Monday, 31 December 2007
Saturday, 29 December 2007
Friday, 28 December 2007
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
I am away until the beginning of the second week in January and don't plan to spend too much time in the company of a computer. I'll try to keep you entertained in the meantime with some semi daily delights. Here is the first, in which designers of the 1930s try to predict the fashions of the future
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
Across the field the city glows;
people shift from work to home;
the lights are steady in the tube;
moonlight silvers the great dome:
dome and spire and roof and mind
contain the hopes of humankind.
Out there, beyond, within, beneath,
the lights are glimmering like stars:
Come to us now, come now! they cry.
The moonlight strikes off speeding cars.
Cars and chariots burn in dreams
and everywhere light runs and streams.
Monday, 24 December 2007
A clear majority of you in the lingerie poll think that it's either a waste of money to buy pretty underwear, or prefer it to serve the purpose of foundation. As I remarked in the comments, the eternal conundrum is that you want lingerie that gives you a good line under your clothes, but looks sexy when you get undressed. I tend to go with expensive (Lejaby) bras and M&S knickers.
Today's Book of the Week is all about the Thoughtful Dresser's muse, Helen Mirren
When she stepped up to get that Oscar last year, was there a woman over the age of 50 whose heart did not sing? She is said to have had no nipping or tucking. A make-up artist I met who has worked with her confirms this. Why does she look so fantastic then? Good bones and love of life. There was a series in the Sunday Times magazine which ran for years in which celebrities were asked to describe their normal day from waking up in the morning to going to be at night. In the entire history of the series Helen Mirren was the only person who said that the first thing she did every morning was have sex. She didn't even meet her husband Taylor Hackford until her late thirties, had to wait for him to have a very painful divorce, had to move to LA which she hated. But on she goes, indefatigable. Age has not withered her. And won't. (But she does say she's on a permanent diet.)
Today let us honour
the Victorian lady who has removed her hood, her cloak,
her laced boots, her stockings, her overdress,
her undredress, her wool petticoat, her linen
petticoats, her silk petticoats, her whalebone
corset, her bustle, her chemise, her drawers and
who still wants to!
Sunday, 23 December 2007
Jenny Diski: Acres of time, wasted, wasted. I play poker (and lose), I play ludo and mah jong. I check out MetaFilter. I buy frocks. Anything. It’s a kind of hell. I sometimes think I might go back to typewriting. But you can’t get the ribbons.”
"We want a Ninety-Nine; God how we want it: that shaggy-bark chocolate stick plunged into a mound of air-pumped chalky glop, which would be called vanilla were it not to defame the dark bean . . . You don’t eat ice cream, you gorge on it. Open wide and dream — perhaps of the perfect but as yet unrealised flavour. Mine would be made from the two most mysteriously succulent Edenic fruits I’ve yet eaten, both in the Dominican Republic: the milky-fleshed caimito — a flood of scented flavour, ethereally light; and its opposite, nispero — the unappealingly leathery brown skin concealing a bronze-coloured, honey-tasting flesh.”
Simon Schama celebrates ice cream, Vogue
Norman Mailer to Philip Roth, in queue for the loo before a memorial service: “Phil, sometimes I have to go into a telephone kiosk to pee. You just can’t wait at my age.”
Roth: “I know, it’s the same with me.”
Saturday, 22 December 2007
From Lisa Armstrong in the Times today
Our continental cousins invest in quality, rather than hype. Then they hand wash them in the soap equivalent of Krug and fold them correctly thereafter (three folds up the leg, tucking the resulting flat rectangle into the waistband so the tights are neatly encased inside out to prevent snagging in the drawer). Don’t knock it. Until you’ve re-folded all the tights in your drawer, you don’t know the meaning of therapeutic. They even understand tights in Austria, the birthplace of Wolford, purveyor of exceedingly good tights. So how hard can it be?
In Harpers this month a former executive with Pringle advises on how to wash a cashmere sweater, advice which I followed yesterday and which worked.
Hand wash in warm water using liquid soap. Soak for five minutes, then gently swish the suds through the garment to make sure they penetrate all the fibres, that's swish not knead like you're making bread. Rinse thoroughly. Put in washing machine on short spin cycle. Put in dryer on low heat for five minutes which fluffs up the fibres and prevents pilling. Dry flat.
