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Columnist Jeanine-Celeste

Bridge:  High Street located in downtown Oxford

The Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library:
two of the most photographed monuments
in Oxfordshire.

Two British girls at an underground student
bar, The Purple Turtle.

Karl Lagerfeld and Erin Wasson modeling pieces
from his H&M collection.

Juicy Couture's fur-lined parka in military green.

Alberta Ferretti backstage at her Spring 2005
Ready-To-Wear show.

Sienna Miller, a reference to the younger
generation's counterculture.

JC writes her column abroad while taking the semester to study Journalism and Politics at Oxford University's New College.

The humble town of Oxford hardly beckons the "come one, come all" invitation seen by way of her swanky city sister: the soiree-throwing, night-life loving London. Now during the day, the fact that Oxford isn't awash with aboundingly fun events is hardly a motion for heartache. After all, we grown-up Harry Potter and Hermione Granger types--in theory--spend the afternoons chasing hard-hitting stories or pressing our bookish little noses to the grindstone of academia. But once the trusty ol' 13th century Carfax Tower clock strikes nine, pandemonium breaks loose! The gear is switched as student on the school paper revs up to become student with a social life. Textbooks are flung out the window (not literally of course, although it would be exhilarating), the masses hurry out of any one of the University's one hundred libraries and drown their worries with a Guinness, a smoke, or perhaps splurge for both the Guinness and the smoke. So what is a girl to do when she decides, on a random Wednesday night, that she'd like to go to a place just a smidgen more upscale, just a bit more hip, then a place rampant with beer-addled preppies? The discerning girl will find herself at Oxford's most credible club called The Bridge, which, in the words of Saks Fifth Avenue, is as close to "the ring on the finger on the pulse of the city" as she's going to get.

So there I was, loving the sassy frolic-fest atmosphere, sipping a classy amaretto sour, singing along to the KitCat version of Christina Aguilera's "Dirty," when all of a sudden I'm shimmying alongside Hugh Grant. Well, not exactly Hugh Grant (although the celeb did attend New College, that was twenty-five years ago) but this boy was a dead ringer, complete with the twinkling eyes and all. We attempted to carry on a conversation, but could barely understand each other over the blaring beats. I kept trying to ask him his age, he kept trying to answer with an earnest and enthusiastic, "Yeah!" After a few more rounds of confused "I can't..I don't...what are you saying?" he finally just grabbed my hand and practically shouted down my ear, "I barely know you, and I can't understand you, but I think I really, really like you!"

What was that? How can he "really really" like me if he can't understand me? According to Webster, this is what he would call a contradiction. A noun indicating inconsistency; discrepancy. Something that contains contradictory elements. Maybe it's the whole cognitive dissonance phenomenon, but I've never been comfortable with the idea of contradiction, especially when that contradiction exists in conventional wisdom. Grown-ups are wiser than children, couture clothing carry more allure than that of the mass market, premium ice cream tastes better than reduced-fat, love is sweeter in the afternoon. Who can refute these simple truths? But no truth is ever quite as simple, especially when you step outside your normal periphery. I'm not sure if living alone in a foreign country has afforded me this heightened awareness, all I know is that I have never been so attuned to the multiplicity that exists in everyday fact, I can't seem to ignore them anymore. They pour in like daily news headlines, one after the other, working to challenge my preconceptions. And whether it is happening on the Paris catwalk or on the Oxford sidewalk, contradictions seem to parallel the England weather: when it rains, like hell it pours.

"Alice in Wonderland: Looking Through the Glass"

