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

Thursday, 31 January 2008


Diana Vreeland and Marisa Berenson discuss the eighteenth century. What an odd accent Vreeland had.

And does she refer to the salons she remembers visiting in the eighteenth century?

Is it cotton?

"America produces 70 per cent of the world’s cotton, not Fairtrade. And they produce more than they can use, so there’s a cotton mountain. Plus, they get a government subsidy which is two thirds of the going rate of the price of cotton to produce, even if it is not being used. So occasionally, they ‘dump’ it on the world market which obviously devastates the price. For farmers in places like Mali and India this is catastrophic. It’s not a question of them going out of business - it’s a question of survival! I feel the US farmers should be paid a premium NOT to glut the market in order to stablise cotton world-wide and put the Third World farmers on an equal footing."

Sir Steve Redgrave, Olympic oarsman, on his campaign to introduce a range of fair trade cotton into Debenhams.

The 5G for Maine range will launch in 116 Debenhams high street stores nationwide from mid-February, in time for Fairtrade Fortnight, February 25th to March 3rd, which the chain will be supporting with window displays and instore activities.

Thought for the day

You wouldn't know me to see me dressed! James Whitcomb Riley.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Depths and surfaces

A mysterious on-line magazine called No More: A Compendium of Wit and Folly, has the most intelligent and insightful review so far of The Clothes On Their Backs. And I'm pleased to see they read The Thoughtful Dresser, too.

Grant takes a firm interest in fashion and the history of fashion, but ‘serious’ facts and ‘frivolous’ fashion are not so easily separated, as she is keen to establish. The way we dress has always been part of the surface-depth conundrum, whether you are listening to homely wisdom (it’s what’s inside that counts) or depressing yourself reading the works of French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard. It’s difficult to think of an anti-establishment movement that hasn’t been at least partly defined by a dress code, from Bolsheviks and their caps to Boudica and her face paint. It is even more challenging to imagine being oblivious to people’s clothes. They are simply part of the visible environment. Grant’s title, The Clothes on Their Backs, speaks of immigrants fleeing and arriving, ‘left with nothing but the clothes on their back’. These men and women lose more than just possessions: naked of context and familiarity, they need to construct themselves anew.
. . .
The Clothes on Their Back is about dark places and bright, beautiful clothes, which can help define and preserve identity, often under the most terrible circumstances.

Sunday Telegraph review of The Clothes On Their backs

Like money, clothes have real, symbolic and psychological value. Linda Grant understands these dimensions implicitly. Stitched beautifully into the fabric of her latest novel is an acute understanding of the role clothes play in reflecting identity and self-worth.

Sándor Kovacs, a refugee from Hungary, arrives in London in 1956 with just 'a mackintosh, a scarf and a leather satchel' - literally the clothes on his back. Over time he builds up a murky business empire as a landlord to immigrants from the West Indies, a career which eventually lands him in prison, sees him likened to the Kray twins and depicted in the media as the 'face of evil'.

The one image his niece Vivien has of him from her childhood is of his electric blue suit and suede shoes. Kept apart from this scandalous man by her hibernatory immigrant parents, Vivien's first present from him when she is in her early twenties is a green silk dress.

By this stage it's the late 1970s, the National Front is throwing its weight around, and Vivien changes her name to Miranda so that she can befriend her family's 'black sheep'. Gradually Sándor's stories about his early life act as a mirror, reflecting back to Vivien a stronger sense of herself.

Vivien's position highlights Grant's concern over how we validate ourselves. Is adopting the uniform of one particular gang (punks, skinheads, tango dancers) enough to forge our identity? For decades, British-born Vivien cannot get her bearings.
. . .
Grant's own particular beam reveals the way we acquire our sense of self from what gets reflected back to us, either in the mirror or in our relationships with others. She is as at home writing about the thrilling ripple of silk as she is charting social tensions.

So: Prada or Primark? Rather enticingly, Grant provides the best of both.

read the rest

Botox, etc some issues

Read, ponder

A recent investigation by the consumer watchdog Which? found a woeful lack of professionalism within the UK's cosmetic treatments industry: non-medical staff giving advice, companies pressurising uninformed customers into buying treatments, and even nurses selling Botox jabs on eBay. When an independent panel of experts rated the 19 clinics that Which? investigated, they found none to be "excellent", and only five managed a rating of "good".

"People tend to think that procedures such as Botox and dermal fillers are safer than plastic surgery because they are quick and don't involve an operation," says Jenny Driscoll, a health campaigner at Which?, whose website ( provides one of the few comprehensive guides to treatments.