Friday, 21 December 2007
I spent this morning with the design and management team of a UK fashion house for a story I'm doing. At one point the conversation turned to the high street, and whether the public was tired of cheap, disposable clothing.
I mentioned that I had bought a couple of Zara dresses that had fallen to pieces, and finally replaced them with a Vanessa Bruno dress which cost more than twice as much. I was told the reason why they fell apart. The label said machine washable.
A jersey dress that costs £49.99 will lose its colour when it's machine washed, particularly if it is black. The cheap thread and slapdash stitching will come undone in the rough and tumble of the spin cycle. The zip may slightly lose its placement and become difficult to do up. So why does it say machine washable? Because the high street knows that people won't buy a cheap dress you have to dry clean. More expensive dresses often have dry clean only on the label, and can in fact be machine washed, but the designer won't say so, because a machine washable designer garment sounds cheap.
We moved on to the baffling story of a pair of Zara trousers. I tried them on but didn't buy them. Changing my mind, I came back the next day and finding the same size on the rack, bought and paid for them, thinking that since I'd tried them on the previous day, they would fit the next. When I got them home, they were too small. This is because Zara allows for say 2 cm of 'slippage' ie the same item in the same size may be up to four cm different in size. On top of that lax quality control means that clothes will always get through that are out by more than the slippage limit. So the two pairs of trousers I tried on could have been six or eight cm different in size.
Thursday, 20 December 2007
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has launched a new blog in which it invites the general public to comment on items in its Costume Institute collection. How fabulous if the V&A here would do the same.
Discussing it in the Wall Street Journal Rachel Dodes, writes:
Fashion criticism has long been the exclusive realm of an insular band of journalists who traveled the big runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York and seemed to speak their own esoteric language. But the Met's new exhibit, "Blog.mode Addressing Fashion," is inviting anyone with an Internet connection to critique the clothes on display. With its new blog, blog.metmuseum.org/blogmode/, which went up this week, the august museum is also acknowledging that traditional fashion criticism is over.Later it is revealed that Manolo Blahnik is a great fan of Manolo the Shoeblogger, 'I love it,' he says. Manolo the Shoblogger was the first fashion blog I ever read, and the first to wake me up to the possibilities of writing and thinking about fashion in non-traditional ways.
"There's a whole new field out there," says Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute's curator. He decided last summer to turn a retrospective of important garments acquired by the museum since 2000 into a three-way conversation of sorts between curator, designer and outside observers. "We wanted to further the practice of fashion interpretation and appreciation," he says.
Winter has come cold and early to Britain. Frost on the car roofs in the mornings, biting wind, clear skies. I bring out my year-old brown shearling (which has suffered a small amount of unaccountable wardrobe shrinkage in the past year, a condition only solved, in my experience, by going more regularly to the gym - a scientific mystery!) I have lots of knee-high leather or suede boots, but it is so cold. Meeting some old friends for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant on Edgware Road yesterday, and walking up Oxford Street, into Marks and Spencer and out again and into Selfridge's for rather longer, detained by a DvF dress that just might go in the sale, what I cannot help but notice is
Everyone is wearing them, Everyone is wearing their jeans tucked in, or with thick tights. All the shops are selling variants of them. This once teenaged fad, Uggs worn with bare legs in the summer, has decisively passed into the mainstream. The basic, classic Ugg has been superseded by sheepskin boots that no longer look much like Uggs, laced up, cuff turned over, split side seam . . . there are endless variations.
Even M&S is doing its own Ugg.
And indeed I was wearing them myself, and so warm did they keep my toes, that in a shearling, cashmere sweater and my new John Smedley scarf, I felt like I was in the Bahamas.
So, yes, I am prepared to recant. The cold snap did it and now smart British women who shop on Bond Street are shod in Uggs. Thus does an ugly fashion with pluck and determination eventually win us over. The only downside is that you have to take them off when you go to bed.
But absolutely no to Crocs.
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
Prospect Magazine asks various movers and shakers which were the most underrated and overrated cultural events of 2007. I, somewhat laconically, chose the film of Ian McEwan's Atonement as most overrated and am pleased to find myself in the company of Antony Beevor on this one.
The film of Atonement: a shallow adaptation of a much more interesting and ambitious novel. Too Gosford Park for its own good.
I was deeply disappointed by the film Atonement. Perhaps my expectations had been too high, having greatly admired the novel. The film certainly opened well, but the vastly expensive Dunkirk sequences—a massive self-indulgence on the part of the director—wrecked what might otherwise have been a great success.
