Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Designer lingerie

A male reader of The Thoughtful Dresser emails me to enquire:

. . . when does The Thoughtful Dresser expand into the area of clothing hitherto untraveled: I mean the lingerie department, with detailed analysis and pictures.

And I don't mean the low level common consumer schmattes of Victoria's S. but rather more refined designer stuff.
Happy to oblige with some Donna Karan knickers

Found in translation

The greatest Yiddish-language writer of the 20th century features on a list of 100 books chosen to inaugurate a daring, long-term project to bring landmark foreign works to Arabic-speaking readers.

The Collected Stories Of Isaac Bashevis Singer, by an author who was raised in Poland but for decades dominated Yiddish writing in New York, will join titles ranging from Sophocles and Chaucer to Stephen Hawking and Haruki Murakami among the first selections of the Kalima translation programme.

The Kalima (meaning "word" in Arabic) project aims to revive the art of translation across the Arab world and reverse the long decline in Arabic readers' access to major works of global literature, philosophy, science and history.

"The choices reflect what we consider are the real gaps in the Arab library," said Karim Nagy, the founder and chief executive of the project, which was launched yesterday in Abu Dhabi. "We shy away as far as possible from best-sellers."

Boyd Tonkin in the Independent

More than one coat - I agree

Women aren't just buying one workhorse to go with everything, Bostock has noticed, but a few statement-making pieces. "Our customers are treating themselves to two or three high-quality coats for different occasions," she says. "It's no longer just about practicality; outerwear plays a key role in winter's trends." (notes the Telegraph)

(I have a whole wardrobe full of them: two shearlings - one Nicole Farhi in black, one M&S in brown, an orange duffel coat from JCrew, an evening coat from Barney's, two belted black coats both from M&S, a DKNY purple and silver fleck from the Harvey Nicks sale, a Jean Muir navy, last year's Zara sell-out trapeze coat with the big gold buttons, a Zara grey belted short coat, a suede coat bought in the Neiman's sale, my leather jacket, an Ann-Louise Roswald floral summer coat, my mother's Persian lamb with white mink collar . . . but what I want most of all is the Armani Collezioni coat I saw in Selfridge's and didn't dare try on because it was my size and cost £895.)

The moral and political philosophy of Harry Potter

I'm busy writing a piece for Vogue today, so I leave you with some thoughts about Harry Potter - a piece I wrote as a guest post for Normblog in the summer:

Finishing the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter series over the weekend, I was struck by the fact that a generation of children has grown up immersed in a morally complex world in which the traditional epic battle between good and evil is clouded by questions. The discussions on the many Harry Potter fan sites bear out this view that J.K. Rowling has exposed her readers to some of the most important and difficult dilemmas of our own age. That these discussions are often awkward and sometimes illiterate does not detract from the real passion and sense of enquiry with which they are entered into.

. . .

In the final volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, released on Friday, the Ministry of Magic has fallen to Voldemort's forces and the totalitarian state is emerging. The plan is that the magic world will take over the Muggle world which is to be a vast slave labour camp. Muggles (ourselves) are the lesser breeds - the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, blacks. Those drawn to Voldemort's cause are obsessed with ideas of racial purity, they pride themselves on being 'pure-blood' (entirely magic) and despise those 'half-bloods', the products of mixed-marriages (though ironically Voldemort himself is a half-blood) or worse, the 'mudbloods', those wizards and witches who are Muggle-born.

In one of the most horrifying sections of the book, Voldemort introduces Nuremberg Laws. Families are investigated for potential half-blood ancestry and the 'mudbloods' are accused of having stolen their magic powers from real magic people. Deprived of their magic wands, the source of their power, they are reduced to pitiful beggars in Diagon Alley, in scenes reminiscent of the Warsaw Ghetto.

But what of the 'good' wizards, those who have heroically fought the takeover? They are not without the taint of evil themselves, for they are slave-owners - of the degraded house-elves who are under an oath of loyalty to the family who owns them, whatever the orders. One scene, towards the end of the book, shows the burial of a house-elf given his freedom, and the simple inscription on his grave: 'Here lies Dobby, a free elf.' In order to defeat evil, dubious alliances must be made: for example, with the goblins, the makers of swords and the guarders of gold, who regard all property as owned by the maker of it, and only 'leased' to others for their own lifetime; at the point of the leaser's death, it must revert to its maker. The wizards' cheating of these rules is, says one character, something on which they should reflect. Many species will not ally with the wizards because of bad relations, old grudges and grievances.

. . .

In America, the Christian right has condemned the Harry Potter books. They regard them as leading their children to Satan. Perhaps they should be more worried that the real danger in these works lies in their sophisticated and empathetic account of the grey areas that exist within both good and evil, and the hard choices we all have to make to find a path through the darkness.
Read the rest

Reader's request - more Paul Poiret

Between the hour-glass figure and the little black dress, for a few years before the First World War, Paul Poiret made some of the most innovative dresses of the 20th century. This forgotten genius, who would die in poverty, almost single-handedly liberated women from the corset, created the world's first designer perfume and was the first couturier to branch out into interior design.

Peggy Guggenheim and the Rosine scent bottle
Poiret dressed Peggy Guggenheim (left), and created the world's first designer perfume

His reign was heartbreakingly brief. At the turn of the last century dresses were rigidly fitted to a woman's form, the bum jutted out, the breast jutted forward. A woman's outfit resembled not so much clothing as upholstery, topped with horsehair wigs.

In photographs women appear buried under their clothes, a small oval of face under dyed, frizzed, artificial fringes, and perhaps an expanse of bosom peering out from the textile immolation. Decoration lay heavily over decoration, and a woman's true shape was unimaginable.

No wonder the rich required maids to help them undress, to unhook bodices, corsets, button boots. Edwardian outfits were completely unsuitable for the decades to come, for world wars, for the emancipation of women that would follow, for the speed of the motor car and the thrill of flight.

. . . .

Influenced by the Orient, Poiret set up his own house in 1903 and two years later married Denise Boulet, a young provincial girl who was said never to have worn a corset or high collar. Her slim figure, like a lance in repose, one observer remarked, became the template for a Poiret garment.

A fragment of film from 1911 shows her looking utterly different from the crowd among which she moves - as well as being married to a designer, she was always her own stylist.

With Boulet as his muse, Poiret created dresses and coats that fell from the shoulders, and instead of being fitted to the body, flowed along its natural lines. In inspiration they were a throwback to the style of the Directoire, the period of the Empire line 100 years earlier, but they were not pallid imitations; they cancelled every rule of clothing to create the foundations for what we think of as modern dress.

Culottes, harem pants, shifts, dresses cut on the lines of a chemise - his imagination stopped nowhere and prefigured almost every design innovation to come, except for what would follow from the House of Chanel - the severe, the uniform, the pared-back black dress.

For Poiret adored sumptuous fabrics and peacock colours; he described throwing into the 'sheepcote' of pastels 'a few rough wolves: reds, greens, violets, royal blues that made all the rest sing aloud'. Boulet would step out in a wig of kingfisher blue and viridian-green stockings.

Everything he touched was revolutionary: he seems to have invented that brief 1960s fad, the baby-doll nightdress; he made dresses with asymmetrical shoulders; he introduced the hobble skirt and, even more startlingly, the lampshade dress - a triangular tent with fringes hanging from the bottom, which, as American Vogue would write, every woman in the country had bought.

Read the rest

Thought for the day

Women fond of dress are hardly ever entirely satisfied not to be seen, except amongst the insane; usually they want witnesses. Simone de Beauvoir