Remember last year when we imagined we might be entering some kind of roaring 20s revival of the Jazz Age? And instead all we got was the dumpster fire that is 2020? For a small editorial business with an emphasis on travel and exploration, it was a sink or swim moment for MessyNessyChic. And as captain of this ship, I’m relieved to say that 2020 is the iceberg that couldn’t sink us. In fact, navigating this year’s storms seems to have helped clarify our purpose on the internet, steered us in meaningful directions and unified our community in the most unexpected ways. Putting the nautical references aside, I hope we’ve provided you with some positivity during these scary times, with moments of virtual escape in lieu of travel, and a healthy dose of hope and inspiration when the chips were down. I’d like to thank you, truly, for sticking by us during this most challenging and historic year. As always, stay curious.
And without further ado, some of favourite editorial offerings of 2020…
The Secret History of the Conversation Chair
It’s taken many names, shapes and forms over the centuries – the conversation chair, the courting bench, a tête-à-tête, a chaperone chair, the vis-à-vis, gossip chair or the indiscret. Considered the pinnacle of sophistication and style during the Gilded and Victorian age, if you were entertaining the fashionable elite, one simply wasn’t running a home worth visiting without a conversation chair in one’s parlour…. Full article here.
Buried in Sand for a Millennium: Africa’s Roman Ghost City
We invite you to touch down in Algeria and explore Timgad, a lost Roman city on the edge of the Sahara desert that remained hidden beneath the sand for nearly a thousand years. Positively obscure compared to the international notoriety of Pompeii, this ancient city is nonetheless one of the best surviving examples of Roman town planning anywhere in the historical Empire… Full article here.
The First Man to Reach the North Pole was an African American Desk Clerk the World Forgot
“I think I’m the first man to sit on top of the world,” is not something many people can boast, especially if they lead perfectly normal lives, say, working a desk job in the city in relative anonymity. But for many years, that was the truth of Matthew Henson... Full article here.
Miniature Book Nooks Belong on Every Bookshelf, It’s Just a Matter of Time
The internet has officially discovered book nooks, AKA bookshelf inserts fashioned as portals to tiny imaginary worlds. BBC News and most recently Buzzfeed found out about the niche hobby, sending book lovers, miniature collectors and pretty much anyone with a penchant for quirky stuff on a wild internet goose chase… Full article here.
Our Zoom Date with Artist & Picasso Muse, “Sylvette David”
With travel restrictions and social distancing, our Keyholder events program was put on indefinite hold in 2020, but we pivoted early to introduced Zoom meet-ups and interviews:
In April of 1954, a young Sylvette David became one of Pablo Picasso’s most iconic, if not enigmatic muses (if you haven’t read our article of her story, we suggest you do that first and come back). Who was this ethereal woman with an intelligent stare and the impossibly high ponytail? More than half a century after that fateful spring, we called up Sylvette – who now goes by the name Lydia Corbett – and she’s still every bit the enchanting girl from the Côte d’Azur…. Full article here.
The Coded Couture of Antique Lacework
They were like snowflakes spun from silk, sought after just as feverishly as gold on the black market. Whether they were twisted with pearls or tied with silver knots, no two pieces of lace were the same in 1765. All too often forgotten in dusty attics today, for centuries, lacework was all about how you flaunted your individuality. Lace helped you tell a story by weaving a veritable comic book strip of characters on the cuff of your sleeve. From biblical tales to mythical beasts, eternal flowers and chivalric scenes, let’s take a little walk through history’s best pieces of coded couture…Full article here.
Things to Do at Home instead of Banging Your Head Against a Wall
As news of the pandemic’s lockdowns took hold of our daily lives, we put our heads together at the MNC HQ to make life a little easier for you.
Sure you can catch up on a juicy novel and watch Netflix to your heart’s content – but what else? It was time to get creative and make lemonade… Full article here.
How She Kept her Husband with Lysol, the Disinfectant of Choice for Feminine Hygiene
Yes, we are talking about “Lysol”; the world-famous household disinfectant, perfect for cleaning toilets, that was once used by women as a feminine hygiene product and contraceptive. Historical facts really can be worse than fiction. Full article here.
America’s Hidden “Mad Men” Age of Black Advertising
In the 1950s and ’60s, the notorious advertisers of Madison Avenue, aka the real-life “Mad Men”, courted African American dollars too. Unbeknownst to most, a parallel universe of advertising hid in the shadows of mainstream society, targeting an African American middle and upper class that was, and still is, rarely seen by white consumers… Full article here.
Damn, there’s some Interesting Stuff to See in Yemen
One of these days, I hope to see this 500 year-old ghost town, perched precariously on top of a giant rock, sitting in a canyon somewhere in Yemen. I’d also like to see the world’s oldest skyscraper city, known as Yemen’s “Manhattan of the Desert”. And then there’s that island off the coast that UNESCO considers to be the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea, described as “one of the most alien places on Earth”. In fact, there’s a growing number of places I’d quite like to see in Yemen one day when our Western governments aren’t advising that it would be safer to set foot into a burning ring of hellfire than on Yemeni soil…. Full article here.