"But actually, the plastic surgery market is far better regulated because all surgeons have to be passed by the General Medical Council and the Healthcare Commission. Conversely, when it comes to non-invasive procedures, there is no single body you can go to for information, and rule-breaking often goes unchecked."Driscoll thinks that because cosmetic treatments are viewed as vanity procedures, the Government is reluctant to spend money on the industry. "But my argument is that if you do not have better regulation, you will only end up having to spend money on these people when they need NHS treatment if something goes wrong."

My own position on these treatments is that I am too much of a hypochondriac to have any non-essential treatments with side effects and would rather spend the money on a digital mammogram. And Creme de la Mer.

In your face

When I was young enough not to worry about the etiquette of showing cleavage, I did not do so because: dresses that showed cleavage were not in fashion, and even had they been, I did not possess one. Now I have a cleavage I must concern myself with adding to the list of proscriptions to the purchase of my perfect dress, is it cut too low?

I know a famous women in British journalism who smilingly asserted that her steps up the career ladder were aided by her decision to always wear a low cut top to the office. Duh. Why did I fill my head with literature instead of thinking up that one? Why did I assume that newspaper editors were interested in whether I could write and think? Obviously I could not think if I didn't work that one out.

The Telegraph today agonises over the new rules.

They are everywhere. Encased in lace, just visible beneath the check-out girl's uniform at Sainsbury's, harnessed by spandex at the gym, like two setting suns about to disappear beneath the horizon of Victoria Beckham's slashed Cavalli dress, spilling from overly ambitious frocks at award ceremonies. Enough, I say. British women are confused about breasts: we need new guidelines - a little breastiquette, please.

and comes up with the following list od do's and don'ts.


At work or the school gates: There is one simple rule, regardless of age. The breast bone is your barometer – never wear anything that dips below its midpoint. A glimpse of inner cleavage or the underside of a breast is a step too far.

At a cocktail or dinner party: Under-40s can go as low as an imaginary empire line. For over-40s, especially the large-breasted, the neckline should rise an inch a decade, but there is no reason why – provided you have spent a lifetime shielding your throat from the sun – one should be confined to polo necks before the age of 70.

At balls: Under-40s may go as low as they dare. Over-40s, invest in expensive underwear and structured evening wear.

The surgically enhanced: Those who have turned to the surgeon for a little rafraîchissement in middle age should not feel tempted to pay and display. See above.

Visible underwear: “A tiny flash of pretty bra or a slightly opened button showing just a bit of cleavage hints at what could yet be revealed,” say Trinny and Susannah in their book What Your Clothes Say About You. Their advice is generous: visible underwear is a dangerous card to play, often yielding a crude result.

Accessorise when necessary: A common complaint is that all the most beautiful dresses are low-cut. Use scarves, pashminas and camisoles to make a dress more versatile.

Thought for the day

Fashion comes from a dream. Dior

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Thoughtful Dresser poll: which shape?

pear-shaped woman

The difficulties of finding my dress are based on my being pear-shaped - narrow shoulders, big hips, bad legs. One only has to go to the changing room or a gym, pool or spa to see how few women have the basis of a perfect figure. So if you could choose, which would you be? Vote as ever on the right.

Advantages and disadvantages of each type:

Boyish - easy to dress but no curves
Hourglass - hard to wear high fashion but in proportion
Pear - Small waist but bad legs
Apple -No waist but good legs

Applying make-up in public - the Thoughtful Dresser poll

A substantial majority of you believe that there is no reason not to apply one's lipstick in public. I do feel that this may be a cultural matter, with Americans more likely to regard it as something best done in private.

For myself, I see no reason at all not to reapply one's lipstick at a restaurant table, I do it all the time. Perhaps taking out a lip-brush, lip pencil etc might have the effect of lessening the mystique. And for this reason, reapplying your whole face, putting on mascara etc, I would regard as best left to the privacy of the ladies room.

I have, after an early morning departure, put my make-up on on at my seat on a train or on a plane. Why cause a queue to build up in the bathroom? And I don't often find the conditions there, the light and the general sanitation conducive to applying make-up.

I'm charmed by the sight of young women applying all their make-up on the tube, which indicates bravado and a steady hand. And you can sometimes pick up tips.

Asking for the moon update

Thank you for your many suggestions regarding my dress dilemma. My apologies for my relentless negativity, but fit and flatter is the maxim of this site.

