I Loved the Words You Wrote to Me

MA Fashion Journalism student at LCF

La belle et la bête

Rarely does the pairing of two people cause such intrigue, fascination and obsession; yet the relationship between the inimitable Jane Birkin and enigmatic Serge Gainsbourg has long captivated the public imagination. It’s been thirty years since they parted – two decades since Serge’s death – and yet a monograph offering a glimpse into the private world of the actress and musician has been published this month.

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For Jane & Serge: A Family Album, Jane’s brother, photographer Andrew Birkin, has collated over one thousand personal images of the couple that he shot whilst in France in 1968. The publication of this collection simply proves that no one will let Jane and Serge part. Even Jane herself takes part in this perpetuation, spending her evenings performing the songs he wrote with her in mind, at once preserving his memory and their relationship as artist and muse.

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Still held as Paris’s most iconic couple, she the original ingénue and he the troubled artist, Jane and Serge epitomise Parisian romanticism. The pairing of Jane’s doe-eyed naivety and Serge’s eccentric allure seemed to have charmed everyone. At once controversial and passionate – their infamous duet Je t’aime featured aural sex – the couple are as adored today as they were at the time.

Image Their union produce daughter Charlotte, an actress and muse in her own right of director Lars von Trier. Charlotte starred in a contentious film with her father, Charlotte Forever, which held a sensuality not dissimilar to the air of Je t’aime. Serge and Jane’s relationship was shrouded with this kind of controversy, a permanent cloud of creativity, exoticism and allure still obscuring our view of them as individuals.

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A young Charlotte with Serge

What Andrew’s collection of photographs reveals is a poignant and truly intimate insight into a relationship between two people. However, this voyeurism sheds no more light on the true Birkin and Gainsbourg – it simply perpetuates our romantic notion of their relationship, tangible and elusive, forever immovable from the 1970s. We see the tumultuous as passionate, the controversial as exciting, and even Serge’s death as a tragic but fitting end to such an iconic narrative. This photographic insight into their private world of Parisian romance, along with their music and much reproduced style, have preserved the memory – or, rather, the story we have created ourselves – of the irresistible duo. 

la nouvelle vague

La Nouvelle Vague; insouciance, exuberance, youth. Journalist Françoise Giroud first used the term to describe the emerging wave of rebellious French youths who were the focus of a public opinion survey polled by L’Express in 1957. Questions included: “Are you happy? Explain your reply”. A new generation calling for a change of political landscape in France, the term ‘la nouvelle vague’ came to mean the insurgence of protocol, the subversion of conventionalities, and the influx of avant-garde practices. More often than not, this term is now associated with the group of experimental cinéastes who radically and permanently altered the cinematic landscape. Post-war France had left many of the original filmmakers in exile – such as René Clair, Jean Renoir and Jacques Feyder – and a gap emerged between the idea of the preceding archetypal French film, and the concepts and innovations of the new group of filmmakers.

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François Truffaut

Director François Truffaut penned the manifesto of this youthful collective. His 1954 article attacked the classic methods of French cinema, La qualité française – ‘The Tradition of French Quality’ – that was buried in literature, elaborate dialogue and convoluted plots. Referred to by Truffaut as ‘cinéma du papa’ (‘granddad cinema’), the manifesto instead celebrated filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, and reconsidered the cinematic conventions of Hollywood. Truffaut’s essay was published in the progressive journal Cahiers du Cinéma. A reinvention of the basic tenets of film theory and criticism, writers for the influential magazine included Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol. This assemblage of young cinephiles, who had grown up watching American films that were unavailable during the occupation period in France, had vast cinematic knowledge and a library of film references to hand. This was in large part thanks to editor of Cahiers, Henry Langlois, who established Cinémathèque française, a film archive that critics of the journal fanatically consumed.

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Jean-Luc Godard

The celebration of directors whose personal creativity could be seen directly in their work meant that this new form of film incorporated an authorial, almost non-fictional element – a style similar to documentary photography. Many of the facets of the French New Wave film included shooting on location, natural lighting, improvised dialogue, and non-naturalistic editing. This assail on the ordinary tropes of storytelling was taken furthest by Jean-Luc Godard, whose much quoted statement, “a film should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”, has come to represent the key concept behind la nouvelle vague cinema. The director once described his film À bout de souffle as not being a film with actors Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, but as a documentary on Seberg and Belmondo starring in a film by Godard. The cinéaste has said that his main directorial focus is to reveal truth – again, a key aspect of documentary photography. Truth, in Godard’s mind, meant that he wanted to “both show and show myself showing” – he wanted to expose film as film.