However I cannot fault Keira Knightley's green dress
Because of my trip to Liverpool last week, I missed Sarah Mower's second column on the Great Mutton Debate:
I am becoming impatient with all the crossness and whingeing about how difficult it is to dress past a certain age and about being sidelined. I particularly despise the lack of self-esteem being paraded in this debate. To my observation, things can get better as you get older - especially if you're a British woman.
This was illustrated to me to perfection last week at the Chanel Paris-Londres show that Karl Lagerfeld brought to town. By a miracle of good timing, I ended up alone with him backstage, and the conversation - which started with a discussion of Coco Chanel's penchant for Englishmen - turned to Daphne Guinness and Amanda Harlech, the merry divorcées of British high style.
"They look like life should be," he said. "They are stimulating, sparkling, not just clothes horses. They're clever, civilised. They read, they have lives, children.
"And you know," he added conspiratorially, "these kind of women exist only in Britain. Not in France; after a certain age, they just…" He didn't finish, but it was obvious what he meant: run to beige. Which, of course, is very French.
Several people in the comments have made the point that Sarah Mower has missed the point. It is never hard to dress well at any age with a model-thin figure and unlimited income. The difficulty is finding clothes that fit well and flatter within your budget when the shops are full of mini tunics with no sleeves.
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
A huge majority of you believe that good clothes are available at all prices and it is unnecessary to max out the credit cards. I demur on this one. I have just thrown away my second Zara LB day dress, because it has fallen to bits. The zip is broken, the fabric on the visible collar lining has faded to grey, and the skirt is coming away from the waistband. It was a great dress, but now it's unwearable. It cost I think about sixty quid and it's been replaced by one which cost twice as much; twice burned, now finally shy.
There are good quality clothes on the high street - I rate Marks and Spencer and Gap - but if you want something that is going to look good in two years time, you need to spend money. Of course unless you are Victoria Beckham or the wife of a Russian oligarch, you're going to have a budget. Almost no-one wears couture every day and even major designers churn out badly-made crap. But for enduring quality, particularly tailoring, I would go into debt to buy what I wanted. (Would? See overdraft - but you can't, it's a secret).
There's another issue with cheap clothes. See this:
It's a bracelet from Asos. It costs £8. Can anyone explain to me how it can cost £8 without someone, somewhere, being reduced to penal servitude to make it?
Monday, 17 December 2007
A press pack from the V&A arrives with details of the opening, in May of the new William and Judith Bollinger Gallery which will tell the story of European jewellery during the past 800 years. There will be jewelled pendants given by Elizabeth I to her courtiers, diamonds worn by Catherine the Great, the Beauharnais Emeralds which Napoleon gave to his adopted daughter, and tiaras worn by the Empress Josephine. And Lady Mountbatton's 'tutti frutti' ruby sapphire, emerald and diamond bandeau, bought from Cartier in 1928.
In the unlikely event of you not possessing any world-ranking jewels, the V&A shop is commissioning several new ranges, affordable by the likes of us .
And if you can't get to London, buy the catalogue.
A few weeks ago I wrote about one of my favourite things to wear, indeed what I'm wearing right now, Pure Cashmere. I've bought several brands of cashmere sweater but Pure do the best range of styles, best fit, softest wool, and crucially, the best colours, because they dye the yarn not the garment.
I'm delighted that Pure is now an advertiser on this site. Indeed they have a 20 percent off promotion at the moment, see the banner up top or side panel at the right. And of course if you order your sweater from this site, then I can buy another.
They do ship to the US, according to one of my regular readers.
The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl.
The facts of Shakespeare's life are so meagre that it is difficult to produce more than a monograph without considerable speculative padding. Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World a few years ago, placed Shakespeare at the centre of his time, of the political events of the period. Nicholl has an entirely different task. At the beginning of the last century a manuscript was discovered showing that Shakespeare, while living as a lodger in a house on Silver Street in London, was called as a witness to a legal dispute about the failed payment of a dowry. Nicholl recreates the ordinary, everyday life of the neighbourhood, the street, the house, and even the kind of furnishings of the room in which Shakespeare wrote. It's as if we are seeing Doris Lessing going out to the corner shop to buy a tin of cat food. There is an increasingly eerie sensation as we move closer and closer to the fabric of Shakespeare's reality: the playwright among one of many neighbours earning a living, buying and cooking food, stopping to talk on the street. In the end we are no closer to this man's incomprehensible genius, but we do understand that he took his influences not from thin air, but the lives of those around him, brief forgotten lives given an additional meaning by falling beneath the gaze of one who would change the way we think and feel.