I have decided to take the plunge and order a dress from LaDress

I have ordered it in brown and of course it may be a deep rich chocolate brown, or it may be a dingy coffee coloured brown and will have to be sent straight back, but I agree, these are lovely straightforward, beautifully constructed dresses. If expensive for what they are. I'll let you know when it arrives if it's any good.

I have just received a phone call from LaDress in Holland checking my address and telling me that my dress will be sent today. I call that good customer service.

The Ethical shopper confounded

Made in Italy? Not really.

I have a long piece in the Guardian today about the perils of buying ethically and the assumption that if you pay more you will automatically get better quality, and why so much production has moved to China, and why the major fashion houses are telling us their goods are made in Italy when they are not.

The abysmal high-street Christmas sales figures, together with predictions that we are facing recession, has led some fashion writers to wonder if the craze for fast fashion is coming to an end. It is time, it feels, to return to a more prudent and ethical way of shopping: not to forsake fashion altogether - God forbid - but to shop more wisely.

I had begun my autumn resolution with a jacket from Armani Collezioni, which cost £495. As I walked out of the shop and down Bond Street, I experienced a lightheaded elation. I had moved on and up to a higher plane, taking me closer to the source of style, and further away from mass-production.

Then the thread on the buttons started to unravel. How could this be? This was Armani, and not cheap and cheerful Emporio Armani either. Not quite couture, but, I assumed, lovingly made in a Florentine atelier by a raven-haired beauty who took a 90-minute lunchbreak to eat a three-course meal followed by espresso and adultery, and carried her paypacket home across the Ponte Vecchio in a Fendi Spy bag.

But then I met Dana Thomas, Newsweek's Paris fashion and culture correspondent, who had just published a book (Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre), which exposed the illusions of the luxury market. There are, she told me, only a very small number of companies still producing goods that live up to their own advertising. The Hermes Birkin bag costs £3,500 and has a three-year waiting list because it is made in exactly the same way as it always has been, by hand. A Chanel dress will be much the same quality today as a Chanel dress produced under the guidance of Coco Chanel herself in the 1920s. But the huge demand for designer luxury goods, initially fuelled by Japanese consumers in the 1980s, means that there are not enough skilled Italian and French craftspeople to make them, and most designer clothing and accessories are produced in China and other countries in the Far East


Read on

Thought for the day

Dressing is the one art the unqualified must practise. Elizabeth Bowen

Monday, 28 January 2008

Asking for the moon

I want a dress.

I don't want a dress that comes above the knee
I don't want a tunic dress
I don't want a wrap dress
I don't want a smock dress
I don't want a sleeveless dress
I don't want a clingy dress
I don't want a shift dress.

In other words I want an A line dress with sleeves, and which hits just below the knee. Preferably not black.

But I think I'll go and look for the formula that turns base metals into gold, a cure for Aids and peace in the Middle East instead. No point chasing impossible dreams

Shopping in Egypt

He climbed on board a pick-up truck, one of a dozen passengers wedged into the back, each paying 20 Egyptian pounds (£2) for what would have been a brief 20-minute drive along the main road. But to avoid the now frequent police checkpoints the truck took a tortuous journey along Bedouin tracks through the desert for two and a half hours. Twice the truck became wedged in the sand until Shuber, 30, and his fellow passengers got out to push.

Once in El Arish he found, to his dismay, that the police had closed all the shops and restaurants in an effort to send the hordes of Palestinian shoppers home.

"I don't know where I'm going. I just came to have a look," said Shuber. "I was hoping to buy some electronics, maybe a food mixer for the kitchen or something for the children. But the prices have gone up and most of the shops are shut."

. . .

Some had put up with long and difficult journeys. Sara el-Masri and her son, Ahmad, 12, had been made to walk through the desert for three hours on Saturday to bypass the checkpoints. She returned only with a handful of gifts from a friend she had visited. "I wanted to come for the adventure. In Gaza we have nowhere to go," she said. "I just wanted to see something different."

Rory McCarthy in El Arish, Egypt

Dark side of the moon

Hadley Freeman is on a roll this morning, explaining what exactly is wrong with polo neck sweaters, and why designers design so many clothes in black:

It's a sad truth, and one that I feel does our gender little credit, that so many women instinctively plump for black. Why, my sisters, why? Is this what we fought for, what we chained ourselves to railings for, what we burned some perfectly good bras for - to obscure ourselves in the colour of night, like Death Eaters from the world of Harry Potter? Good God, no. Surely a skating glance at any member from everyone's favourite Christian rock group, Evanescence, proves that black clothes against a pale visage do not an appealing image make. And lo, we have yet another example of what this column shall pithily call women-doing-something-that-they-think-will-make-themselves-look-better-only-in-fact-ending-up-looking- a-helluva-lot-worse (see also: dieting, wearing too small clothes or too high heels.)