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Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in À bout de souffle

This referential aspect of the new wave cinematic movement was key – whether the reference was to the director himself, a scene from another new wave film (the collaboration and mutual support between the Cahiers was ubiquitous), or to Hollywood actors, such as Belmondo’s blatant homage to Humphrey Bogart in À bout de soufflé. Youth was also a leitmotif that shot through nouvelle vague cinema. The movement began with a fresh generation of defiant young people that were unsatisfied with the current state of French government and society. Just as le jeune cinéma français’ formation was born out of youth, their filmmaking too was preoccupied with the subject. In a recorded dialogue between Godard and Fritz Lang – whom the Cahiers adored – Lang says that the art of cinema is not just the art of their century, but “art for young people”.  Although Godard was forty when the interview was filmed, his own preoccupation with youth is embedded within his work. The characters in the films of the nouvelle vague are young people who are elusive, complicated, unsure, and ultimately symbols of revolt against adulthood – understandable, considering their contempt for the decisions made by the adults accountable for French politics and society.

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Fritz Lange and Jean-Luc Godard

For all their innovation and their departure from tradition and archetypes, their obsession with youth is in fact universal. The directors – significantly older than the actors they were filming – were capturing the contemporary spirit of youthfulness; perhaps even romanticising it. And we, the modern day audience, whose goal seems to be to stop the ageing process altogether, romanticise the nouvelle vague. Film stills of actress Anna Karina smouldering around her Parisian apartment, Jean-Claude Brialy in tow, evoke the insouciance and seduction of the 1960s perfectly. Images of À bout de soufflé’s Jean Seberg, all pixie crop and cigarette pant, strolling down a tree-lined avenue alongside Jean Paul Belmondo’s suave criminal indulge our inner Francophile. This fascination with the past – or, more explicitly, the French past – has been played out in recent films such as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.

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The Dreamers

An invention much the same as the myth of the inimitable French woman, perfectly undone and effortlessly self possessed, our captivation with the French culture is perhaps born out of the nostalgia that it seems to hold. In a society where advertising, brands and products are fighting for our attention and bombarding us with things we just ‘need’ to own, our sense of simplicity and personal creativity seems further away than ever. Looking back to the joyful experimentation of cinema amongst a group of politically aware friends, to the frank dialogue of the actors, and the almost amateur editing of the nouvelle vague films, perhaps we take comfort in the simplicity of it all, in the black and white world of Godard, Truffaut, et al. As a character in Allen’s film asserts, “nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one that one is living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination”. What Truffaut, Godard and la nouvelle vague provides is what all art aims to do: “the artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence”.

Interview Profile: Ashish

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Ashish Gupta

Anyone who’s familiar with Ashish Gupta’s designs will recognise the cult following that he’s attracted. His bold, tongue-in-cheek collections have sequin magpies saving up for a piece of the glamour every season, and celebrity devotees include Haim, MIA, and Miley Cyrus. Such a dedicated fan-base is unusual for a London-based designer. But then again, Ashish is far from usual. With an aesthetic amalgamation of sportswear, opulence and attitude, Ashish’s urban-cool designs are more current now than ever.

While it may seem like only London’s coolest can get away with his daring aesthetic, the Dehli-born designer says, ‘there isn’t an ideal Ashish woman. She likes sequins, has a sense of humour, and an interesting job – or at least fantasises about one.’ With his clothes stocked everywhere from French boutique Colette to ASOS, his audience varies from fashion students to the wealthy older woman – ‘what unites them is their sense of humour.’

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A statement t-shirt from the designer’s A/W13 collection

Ashish’s label was started in 2001, and with the help of Topshop’s NewGen scheme, which supports emerging young designers to establish their work, he has turned what began as a love for sequins and party dresses into a business. The designer came out of the NewGen process, an award he has won three times, with huge success – unfortunately, a feat many young designers find difficult to maintain. Perhaps this success lies in the fact that he has great personal conviction, and is loyal to what he believes in. Unlike many designers, who are jumping at the chance to create pre-collections, he feels the pace of the industry is going too fast. Does this make him feel pressured to generate more? ‘No! I’m making beautiful clothes and enjoying it! I’m not saving lives – there’s nothing relying on me producing more. It’s important to stay with your own style but move forwards too. I’ve learnt that it’s your name on stuff, so if you’re not happy, don’t do it.