I Accidentally Accumulated the World’s Largest Archive of ’80s Esprit Merch
Ask any ’80s and ’90s kid at heart, and they’ll tell you: Esprit just did it right. The colour-blocking sportswear, the street-casted campaigns, the cutting-edge collaborations with designers that defined the ’80s. Even the brand’s commitment to environmentalism was so ahead of its time. “Esprit was an ethos,” says Michelle Koza, the woman behind the largest archive of the bygone ’80s fashion label currently in existence. We asked her what it’s been like to sift through her 2,400 (and growing) cozy relics, and were reminded once again of why our love for the label runs so deep… Full article.
The “Other” Lost Generation of Black American Artists in Paris
She was a young woman who had moved to France before the war, where her painting career began to flourish. I was going to share her Parisian street scenes with you, touch upon what I could find about the positive experience she would’ve had as a young Black woman in pre-war Europe, and probably wrap up with a nod to her more notable abstract work later produced while living in Haiti. But then, before I got the chance to write it up, the largest civil rights movement in world history unfolded in the space of a week, and suddenly, nothing about her story felt “straight-forward” anymore… Full article here.
He Found an Entire House in his Attic
“Mr Griff” shared photographs of a recent excursion up to his attic where he discovered the dilapidated remains of an entire house – a real Texas Chainsaw Massacre– looking house at that, complete with rotting floral wallpaper, windows intact, light fixtures, a bathroom, some abandoned belongings and a whole lot of spiders.… Full article here.
Faces of the Lenape Tribe, the original Inhabitants of Manhattan
Lenape, meaning “the people” or “true people” are the original native New Yorkers and their home was known to them as Lenapehoking. The name Manhattan itself comes from their language. Where subways now rumble and skyscrapers soar, the Lenape harvested oysters, fished and gardened. Today’s West Village would have been the site of ephemeral wigwam villages, while Broadway would merely have been a footpath... Full article here.
In Defence of Clutter: The American Castle of a Renaissance Hoarder
Forget the great and gaudy Hearst Castle – why don’t they talk about Fonthill Castle? Now that’s a house worth seeing. Some might call him America’s first hoarder, but for any aspiring collector or lover of eclectic arts, Pennsylvania’s most underrated treasure is an astonishing visual treat at every turn, telling the story of a renaissance man who mastered the art of clutter... Full article here.
How Black Cowboys Built the American West: A Living History
When they ride, they tell the true story of the Wild, Wild West: that it was built by Black cowboys. In fact, an estimated one in three cowboys was a person of colour in the 19th century. It’s an often unsung legacy, and one that lives in big city Black cowboy clubs, working Black ranches, and luxury label-featured organisations and entertainers. But what did it really mean to be a cowboy in 1890? What about today? We spoke with Ron Tarver and John Ferguson, two photographers who have spent extensive time in Black cowboy communities – either growing up in them, or gravitating towards them from across the Atlantic – to document their story … Full article here.
Before the Internet, there was the 1960s Dial-a-Poem Hotline
On any given night in 1970, a teen somewhere in rural America could dial a number and hear the radical wisdom of Patti Smith, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Bourroughs – the list of poets was long, and painfully hip. One needed only the ten sacred digits of “Dial-a-Poem,” a revolutionary hotline that connected millions of people to a room of telephones, linked up to an evolving selection of live-recorded poems, speeches, and inspired orations. And frankly, we’d kill to dial up that hotline right now… Full article here.
A Guide to Beirut’s Small Shops & Hidden Gems
Urban ruins may be a part of the scenery in Beirut today, and that doesn’t make for glossy magazine spreads, but it does make room for authenticity, which the Lebanese people have no shortage of. With time to heal and support from the international community, we believe this city will bounce back stronger and thrive once again. In the aftermath of this agonising new blow to the city, the Lebanese people will need to feel our support more than ever, that we are eager to see them rebuild and regain their spirit, their taste for the good life and hopefully in the not too distant future, join them in discovering their city.… Full article here.
Parisian Woman and a Cat in her Cannabis Garden: A Short Story Challenge
We proposed a challenge for our readers to become the storyteller, prompted by a historical found photograph with a brief caption as the only clue: “Parisian Woman with her Cat in her Cannabis Garden, circa 1910s”. It was an invitation to step into the writer’s seat, stretch those creative muscles and imagine the rest. Gather round the fireplace as we share the short stories that transported us behind the mysterious camera lens… Full article here.
From the Brothel to Beaux-Arts: She Should Have been China’s Own Matisse
There was a time at the prestigious Pompidou art museum in Paris, when her artworks were stored in the archives under the category of “unknown artists”. She is also noticeably absent from 20th century Chinese Art history after 1949. But in the 1930s, this Chinese artist, a former sex worker, enticed the European art scene with her landscapes, still lifes, and nude portraits – illegal in China at the time – painted in the Western styles pioneered by the Impressionists, all while imbuing those works with her own unique eye and experiences. The result? A feminine tour de force who straddled the Western and Eastern art world as one of China’s first Modernist artists... Full article here.
Messy Nessy Chic is seeking new contributors for 2021!
Are you an aspiring or freelance writer looking for extra work? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line with some previous examples of your writing style or published articles (bonus points for some editorial ideas you’d like to pitch) and we’ll be in touch at the beginning of the new year.