My arrival to the United Kingdom may have been a week shy of London Fashion Week, but what I can't see on the catwalk, I'll see on the streets. Some of the preconceptions I've carried with me have been proven true. For example, the British do indeed walk as if they have swallowed long umbrellas: back straight, neck elongated, prim and proper (something my mother had hoped ballet school would instill for me, but to no avail). But the notion that Brits are reserved, haughty, and a bit boring? To this, I've noticed some shocking contradictions. While I wouldn't describe their personalities as vivacious, they are definitely an amiable, engaging, at times humorous bunch. During Fresher's Week, I remember being thoroughly amused by a handsome law student from Wimbledon who pretended he was flamboyantly gay for an entire twenty minutes (he was wearing sort of YSL rive gauche Persian-turquoise velvet blazer that he looked only too comfortable sporting). He then suddenly quit the act cold turkey to tell me the only reason he confessed his love for men was because he had assumed everyone from San Francisco loved the gays, and then proceeded to ask if I'd be interested in "going to the cinema". (I had to give him credit for delivering the most original, strangest pick-up line I have ever heard.) I also remember being lost on a street looking for the New College bar, pathetically clutching a map in my hands, when two Teen Voguish-looking girls enthusiastically bounced over to me and exclaimed, "That belt is beautiful! And your lovely trousers--are you wearing a skirt or are those trousers??" When I told them that I had gotten both the belt and the pants from the Kitson boutique in Los Angeles, their eyes grew even wider. "Ooooh, lovely," they nodded wisely. One girl siezed my arm. "Come with us, we're taking you to a house party!" I was reeled. These girls were like my friends from home--where were the cold brush-offs, the aloofness? And what were they doing wearing cowboy boots and tassled belts? I thought only the girls of the golden West had the moxie to wear those. Admittedly, they did look adorable in their gaucho-inspired accessories. British girls are darling dressers; after all, they have Kate Moss and Sienna Miller for references. They seem to have developed a complete counterculture from the conservative, wearied elegance of their mummies; these young ladies stroll along the cobbled streets with a sort of cool confidence (while I can barely keep from tripping and falling flat on my face) that delivers their eclectic, punkish, Bohemian chic mix as perfectly executed cakewalks. And by the way, I have never seen so many winter parkas galore--funked up fur lining compulsory of course. It's like trying to play Where's Waldo, except Waldo is the one solitary person on the street who is not wearing the Ungaro-esque jacket.


"The Crossover Designer: Masstige Rushes to the Above and Below"

Isaac Mizrahi calls his "cou-Target," Michael Kors favors "carpool couture," Karl Lagerfeld prefers "Liquid Karl." Actually, Lagerfeld hasn't tagged a title onto his recent collaboration with the fast-fashion retailer H&M, but Liquid Karl (his cardamom, amyris wood and exotic frangipani flower-infused unisex fragrance) will debut on November 12th. The fragrance that has been described as "rich, creamy and sensual" will be complimented with an eagerly anticipated 30-piece collection of the legenddesigner's creations, ranging from $49.90 tuxedo shirts to $129.90 sequined black blazers. Lagerfeld has been quoted saying, "My dream is to do very expensive lines like Chanel and Fendi and very inexpensive things." When I read this, my eyes lit up like candles on a two year old's birthday cake. What is going on here? Is this the same designer whose tweed jackets, at $4 thou a pop, I have unwittingly accepted as to never finding a home in my closet? I'm delighted to say it is. Just in time for the holidays--God bless their dear hearts--lofty couture designers have donned a much more egalitarian spirit as they revamp popular collections to deliver high-fashion chic to adoring, although price-conscious, fans. Take Mizrahi: back in June, he presented both his $12.99 Target tees and $20,000 Made-To-Order ballgowns with the same models, the same runway, the same audience. Mizrahi says that he is "not interested in doing clothes that only six people...will understand." A little contradictory? Perhaps. After all, his one-of-a-kind, made-to-order pieces cater to very particular, high society women, and at $20,000 he seems very interested. But I'd like to think that even the most sang-froid fashionista should spark up a little excitement this share of wealth, this mass-market attainability of the exclusive world brimming with Calvins, Isaacs and Karls. There's something alluring and thrilling in wearing a $25 effortless, lovely "Tar-ture" shirtdress with your glam-glam Chanel sunglasses. It's a devilish clash. And when your friends dish out the compliments, you can demurely accept and say, "Thanks, it's Mizrahi."

"Liberty and Freedom!"

A headline that entails discrepancy is just the kind of sensational story that makes the reader do a double-take: it indicates something profoundly fluid about the world we live in, as if nothing can ever be stamped into finality. Moving to England has exposed me to entirely new situations, leading my skeptic eyes to see things in an entirely different light. Maybe a contradiction now and then is a good thing; it can jolt a jaded heart out of a lull as it offers an element of sweet surprise of something you didn't know existed, like biting into a chocolate and discovering a delightful mint cream center just waiting to be yummied up. I now know that reduced-fat ice cream can most certainly stand its ground to premium--I have two best friend cuties, Shrina and Bahar, who can testify; they go absolutely crazy for Cookies & Cream Dreyer's Grand Light. Backstage at her scintillating spring collection, Alberta Ferretti declared her belief that "fashion is a form of freedom ... [and] the new lightness reflects a liberation of the mind." In the process of liberating my own mind, I've lightened my load of misconceptions and learned a thing or two about myself. Most of my friends and family would hesitate to call me capable; endearingly naive would be a more accurate title. But living in a foreign country without the comforts of familiarity has forced me to become more worldly, more independent, more capable, to be a little mover-and-shaker without the training wheels. And the thing is, I don't think I've ever needed those wheels--it was just another one of those things patiently waiting to be contradicted.



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