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One of many super-cool musician fans: MIA

Although he’d love to branch out and create a perfume – ‘it’d be really strong, sexy and exotic’ – he says there’s no way he’d sell out to create a distasteful make-up range just for the sake of expanding the brand. Interestingly, Ashish says he’d love to design a glasses range: ‘I spend a ridiculous amount on them as they always get sat on or stolen. I went to the toilet in a restaurant once and my favourite pair were gone.’ With a wry smile, he adds, ‘I hope the thief choked on their salad.’

Topshop has played a big part in the designer’s commercial success. With collaborations over seven years, Ashish has designed everything from ski and sportswear to sequin dresses for the highstreet kingpin, which have been so popular that Queen Bey bought an entire collection. Something about the designer’s work draws in musicians, particularly strong, cool-as-hell women – perhaps it’s the fact his designs satisfy the craving for glamour, whilst also making a bold statement, not to mention how great the sequins look on stage, in motion and reflecting the lighting.

His career highlight (so far – ‘I hope it hasn’t happened yet!’) is when he saw Madonna wearing his jacket on stage: ‘I designed it for her, and she’s an icon of mine. I never thought I’d see her wearing one of my pieces!’ And speaking of ostentatious women, what does he think of Miley wearing his clothes? ‘I like Miley. She has balls – hats off to her. She wore my Combination Pants and people online kicked off – they renamed them ‘Frankenpants’. These people really think I’m the child of Satan for designing them!’

His S/S14 collection showcased at September’s London Fashion Week saw his recent partnership with giant corporation Coca Cola featured on the designs. Ashish says of the collaboration, ‘I was interested in the brand imagery – they’re iconic. Andy Warhol wrote about Coke: ‘You can be rich or poor, but you’re drinking the same product’.’ His collection also referenced his love for the multi-cultural aspect of London: ‘if you didn’t know it was England, you could be anywhere in the world.’ With Arabic scripture emblazoned on the clothing reading ‘thank you, please come again’, Ashish is paying homage to the corner shops of London – ‘you see Arabic food next to cheddar cheese – that’s why I placed the icon of a global corporation (Coke) next to the script’ – a fitting celebration of the city’s cosmopolitanism.

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His S/S14 Show

He explains that the styling process for a show is far from straightforward – ‘we were going to do minimalist accessories, but then we thought ‘no, this is boring’.’ Instead, the collection featured elaborate statement headwear and jewellery – ‘they’re from this eccentric guy that collects it from all over the world. He has a house full of the stuff – it’s like Aladdin’s cave’ – and ‘ugly velvet and rhinestone slippers from Shepherd’s Bush market.’

Of course, the show contained lots of sequins. Lots of them. What first drew the designer to his trademark embellishment? ‘I wanted to make party frocks, which is so un-Central Saint Martin’s-y, but my tutor said ‘why the hell not?’ I love old Hollywood glamour, and in India we had so much of that material, but I didn’t have access to it, so I was fascinated.’

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S/S14 Show

Just don’t ask him whether he’ll be using sequins again next season: ‘I hate it when people ask that– you wouldn’t ask Burberry if they were still doing trench coats. In the past people haven’t seen sequins as a valid art form, similarly to how tattooing used to be viewed in New York. Sequins are what I do, it’s my signature, I’m obsessed with it! I’m not ashamed of that. You wouldn’t ask Mary Katrantzou if she was still doing digital prints.’ The loyalty to his vision, and his refreshingly insouciant attitude, is what separates Ashish from his contemporaries – and perhaps explains his success where other emerging designers have failed.

Dismantling all the stereotypes about designers, Ashish is grounded, witty, and affable. He looks to Tumblr for inspiration – ‘it’s a modern version of Victorian scrapbooks, every page is a different zeitgeist’ – and chooses his own show music. He’s unfazed by bad reviews, and values the close-knit team he works in. A designer whose tongue-in-cheek and playful attitude is evident in his clothing, Ashish is certainly set for a stratospheric career ahead.

Gsus Lopez: ‘It Melts’

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Fashion Media student and self-proclaimed ‘cinephile’ Gsus Lopez has created a fashion film, It Melts, exclusively for Pigeons & Peacocks – a first for the LCF magazine. Whilst living in Barcelona four years ago, Pigeons & Peacocks was the first thing Lopez received from LCF. Rousing him to study here, the young director wanted to create this exciting new film exclusively for the magazine.

Whilst photography was Lopez’s initial expressive medium, when studying at LCF he decided to diversify towards filmmaking. The product of his immersion into the artistic process was Ephemeral Nature. Depicting the lives of a stylish upper-class couple with an unusual relationship to plastic objects, the piece won him Best Film at the ASVOFF Barcelona, and is still showcased at film festivals internationally. Lopez notes that the success of the film, along with support from his tutor Tony Charalambous, has equipped him with the courage to expand his cinematic repertoire.