Because that, I fear, is why designers have, as you memorably put it, a Henry Ford mentality. It's not that they're so keen on black - if anything, they find it a bit of a drag because there are only so many black coats you can convince the masses to buy - it's just that they know it's the one shade that's guaranteed to sell. Break the bonds of fear, ladies, because the sad fact is that the only skin shade that makes black look good is, funnily enough, black, and occasionally brown. On everyone else, black makes them look anaemic or like a pretentious French philosophy student (bringing us back to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face - circle of life, eh?) And while few people want to look pretentious, absolutely no one wants to look like a philosopher. Ewww!

Thought for the day

Marguerite Duras by Avedon, 1993

People stop in amazement at the elegance of the foreigner who walks along unseeing. Like a queen . . . She's dressed in old European clothes, scraps of brocade, out-of-date old suits, old curtains, old models, moth-eaten old fox furs, old otterskins, that's her kind of beauty, tattered, chilly, plaintive and in exile, nothing suits her, everything's too big, and yet it looks marvellous. Marguerite Duras

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Voting in the Fabbies

After several technical glitches last weekend, the Fabbies have been relaunched. These are the fashion blog awards, and I'm delighted to have been nominated in the Best New Blog category, but there are many more to choose from. You can vote at the button on the right. If you voted last week, you may want to do so again on the redesigned site. The voting will be live through midnight GMT April 30, 2008. Here's what the organisers say:

The Fabbies are the first-ever, blogger-organized awards to recognize the top Fashion, Beauty and Lifestyle blogs from around the world. Various prestigious blog awards have existed for some time, but they repeatedly snubbed the Lifestyle Blogosphere, deliberately ignoring the growing power, influence and prestige of this group of bloggers. So, in typical entrepreneurial style, three bloggers decided to take action: The Manolo of Manolo's Shoe Blog, Tina Craig of Bag Snob, and Lesley Scott, Fashiontribes…with crucial assistance from Christina Jones of eBeautyDaily and Sam Francois of Papierdoll. One of the best features of the Fabbies is that it's a democracy. Rather than a few judges determining which blogs are "best" in 12 different categories (which showcase the impressive breadth and depth of the Lifestyle Blogosphere), it is the real experts – the blog readers, fans and supporters – that determine the winners with their votes, highlighting the deliciously freewheeling spirit of blogging.


You need to register on the site before you can vote.

Valentino on the model

"My dear, what can I tell you?" he sighs. "For a designer, models are never too thin, because when you have to present something in the right way, you are not obliged to see a full woman. It is like when a painter has an exhibition, the walls have to be white and perfect. For designers, when we present something, we don't want to be worried about proportion because the girl is too big or too fat."

Finito is Finto

Reader, she saved them

Today, in Britain it is Holocaust Memorial Day. There will be an event in Liverpool this evening. Jason Isaacs will be present.

The Observer has a remarkable little story of two British women who throughout the war wrote Mills and Boon romantic slush fiction, better known in Canada as Harlequin Romances in order to raise money to rescue Jews from the camps.

The mild-mannered spinsters became expert smugglers, regaling border guards with tales of the previous night's performance, switching labels in fur coats, and wearing real diamonds with outfits so dowdy that customs officers would presume the jewels were paste.

Desperate both to fund their trips and to assist refugees, Ida left the Civil Service and began as a romance writer, becoming one of Mills & Boon's most popular authors. For many decades after the war, Cook's writing supported her two passions: refugees and young opera singers. Her flat in Dolphin Square at various times housed homeless European families, Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi.

The sisters helped 29 people escape certain death, funded mainly by Ida's writing. In 1965, they were honoured as Righteous Gentiles by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel.

If you have a strong stomach, you can listen to the authentic voice of survivors recorded only a few days after the liberation of Belsen. It is the most eerie and disturbing recording I have ever heard.

That Armani Prive show

And that skirt again

Desperately seeking vintage

For the past couple of months I have been working an on-going piece about the revival of the Ossie Clark label. The Observer today looks not only at the revival of Ossie Clark but his American counterpart, Halston.

