Absolutely meets Navaz Batliwalla, aka Disneyrollergirl, author of The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman
Words Joy Montgomery
“Time is such a valuable resource; there are literally only 24 hours in a day and that’s never going to change. I think people are starting to realise that it’s so precious.” This is a sentiment you might expect from an elderly relative or perhaps a disenchanted lawyer-turned-yoga-instructor, but not from a fashion blogger star-cum-creative consultant.
Navaz Batliwalla, aka Disneyrollergirl, is in many ways the quintessential millennial style maven. Her hit blog chronicles the ins and outs and ups and downs of a fast-paced, multi-million dollar industry. Her Instagram is a well-curated tableaux of style inspiration, beauty product assemblage and glimpses into an exclusive and glamorous bubble. Yet, in a seemingly curveball move, she has written a book. Not only this, she has written a book that espouses the value of timeworn objects and the joy of style that transcends the trend-led mania of contemporary fashion.
The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman is a series of profiles and interviews with women who embody this unique and seemingly counter-cultural ‘gentlewoman’ aesthetic. “She’s the type of woman who loves design and is a voracious shopper, yet craves meaningful things, rather than chasing trends.” Navaz explains. “She is careful about what she buys because she likes quality.”
The book is illustrated with stunning photography that captures these women – from fashion designers and CEOs to singer-songwriters and comediennes – in their homes and creative studios. In an age of e-books, photo-sharing and perfectly edited Instagram feeds, these eclectic, imperfect and personal spaces become as biographical as the interviews themselves. Well-thumbed books and coffee table detritus are relics of their owners’ stories and embody the garconne’s reverence of beautiful, physical objects. “There’s a belief that possessions are somehow shallow, but I disagree”, Navaz argues. “We can’t help attaching an emotional value to things that represent a moment in time or a personal landmark.”
Navaz set up her blog in 2007 when she was working as fashion director at Cosmo Girl magazine. Disneyrollergirl began as a way for the editor to practice her prose (there was minimal writing on the magazine), yet she decided to remain anonymous. Soon the readers started to trickle in, intrigued by this person with such unique insight into an elusive industry. “At the time blogs were really insignificant. No one bothered to look at them and there weren’t very many, especially in the UK,” she explains. “But as time went on they started to gain power – in terms of speaking directly to like-minded people and consumers. These days people tend to set up blogs because they see it as a glamorous career, as opposed to having something to say.”
This rejection of fashion’s commodification is at the heart of The New Garconne. Navaz alludes to the overwhelming ‘content overload’ and ‘perfectionism’ of social media, and instead looks to ‘minimalist and calm’ magazines like Kinfolk and fashion brands such as Céline and &OtherStories. Are we approaching an era that rejects the Kardashianisation of fashion and visual culture? “I’ve never really liked the celebritification of fashion.” She muses. “Most people like it because they want to be told what to wear – they like following. However I’ve been working in fashion for years and that’s the way it works: everything is a reaction to whatever has gone before it.”
Whether it’s putting away your phone and picking up a book, or choosing quality over quantity, it’s clear that Navaz sees ‘slow’ as the adjective of choice for 2017. This may seem counterintuitive considering the number of brands jumping on the ‘shop-from-the-runway’ bandwagon, yet Navaz remains optimistic for the future: “It would seem that if this carries on fashion is only going to get faster, with people consuming more and more, but I don’t think it’s going to work out this way. I feel like people are wanting to slow down and be more mindful of things like endurance and sustainability.”
The tension between digital and detox embodied in The New Garconne may seem contradictory (it’s worth noting that the book’s concept was developed on a Pinterest board) however it’s a contradiction that is ever-present in the lives of modern 20 and 30-somethings. They crave the constant influx of data yet feel disillusioned by the disconnection of digital life. Navaz Batliwalla’s book comes with the renewed fetishisation for homemade, artisanal produce and the touchy-feely appeal of scandi living (hello hygge). This is where The New Gentlewoman succeeds: Navaz Batiwalla captures the zeitgeist of a generation overwhelmed by choice, and instead offers an antidote in the form of modern day muses who propse a different, and perhaps more appealing, way of living. Welcome to the future.