Lopez stresses the importance of artistic collaboration – both between members of a team, and within mixed media. The inextricable relationship uniting film, music, art, and fashion plays an integral role in the director’s work. Referencing Edward Hopper’s influence on Hitchcock, the deafening absence of music in Haneke’s Amour, and Lady Gaga’s album title Art Pop, he declares, ‘it’s the never ending collaboration’. For him, film and fashion visualises this amalgamation of artistic forms: ‘fashion is really what makes the character – what helps the actors be the character.’

Whilst Lopez asserts that a truly inspiring fashion film is yet to be made, he draws stimulation from all aspects of life – ‘a song, a film, a photograph, or someone or something I see on the street’. Current literary influences are Genet and Flaubert, whilst fellow filmmakers David Lynch and Xavier Dolan have had a huge impact on the 27-year old. Lopez particularly admires Jean Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent for their collaborations with film, and enjoys the androgynous approach of Paula Gerbase’s 1205.

Lopez recalls the initial inspiration behind It Melts: ‘I saw a girl on the underground with a handbag of a well know brand. She was eating a crepe that started dripping chocolate onto the bag. She vaguely cleaned up the mess, but she didn’t seem to care about it too much. I asked myself, what if that bag was actually very precious – whether that means being expensive, or emotionally attached to a fashion object. I wrote down a few ideas and composed the full story for It Melts.

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Lopez, production manager Anastasia Miari, and ‘a very passionate crew’ took the film from pre to post-production – a journey littered with ‘sleepless nights, endless preparation, and several challenges’. Lopez speaks highly of his cast: Jeff Kristian – with whom he also worked on Ephemeral Nature – Brazilian model Jose Wickert, and emerging talent Keira Duffy.

So, what’s next for the native Spaniard? ‘My final year project at LCF – it’s going to be a very personal short film, and highly stylised as usual’. It is clear that Lopez, with his strong narratives and creative vision, has a distinctive voice with something to tell. With the young director being heralded as one to watch, I certainly can’t wait to hear it.

(Written for Pigeons & Peacocks)

A/W13 Trend Report

Although London Fashion Week has left us lusting after a long, hot summer with its S/S14 trends, the collections from A/W13 have sufficiently made the build up to darker nights and cold weather bearable. With several major trends emerging from the catwalk – tartan; feminine shapes; all shades of pink; and oversized outerwear – we can safely say that we’ll be bringing the in winter in style.

One of the most exciting aspects of the UK high street is its guarantee to simulate key catwalk trends. First up is checks and tartan, which have been around for a while due to the 90s obsession we saw take flight this year. However, designers took the look one step further for autumn by modifying colour palettes, amplifying prints, and applying them to various textures. We saw moody grunge at Saint Laurent, with tartan mini dresses and oversized shirts teamed with chunky, buckled boots, sheer tights, and plenty of attitude; whilst at Versace, the print included the vibrant contrast of yellow and black, and, combined with plenty of leather, the designer presented a new, fearless take on the trend. Emma Hill showcased a more grown up interpretation of tartan at Mulberry, with magnified prints and hues of navy, magnolia, and burnt orange on everything from coats to skirts (which were layered over trousers – another homage to the 90s).

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Saint Laurent

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 Versace

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Mulberry

Perhaps the most exciting take on the trend came from the Celine A/W collection. Phoebe Philo transformed the simple print of a laundry bag into a graphic, structured, and ultimately chic oversized coat – proving there’s nothing this trend can’t take inspiration from. Whether you adapt your look from punks, kilts, grunge, or more subdued palettes, wear it oversized or structured, or team with anything from beanies and leather skirts, you’ll be wearing the trend this winter – and isn’t going anywhere.

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Celine

In contrast to the hard-edged attitude of tartan is the femininity seen at Burberry and Jonathan Saunders. Christopher Bailey gave us a visual treat with his collection ‘Trench Kisses’, which injected oxblood, caramel and black into womanly silhouettes. Pencil skirts were given an edge with semi-transparent fabrics, and were paired with romance via soft jumpers, animal patterns and buttoned up shirts with printed white hearts. Jonathan Saunders saw a more explicit concept of the ladylike trend. With colours ranging from olive to capri blue, dusky pink to carrot orange, 50s circle skirts were a nod to Hitchcock’s women (also seen at Prada), and bustiers were coupled with pleats and prints.

