudrun Sjoden by Myfanwy Tristram

As I listened to the women who queued up to speak to Gudrun, and as I chatted to her in between times, it became clear to me what a feat the Gudrun label represents.

Red hair by Myfanwy Tristram

Most of the women had one pressing sentiment to impart: a big, resounding ‘thank you’, for recognising that women come in all shapes and sizes, and that we need not stop wearing colour and pattern once we’re over a certain age. Gudrun, with her trademark bright green specs was one manifestation of that spirit; another was the broad range of ages who approached the table for a biscuit and perhaps a photograph.

Beret lady by Myfanwy Nixon

Old or young, slender or not, the customers all wore colour, and wore it boldly. It made for some interesting drawing (so would the shop itself: the colourful clothes all around, the artwork and lampshades, and the glorious coterie of shop staff provided almost too many potential subjects).

Just discovered Gudrun, by Myfanwy Tristram

Gudrun shop assistant by Myfanwy Tristram

I was glad to have a moment to thank Gudrun for including older women in her catalogues, and catering for women no matter what size they are. It’s one of my personal bugbears that anyone who is a different shape from straight up-and-down has to look at photographs of clothes online or in catalogues, an then do a kind of tricky mental leap to translate that into what it would look like on them.

bought whole shop by Myfanwy Tristram

“It’s what’s inside that counts”, said Gudrun at one point. She was talking to Amanda from the Womens’ Room blog, who had popped in to do an interview.

Amanda from the Women's Room blog

I like the Women’s Room’s premise, too – that women over 35 just aren’t catered for by mainstream clothes shops, and that that’s a jolt for women who have grown up expecting to be able to express themselves through fashion.

It’s probably a strategic business error, as well, if the women I saw yesterday are anything to go by. Put it this way: these people are not gracefully sliding into an age of polyester twinsets.

Blue and red by Myfanwy Tristram

Anneka by Myfanwy Tristramyellow and blue by Myfanwy Tristram

London

This couldn’t have been more strongly illustrated than by the woman I sat opposite on the train back to Brighton. In her seventies, or perhaps even her eighties, she sported a shock of snow white hair onto which she’d splurged a mix of bright pink and purple dyes. She looked magnificent.

Pink haired lady

A note about the drawings: In the end I took pencil crayons, which allowed me to make colourful marks, quickly and without mess. I haven’t used them for a long time, and it was good to rediscover some of their plus points, like how nicely the colours can blend.

Drawing people as they quickly came to say hello was difficult, so I have not tried for exact likenesses. In most cases, I was drawing and colouring in long after the customer had departed, so colours and details are often from memory, or completely made up. Please don’t feel offended if you see an unflattering rendition of yourself – chances are I’ve mixed you in with one or two other people! Likewise, I’ve mixed and matched the things I heard people saying to Gudrun, so they probably aren’t next to the people who actually said them.

A surprising thing

Gudrun Sjoden tunic by Myfanwy Tristram

Gudrun Sjoden tunic by Myfanwy Tristram

All right, so this lovely thing happened.

I’ve had this Gudrun Sjoden dress pinned to my wish I could justify that Pinterest board for.. well, for 25 weeks, according to Pinterest itself.

Something about the pattern and the colours really appealed to me, and the cut is one of the few that actually suits my frame.

It had become a benchmark in my mind – I’d see a cheaper dress that I liked, in a shop, and think, ‘yeah, but if I buy two like that, I might as well buy the Cirkus dress, and the Cirkus dress is definitely twice as nice as that, so..’

As we know, it’s quite easy to justify any purchase with this sort of logic eventually. ‘Ooh, I’m so good, I didn’t buy these fourteen things I briefly liked the look of, so now I can definitely reward myself with the thing I really want’.

And that’s the stage I’d reached last week. The Gudrun sale was on, my resolve had weakened, and I was going to buy the dress.

Until… disaster!

The tweet says it all. The leggings were still available, the tunic was there, but there was no dress to be had. And that’s when the amazing thing happened. Gudrun Sjoden tweeted me to say they’d look out for a dress and send it to me, if I’d draw it here.

Talk about an offer you can’t refuse – why, even if I’d bought it with my own money, you know I’d be sitting down to draw that thing.

Now in the end, they couldn’t actually locate a dress in my size, and they sent me the tunic. I have to say, I wouldn’t have chosen the tunic myself, BUT, now I’ve tried it, I’m sold. It comes with a belt, and you can wear the tunic Robin Hood style, a little bit pulled over the belt, which – rather than emphasise voluminous post-baby tummy, which I suppose was my fear – actually looks rather nice. This tunic is going to be paired with black skinny jeans and boots all autumn long.

It *was* fun to draw – though you’ll note that I didn’t draw the whole pattern. Artistic licence!

Gudrun Sjoden bag by Myfanwy Tristram

To make the whole thing even more special, it came in not only a floral-patterned envelope, but a polka dot tote bag. It’s as if they knew about me and polka dots.

And there you are, my first ever ‘sponsored post’. Almost certainly my last, though, y’know, if Fat Face, Bravissimo, Boden, or *breathes* Marimekko would like me to draw myself in any of these, I am right here, and, evidence shows, fully amenable. :)