While tycoon Marc Worth, founder of fashion information business WGSN, has funded the Ossie Clark London revival which kicks off on 11 February with a show at London's Serpentine Gallery, the team behind Halston is far more glitzy. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's Weinstein Company (TWC) bought the brand in a deal with private equity firm Hilco Consumer Capital, and Tamara Mellon, founder of the Jimmy Choo shoe empire, will oversee the relaunch, which starts with a show in New York on 4 February. Mellon will be helped by, among others, Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe, who has dressed actresses including Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz. Jude Law is rumoured to be playing Halston in a forthcoming biopic produced by the company.
Halston with party girls
She goes on to explain why two defunct labels should be revived:
Sienna Miller in vintage Ossie Clark
The A-list interest in two labels from a bygone era is due to fashion's obsession with vintage clothing. Auction houses report sale prices of designer vintage have more than quadrupled in the past five years, and stores as diverse as high-street favourite Topshop and London's designer emporium Dover Street Market do a roaring trade in vintage clothing. Steven Philip, co-owner of London's top vintage boutique Rellik, said: 'Both labels spanned culture in a way that nothing has since. It's difficult to find another label that is associated with celebrities, clubs and music. Halston and Ossie conquered all three.' That affiliation endures today because stars who epitomise those values wear the labels. Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and Jennifer Anniston are regularly photographed in vintage clothes from these designers.

I don't know much about Halston, but having examined several Ossie Clark originals in the Islington atelier, what is evident is that they were designed by a man who knew something about the shape of a woman's body.

Thought for the day

Fashion must be the intoxicating release from the banality of the world. Diana Vreeland

Saturday, 26 January 2008

First review of The Clothes On Their Backs

In the Saturday Times.

LINDA GRANT IS a writer of perceptive journalism about the emotional resonance of clothes, and now explores the theme in greater depth in her latest novel, The Clothes on their Backs. Her heroine, Vivien Kovaks, slightly resembles a rawer, angrier version of one of Anita Brookner's dutiful daughters, waiting in a tightly suppressed agony of longing for life to happen.

She is the child of elderly Hungarian refugee parents. Her father “suffered from an anxiety: that any small disturbance in his circumstances would bring everything down - the flat, the wife, the job, the new daughter, London itself, then England, and he would slide down the map of the world, back to Hungary”.

As a bulwark against such catastrophe, the Kovaks cling to the solid, red-brick respectability of their rented mansion flat in Benson Court, off Marylebone Road in London.

As a child, Vivien discovers occasional chinks in this stifling atmosphere of anxious conformity - in 1963, when she is 10, she witnesses a violent doorstep altercation between her father and a man claiming to be her uncle; a man in an electric-blue mohair suit, with a diamond watch on his wrist and a black girl on his arm. Later, there is a brief, delicious encounter with an elderly neighbour, a fragile old woman whose legacy to Vivien is a trunk full of improbably glamorous clothes - “silks, satins, velvets... a momentary rain of richness” - which will provide her passport to the world beyond Benson Court.

. . .

The Clothes on their Backs is a novel fascinated with how outward appearance at once conceals, expresses and forms the inner person.

Such is the richness of Grant's plotting that the story encapsulates many untold narratives - of Vivien's second marriage, for example, and her life with her two “fat, fair English” daughters - while the significance of other narrative threads can sometimes seem strangely opaque. But that is really the central theme of the novel - that life itself is opaque. You try to analyse it as best you can, but sometimes it is impossible to see past the surface of things.

from the Times, read on

Thought for the day

For your own sake you should give her a new gown; for variety of dresses, rouses desire, and makes an old mistress seem every day a new one. William Wycherley 1640 -1716

Friday, 25 January 2008

In the current issue of Prospect magazine, I have a piece on why novelists and poets of all people are expected by readers to be experts in geopolitics. The article has been hidden behind a subscription button but I now find it's been picked up by a South African newspaper called The Weekender.

Here is a snippet and read on

Unluckily for those of us who write fiction or poetry or plays for a living, the reading public’s demand that every scribbler become a “writer of conscience" has sunk its teeth into our butts. There are few demands for accountants of conscience, or orthopaedic surgeons of conscience. So what is it about novelists and poets that makes us qualified to analyse political trends and influence public opinion?

The writer’s life consists of the following : staring in sick dread at a blank sheet of paper or Word document; typing something then deleting it; lying on the sofa daydreaming; staring out the window; making another cup of tea. Out of such banal conditions is literature made.