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 The epitome of femininity, however, were pink coats, a trend seen across collections from Phillip Lim, Nina Ricci, Topshop Unique, and Simone Rocha to name but a few. Blush, rose, fuchsia, peony, and ballerina pink hues were an unexpected feature of the A/W catwalks, and the high street was quick to follow suit, with Marks and Spencer’s adaptation selling out before it hit the shops. Surprisingly easy to wear, complimenting greys, reds, and camel perfectly, the trend is a pleasant change from the navy and black archetypally seen in winter.

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The trends borne out of the A/W collections range from the hard-bitten attitude of punk, with vinyl, leather, studs, and biker boots, via tartan, checks, and oversized coats, to the ultra feminine silhouettes of pencil skirts, pleats, and dusky pinks. Whether you’re feeling rebellious, demure, fearless, or ladylike, this winter looks like it will shape up to be a stylish one for all.

Zara A/W13 Collection

Zara, you cruel mistress, why do you do this to me? I have a bittersweet relationship with said brand, as I find that either I see nothing of great inspiration, or want to buy everything in sight. Which, obviously, my bank account doesn’t thank me for. Would it, however, be more satisfying if every week they filtered through a few exciting pieces, an ongoing constant of inspiration? Or does its strength as a retailer lie in its ability to perfectly imitate the key catwalk trends, and deliver them to us one season at a time, like an extremely covetable bombshell? I definitely love the anticipation, and perhaps having so much choice at one time means I curtail my spending, and only select the pieces I absolutely must have (although, probably not). Either way, they’ve done it again. With patent Chelsea boots, minimalist 90s camisole dresses, masculine camel coats, turtlenecks, tartan, and plenty of black, here are my favourite looks from the A/W 13 collection:

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‘Do you prefer ‘fashion victim’ or ‘sartorially challenged’?’

Did you catch Will Smith’s recent TV reunion with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Alfonza Ribeiro, which saw them remix The Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap? I thought so. And this can only mean one thing: the 90s are officially back, and in a big way. With R&B nights dominating the coolest clubs, crops tops ruling the high-street, and films like Clueless becoming cult hits, this era has officially taken over. Whilst perhaps it’s because we all want to channel a young Kate Moss in that sheer dress, cigarette in hand, Johnny Depp in tow, it seems to be a nostalgia for the past that has made this unlikely trend so current.

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It’s undeniable that fashion trends are cyclical and reflect the style of past eras – Alexa Chung emulating a 1960s Jane Birkin, the punk theme at this year’s Met Gala, and the resurrection of 1980s This Is England style Dr. Martens, anyone? However, the people now rocking Angela Chase’s oversized plaid shirts and Kelly Kapowski’s floral two-piece, were born in the 1990s. These people have baby photos of themselves in denim jumpsuits not dissimilar to the ones seen in Urban Outfitters today.

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So why the current obsession? The average age of the fashion elite is at an all time low. Control over the fashion we consume today has fallen into the hands of youthful bloggers that have taken over the industry – and they’ve brought their childhood memories with them. Scrunchies, jelly shoes, and high-waisted ‘Mom’ jeans – these are all items we’ve cringed over for the past fifteen years, and yet today they’re coveted by every 20-something on the high-street. The rise in vintage and second hand shops has meant that this trend is more accessible and wearable than ever – a middle finger to the high-end clothing we’ve coveted in the past. With self-assertion of their generation, a postmodern sartorial irony is being embraced by the youth of today.

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And it isn’t just fashion that’s reminiscing of a more pixelated past. Websites like Buzzfeed are constantly giving us photographic highlights of the 90s, and the popularity of Instagram lies in the fact that it uses vintage filters to make the present look like the past. With both technology and fashion continuously evolving, we seem to be seeking the safety and comfort of the past. What used to be cringe-worthy is now current, but its appeal lies in its’ familiarity. Recognise those Topshop polka-dot overalls? That’s because you saw Sister Sister’s Tia and Tamara donning them eighteen years ago. Liking that Beyond Retro plaid skirt? Cher was rocking it in Clueless in 1995. The danger here, however, is that the 90s trend will at some point soon become ‘over done’ – another era will take over, and crop tops will be banished to the back of our wardrobes once again. But that’s the beauty of fashion – it may be ever changing, but if the future looks too scary, you can always rely on the past for style inspiration.

For as long as the likes of Cara Delevingne and Rihanna are rocking dungarees and backpacks, the undeniably cool, tongue-in-cheek attitude of this era will reign supreme. We’re going back to the 90s – Kelly Kapowski, eat your heart out.