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

Monday, 10 December 2007

Christmas lights

I detest Christmas shopping and rarely do it, nonetheless, there is something to be said for hurrying along a London street as night falls, the febrile crowds surging towards the tube station. And on impulse raising your hand to hail an empty taxi, and settling down to watch, as if at the theatre, the city pass by, suddenly illuminated, beautiful.

Cartier on Bond Street

Sloane Square

The rather bizarre lights on Regent Street this year which a taxi driver compared to a model of DNA

The Sartorialist interviewed


Jess Cartner-Morley in yesterday's Observer, interviews Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist, who has perhaps the single most important fashion blog.

Armed with a Canon G5 camera, Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist, has created a photo blog that is required reading for the fashion industry - despite featuring no celebrities and barely any It bags. With his portraits of real people who look great, Schuman "has firmly established himself as a fashion authority", says Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter.com and a pivotal figure in the fashion world. "We are huge fans of The Sartorialist at Net-a-Porter. The photography is sharp, the commentary astute, and we love that it celebrates individual style."

The celebration of the individual is at the core of what makes The Sartorialist different. By avoiding pigeonholing the subject into "tribes", Schuman has subverted all the rules dividing street style from high style. What's more, he may just have stumbled on the only people left who have the mystery necessary to capture our imagination as style icons: normal people, not the ones in reality TV shows, but the ones in real life. Clare Coulson, fashion features editor of Harper's Bazaar, finds the site compulsive viewing. "I am way more interested in what people on the street are wearing than I am in celebrities, who I just find quite dull these days. The Sartorialist is such a simple idea, but so clever. It's like those moments on the street where you see someone who looks fabulous and you wish you were them."

Book of the Week

Today starts a new feature on this blog, the Thoughtful Dresser Book of the Week. These are new or recently published books I've been reading with I think are worth drawing to others' attention.

UK edition

The first is Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre by Dana Thomas. There are few fashion books as interesting, informative and rigorous as this one. Thomas is the Paris fashion and culture correspondent for Newsweek, I met her when she was in London in September and found her a mine of information about how high end fashion works and when it is and when it is not worth shelling out for it. I subsequently recommended the book to the PR for a major British retail chain who was as riveted by it as I was. It's shocking to discover that a Marc Jacobs bag is being produced in the same factory, on the same machines and made by the same person as a department store on brand.

I wrote a guest post on the Bag Snobs a few months ago, which I'll reproduce here:

Dana Thomas delves into the mainly European-led luxury market, the heirs to some of the world’s most famous houses: Hermes, Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Dana Thomas’ thesis, unsurprisingly, is that luxury goods have been democratised, that anyone prepared to max out their credit card can buy deluxe. The trend started in Japan in the 1980s, with disposable income looking for something to spend it on, and has now radiated out to the formerly Communist states - China and the Soviet Union – long starved of things to buy,. Under the direction of two or three companies controlling almost all world-wide luxury brands, once-distinguished houses have now become the window-dressing for the most ruthless forms of capitalism.

But more revealingly, Thomas shows that not only are more people buying luxury goods, but that the goods themselves are not what they once were. An overall decline in quality and the outsourcing of production (often concealed) to China means, for example, that a Prada dress purchased in 1992 is inferior to a Prada pair of pants purchased a decade later. The reason? Cheaper thread.

I have often wondered why a Hermes Birkin should cost so much, and whether the waiting list is merely part of the hype. Thomas shows that Hermes, along with Chanel, is one of the few companies left which retains its old standards of manufacture. A Hermes bag bought today is made in exactly the same way, taking the same time, as the first bag presented to Jane Birkin 40 years ago. If there is a waiting list, it only demonstrates that there are more people out there who want the few remaining real things.

The book leaves you to ponder an awkward question. When we buy luxury goods are we being ripped-off with items not much better in quality than we could buy for a fraction of the cost? I would argue, not really. A recently-purchased Armani Collezioni jacket is simply a vastly superior piece of clothing to its equivalent at Zara. It fits better, looks better and will last longer. Design is all. But if it’s design you’re looking for, why not just buy a fake, an exact copy?

Because the manufacturing, and by extension the purchasing of fakes, is a truly disgusting, immoral act. Not only is it intellectual property theft, but the conditions in which fake bags are made are terrifyingly evil – child slaves sewing until they are blinded by overwork, or in the case of a factory in Thailand, children whose legs were broken by their ‘owner’ when they begged to go out and play. And the profits from fakes are feeding back into the drugs trade, as well as financing terrorism. There seems to be links between the traffic in fakes and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre, as well as possible connections with Hizbollah, the Lebanese organisation which fought last summer’s war with Israel.

At then end of this book, Thomas argues that the desire for beautiful, well-made things, should not be an end in itself - the greed for more - but rather that one buys something because that thing is, in itself, simply right. To save up for the one or two truly beautiful things of quality, the very best you can afford, this is the true mark of style.

You can buy this here, on on the Amazon panel on the right, from the UK or US stores





Thought for the day


Like every good man, I strive for perfection, and, like every ordinary man, I have found that perfection is out of reach - but not the perfect suit. Edward Tivnan