Writers are foolish people who mistake their own interior worlds for reality, who exaggerate for effect, who believe they can make the truth sound better than it is in its raw form, and who feel their way clumsily in the dark , operating without a plan.

Nonetheless, from time to time the writer turns on the television or reads a newspaper and discovers that wars are breaking out or that governments are about to be elected. Newspapers contact us to ask for our opinions. Are we for or against this war? How will we vote? We are flattered to be asked. The woman who runs the corner shop is not asked. Our bank managers are not asked. Our opinions must be of significance, and why not?

When you can only buy one thing, what should the one thing be

Thinking about the advice that a Valentino evening dress will last a girl forever, I am inclined to think that were I to spend a great deal of money on a single item, would it really be an evening dress?

The problem with spending so much on a statement dress is that if you wear it only five or six times a year, at grand parties (and I have far more use for cocktail dresses than evening dresses anyway) then whenever you go to a grand party, you will always be wearing the same dress. Back in 2000 I bought an evening dress at Liberty and wore it hard but finally it went to the charity shop for someone else to wear. I felt like every time I made an entrance, people were thinking, here she is, in that dress of hers. I haven't replaced it with another long dress, long having been out of style except on the red carpet for some years now.

In the Autumn, I saw an Armani Collezioni coat which made my heart stop. It was in my size and its price was £895 which I most definitely could not afford, having a couple of months earlier bought a Collezioni jacket. I didn't even dare try it on in case it stuck to me, as if I were a girl in fairy story, the cloth burning my skin. But if I had bought that coat, yes, I would have worn it for the rest of my life. Of course it would have to endure a few dark lonely seasons alone in the wardrobe, but out again it would come, eventually. If you can only buy one stand-out, knock-down, blow the overdraft garment, I'd buy something which can be accessorised. Something not made to be looked at but to make you look as if you have everyday elegance and style.

But don't let that stop you buying me Valentino dress.


Ten minutes later, I'm starting to think I'm being a bit boring and I should go for the Valentino dress after all. You only live once etc, and to walk into a room in a Valentino . . .

Why Armani is Armani

Jess Cartner-Morley, rounding up this week's couture shows, makes the following observation about Armani.

Giorgio Armani, although a relative newcomer to couture, is no slouch at making women look beautiful - which, after all, is the point here. Hilary Swank, in the front row, was in raptures, and it is easy to see why actors such as Swank and Cate Blanchett - women who play on having hard edges to their personality as well as softness, who have eyes that flicker and watch rather than just flutter beneath false lashes - are drawn to his gowns. The fabrics were pure couture princess: organza, puckered silk, chiffon muslin. But the silhouette, and the lines traced in bugle beads and Swarovski crystals, had a sleek, art deco Savoy-esque elegance.

The intelligent woman who also wishes to look beautiful, who cares about appearances and who understands that the body is not merely a wrap for the mind - the designer who can dress her (or shall we say us) will always outlive his flamboyant rivals .

Thought for the day

'What shall I wear?' is society's second most frequently asked question.The first is, 'Do you really love me? No matter what one replies to either one,it is never accepted as settling the question. Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Arrivederci Valentino

Last night’s show was filled with greatest hits — the narrow torsos, high busts, slim shoulders, feminine suiting and a spectacular finale of Valentino red evening dresses. It reminded everyone why Valentino outlasted all his contemporaries.

He did not over-license his name or succumb to drugs and certainly not to gimmicks. Fashionable but not fashion statements, classy but not dull, elegant but not stiff, a good Valentino evening dress will last a girl for ever. His successor, the Italian designer Alessandra Facchinetti, who was fired from Gucci, has a lot to live up to.

says Lisa Armstrong in the Times

I would like to do something serious, I don't say more serious than fashion

Valentino's final collection. The last great name from the Golden Age of Couture retires. And tells you what fashion is.

Watch the video

Can I go back to the aquarium now?

Jean-Paul Gaultier couture

Thought for the day

Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Conrad Aiken

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A couple of London sales

Hermes - 24 to 27 January

Up to 80% off Hermes womenswear, menswear, accessories and homewear.

24 to 27 January (10am to 6pm) 26 South Molton Lane, London, W1K 5AB.