You can buy it here
Every year a certain senior male executive appears at a certain UK newspaper's Christmas party in what he calls his party shirt. The fashion desk moves to the opposite end of the room. This year drastic measures have been taken to preempt the appearance of the party shirt.
I am sure The Thoughtful Dresser's male readers are far too sophisticated to wear a party shirt, but perhaps you'd like to print this out and hand it to friends:
. . . don't be tempted to wear "party" clothes to the Christmas office do. It looks desperate, uncool, irritatingly chipper and unforgivably Brentian. By all means dress up a bit. Wear one of your better suits, carefully iron a decent shirt, leave your trousers in the Corby that bit longer - and then set about thoroughly ruining the lot. (Office parties, like weddings, are a social war zone, where the agony of the banging hangover is matched only by the horror of discovering ripped and stained battle scars in your brand new Prada whistle.)
If you overcook the outfit, with, say, a garish, swirly "party" shirt or unfunny Santa cufflinks, for instance, you are painting a picture of a man who gets pathetically excited at the prospect of free booze, talking to women and spontaneous gynaecological Xeroxing.
Sunday, 16 December 2007
The most expensive bag that I have bought is an Anya Hindmarch Carker, for £530. I bought it in the Autumn of last year, and carefully kept when not in use, I would expect it to last the rest of my life. Indeed I am still using bags of my mother's, purchased in the Fifties. I would never buy an It bag that I did not expect to wear for years to come. As I've said, I have no problem still using my red and purple Fendi baguettes, even though all around me are carrying clutches. I just don't care.
£530 was not the upper limit I was prepared to pay for that bag; had I been able to buy a Hermes Birkin, I might have done so. But I will not pay £745 for a pair of shoes. Like these:
Yet people do, indeed you can go and buy them yourself if you click on the Net-a-porter ad on this page, and stunningly beautiful they are too.
But as Justine Picardie says, in the Telegraph today:
Net-a-porter is doing a brisk trade in Christian Louboutin party shoes this Christmas, but who is buying the black satin slingbacks with a Swarovski crystal embellishment for £745? (Quite a lot of people, presumably, given that they've already sold out in three different sizes.)
Then there are the Jimmy Choo sapphire crêpe-de-chine peep-toes for £585, and black T-bars for £365 from Russell & Bromley. (Russell & Bromley! It's where my affordably priced, sensible school shoes used to come from!
>It's enough to take the enjoyment out of buying a new pair of frivolous shoes - for if you're worrying about how much you've spent on them, then the point of the purchase is lost. Party shoes should be escapist, though not so expensive that they leave you unable to afford Christmas presents for anyone else.
Plus, if your expensive high heels let you down - as mine did, catastrophically, when a crucial strap snapped on my silver Louboutins, halfway through an evening out last week - then you are liable to feel more than usually outraged.
Hence I am giving up on the broken Louboutins in favour of a pair of red satin slingbacks from the Autograph range at M&S for £55; less than a tenth of the designer versions.
If you want to spend money on shoes, my own tip, particularly to British women, who are less familiar with the brand, is Stewart Weitzman. He's an American shoe designer, stocked at Russell and Bromley, Selfridges and Harrods, who makes really good quality, beautiful and fashionable shoes which rarely sell for more than £200. I have lots of pairs.
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Friday, 14 December 2007
Many thanks to all of you wrote about your appreciation of the half slip. The industry has been fixated in the past few years with the changing shape of knickers - bikini to boy-short, not to mention control pants (what our mothers called 'roll ons,' 'foundation garments', or, bluntly, corsets.) But I'm inclined to think that we are in for a revival of the slip, which I have hitherto regarded as old lady wear. I suppose young women abandoned them in the Sixties because the ones on offer were too long to wear under a mini-skirt, and the whole point of clothes when you are 20 is how quickly you could get out of them.
The vest has been revived, in different form, those garments I wear under a top that's too low-cut or see-through for my taste. I had a look at Figleaves (see ad on the left) and they have lots of full-length slips which they call chemises, but no half-slips, apart from a couple of Spanx control ones. I wore the Vanessa Bruno dress with the half-slip last night, and it worked like a dream. So I'm even thinking along full slip lines now. Sleek 'n Chic offers vintage lingerie, but not sure if it's pre-worn. Yuck.