Secret Sample Sale - 1 to 3 February

Studio/catwalk, showroom samples and clearance stock at to 80% discount

Studio/catwalk or showroom samples and clearance stock from London's designers, agents and retailers for men and women at up to 80% discount from retail price. Designers include Gharani Strok, Anna Rita N and Alchemist along with accessories from Jimmy Choo, Prada and Tods. 1 February (12pm to 7pm), 2 February (11am to 6pm) and 3 February (11am to 6pm) T2 , F Block, Old Truman Brewery, 1st Floor, 87 Brick Lane (opposite Woodseer Street)

Armani couture

A womanly shape for a woman's body. The bubble hem falls rather than gathers. Look at the slight flare of the sleeves. Look how the shoulders are cut. Pret a porter would lose the jacket decoration and it still would be a wonderful suit.

See the rest of the slideshow here

Thought for the day

Fashion is cleavage, style is collarbones. Betty Sue

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Anya Hindmarch

The Anya Hindmarch S/S08 lookbook arrived in the post this morning. I was in the Sloane Street shop on Saturday, staring at the Cooper which I will be receiving from the October press preview any day now.

Above is the Aretha. Check it out on What's New at NET-A-PORTER

Poll: Lipstick etiquette

I have heard that there is a transatlantic divide about the etiquette about reapplying one's lipstick in public. I would not bat an eyelid about taking out my (Dior) compact and my (Guerlain) lipstick and reapplying it at a restaurant table, but American friends say it is a vulgar no-no.

Vote on this matter on the right.

The Thoughtful Dresser competition - the winner

Thank you for all the wonderful entries, which I really enjoyed reading.

Many of you offered sage advice from parents and grandparents and much of it amounted to what is fast becoming the mantra of The Thoughtful Dresser - don't buy cheap clothes.

Toby Wollins' father laid down the invaluable rule that clothes should always fit on the shoulders; the cloth falls from there so if a garment doesn't fit properly there, it won't fit anywhere.

I adored Ingrid's Hungarian immigrant mother's advice 'Wear it like you mean it!' and it would have been in the running for the winner had I not already posted something much like it in a previous Thought for the Day.

I discovered the truth of Bernie's 'If it matches nothing it goes with everything' when I bought a cream handbag. And kagoo had a significant variant: 'Don't worry about whether this goes with that; if you buy what you love, everything will go with everything.'

V pointed out that 'the mistake a lot of people make is that they dress from a place of abject terror.' Very true.

Eve Gerrard, who is a philosopher, advanced the following erudite piece of wisdom: 'Fashion enables us, for a brief period, to see the beauty buried in even the most hideous of colours or shapes. However crude the colour or unflattering the style, fashion can temporarily transform it into something rich and strange and desirable. The vision doesn't last, of course, as the back of our wardrobes attests.' A brilliant description of how fashion works.

Cal's mother pointed out 'Never wear black to a party, no matter how beautiful the dress you will fade into the background because the men will be wearing dark jackets.' I observed this at several Christmas parties.

I loved Isabelle's 'Wear your inner beauty on your sleeve, but I was looking for an entirely original thought, and googling, I did find this one in use elsewhere.

So the winner is (drum roll) the very first entry, from Betty Sue whose grandmother advised her: "What is the difference between fashion and style? Fashion is cleavage, style is collarbones"

Fantastic and accurate observation.

Congratulations Betty Sue, and if you would email me at lindagrantblog[at] , I can arrange for your prize to be delivered. And your thought to be credited to you in its own stand-alone Thought for the Day.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Dior: a world of his own

Reports of the first Paris haute couture shows are coming in:

Today's Dior collection was based on the same conceit: clothes that appear girlishly light and frothy, but are in fact based on serious sartorial engineering.

So the torso of a leopard-print ballgown appeared to be wrapped gently around the waist, when in fact the apparent softness concealed a heavy-duty corset beneath; a voluminous opera coat, puffed up and proud as a perfect yorkshire pudding, was fashioned out of silk stiffened and printed to resemble crocodile skin. The art of pulling off dressmaking impossibilities with difficult fabrics is a tradition in haute couture, because it showcases the skill of the designer. Cristobal Balenciaga liked to work in heavy boiled wool because he knew no one else could fashion elegant silhouettes from this lumpish cloth.

But while Madame X wore unadorned black velvet, today's Dior outfits came in jewel-box brights, each encrusted so densely with embroidery that the catwalk resembled a box of giant jelly babies, brightly coloured and sugar-dipped. All the signature silhouettes of haute couture were featured: the cocoon-shaped coats, the mermaid-shaped dresses, the slender-sleeved peplum jackets. The parodic femininity of the tightly corsetted, impossibly long-limbed shapes was emphasised in the virtuoso make-up: feather eyelashes and diamante eyeliner, bringing together the aesthetics of the drag queen with the skill of the world's best make-up artists to stunning effect.