Thursday, 13 December 2007
As you can now see, there are several advertisements on this site. I have tried to keep them as unobstrusive as possible.
At the bottom you will find a large display ad for Net-a-Porter. You can choose to order from the UK or US site simply by clicking the change currency button in the top left-hand corner after you've clicked on the banner. Even if Net-a-porter is way out of you league, go and feast your eyes, anyway.
Today, at Cricket, I saw a row of Lanvin dresses, and ten £1000 Balenciaga handbags just lying on a shelf waiting to be bought. Round the corner where the Cavern Club used to stand, where the Beatles started out, is a whole Vivienne Westwood store. You could stay at the about to be completed Hard Day's Night Hotel - ie live inside a Beatles song, and then go shopping. Liverpool redux!
On the matter of how much it costs to maintain one's grooming, the prices some readers have been coming up with manicures and pedicures in the US have been making my jaw drop. I recently made the mistake of having a perfectly ordinary manicure at Harvey Nichols, which cost a whopping £40 ($80) but my neighbourhood salon, where I have a monthly pedicure, charges £25 or $50, and once again, for nothing special. And you have to make an appointment.
My colonial cousins, you do not know how lucky you are.
Meanwhile, here in Liverpool I have noticed that one sign of the city's regeneration is the number of serious handbags you're now seeing on the streets. At the MetQuarter, I walked into Flannels, where you can pick up and fondle bags by Yves St Laurent, Prada, Fendi, Miu Miu etc and hurriedly put back a £785 Gucci dress. I did buy a Vanessa Bruno jersey LB day dress, but was worried about slight cling. The sales assistant gave me a top tip: go to M&S and buy a half slip, she said, the dress will glide over the slip instead of sticking to your bum. The half slip is a really old-fashioned piece of lingerie, and I couldn't believe they still sold them, but yes, they did and as she said, it did the trick.
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
My attention has been drawn to to this piece in the Times today comparing British and American women's appearance:
I’m recently back from a two-month sojourn in Los Angeles and New York. Maybe I have come back with fresh eyes. Maybe I have grown accustomed to the effort American women put into their upkeep. Either way, you don’t exactly need callipers to figure out in which country the women look after themselves more.Hard to argue with our bad nails and eyebrows, but we lack here those Vietnamese walk-in nail salons who will strip down every follicle and push back your cuticles in ten minutes flat for $30. I don't quite spend £350 a month on grooming, but it's a lot more than £700 a year.
An informal poll of my US female friends revealed that they spend roughly $700 (£350) a month on what they consider standard obligatory beauty maintenance. That covers haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc. They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc. On top of that, add the occasional spa day, a week-long “bikini boot camp” in Mexico at the start of every summer and seasonal splurges on personal shoppers and clothing. I’m not sure any of my British female friends spends £700 during an entire year on her appearance. American women see these costs as a simple and sensible investment in their future.
There are several reasons to watch this interview with Tim Gunn: one is to see the daughter of some friends of mine ask a pertinent question about skirt lengths, another is to hear his explanation of why New York is the most fashion forward city in America. It's about the street and the subways. They're runways on which people dress to be seen. And Italy, of course, with its highly ritualised passagiata, has the best dressed women in the world.
The same costume will be
Indecent . . . 10 years before its time
Shameless. . . 5 years before its time
Outre (darling) . . . 1 year before its time
Dowdy . . . 1 year after its time
Hideous . . .10 years after its time
Ridiculous . . . 20 years after its time
Amusing . . . 30 years after its time
Quaint . . . .50 years after its time
Charming . . .70 years after its time
Romantic . . . 100 years after its time
Beautiful . . . 150 years after its time
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
I'm attending an office holiday party the weekend with a gentleman friend (his office's party.)
Since publishing an article would likely take more than a couple days, please can you shoot me a mini-version of what you'd advise on this front. Photo attachments heartily appreciated.
My personal disillusion with much contemporary video and installation art is how boring, obvious and didactic it is. Advertising has always borrowed its clothes from the art world. In Britain, because of our woefully under-funded film industry, many directors have begun their careers in television and cinema advertising. I find the following clip charming, amusing and inventive, but it does lack the precise and salty bite of art.