US advertising

In the course of the next week or so US readers will notice more US advertising. I have selected stores which fit in with the overall ethos of this site - high quality, high fashion clothing and accessories. Some of these sites will ship overseas and will offer advantageous prices given the size of the US market and strength of the pound.

Last day of the Thoughtful Dresser competition

I'm going to be picking a winner in the Thoughtful Dresser competition this evening and will announce the winner tomorrow morning. You still have a chance to enter, and check back tomorrow for the result.

Gentlemen's corner

Here is a picture from the Prada menswear show AW8. If you were to take a shirt and slit it down the back and then gird it with some horizontal braces and put it on Agyness Deane, I can guarantee that two things would happen: a) Victoria Beckham would be wearing the self-same shirt the following week b) a month later I would be standing on the tube looking at hordes of teenage girls shivering with cold backs.

And yet I can also guarantee that you are not going to see this shirt on anyone. You will, in fact, never see it again. Why? Because men are not mugs. They don't wear stuff like this, they get women to wear stuff like this.

But at last the worm is turning, according to the Guardian:

Now, female designers are getting their own back. At the menswear shows in Milan last week, two labels built in the image of their female figureheads put out autumn/winter collections that suggested things are only going to get tougher. After her show, Miuccia Prada told critic Suzy Menkes that her theme had been "the things that men usually do to women - it's revenge!"

Prada's male models had walked out in flashes of flesh-coloured fabric, trousers with frilled tops that looked like tutus, vests that stopped at navel height, and pants that poked above the tops of trousers like so many women's g-strings did for a spell in the late 1990s. A couple of days later, Marni, headed by designer-founder Consuela Castiglioni, put men in turtlenecked jumpers that ended just below nipple height and tops that zipped up at the back, ensuring that you would need a good strong woman's helping hand to get in and out of them. The designer even indulged in a bit of pointed name-calling - Marni's fur-coats were made of weasel.

Nice try, Miucca, but all the boys I know in their early twenties are still devoted to the perfectly draped low-slung baggy jeans and the perfect t-shirt. They found their uniform aged 15 and they have stuck to is, as has the man I mentioned yesterday who, having adopted the levis, t-shirt, leather jacket and boots ensemble worn when he climbed into his VW van back in 1968 to drive down to raise the Pentagon with Abbie Hoffman, has seen no reason to alter his style as he nears 60.

The extraordinary conservatism of men and their clothing is a twentieth century phenomenon. For a thousand years men dressed as peacocks. Now they don't. They dress for function. With some colour sense. Personally I find it quite boring, but perhaps it says something about a crisis of masculinity as a response to feminism - butch it out. Or maybe not. Others can offer their own thoughts on this matter, below.

Thought for the day

A policeman in plain clothes is one man; in his uniform he is ten. Clothes and title are the most potent thing, the most formidable influence in the earth. Thy move the human race to willing and spontaneous respect for the judge, the general, the admiral, the bishop, the ambassador, the frivolous earl, the idiot duke, the sultan, the king, the emperor,. No great title is efficient without clothes to support it. Mark Twain

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Long to reign over us

(This is what 62 can look like)
Within one second I am totally in awe of her. She is so confident and so beautiful that the thought of it flies out of my head. She is, to be honest, dazzling. She is wearing a black, strappy, knee-length linen dress with a red belt, a black shrug, black high heels and a bunch of pearls. Her hair is dyed the palest ash blonde and so expertly cut I want to ask her who did it. But it's her eyes that are so amazing. They are deep, deep greeny-grey-blue.Usually it's men who go into raptures about Helen Mirren. In the past I have been told she's a man's woman, but I say phooey to all that because she is as about as charming to me as she could possibly be. Not that there isn't a hint of steel in her. But how on earth could she have survived the past 40 or so years in her profession without developing a pretty tough skin?

read on

Literature and the planet

Philip Pullman, who is one of the nicest people I know, is interviewed today, about his life and his concerns for the environment: Well worth reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of highlights:

Frightening people is a very good way to make them passive and supine. You can be terrified into an abject denial of everything and you don't want to know about it: you just shut your eyes and your ears. But the most useful, the most helpful and most energising thing is to say: "You can do this, and this, and this, and you can press your Government to do that."

Environmentalists need to know something about basic storytelling in order to make their words effective. Samuel Johnson apparently said something I find very useful to remember: "The true aim of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it."

Research is much easier than writing, so the temptation is to shove all the research in. But page after page after page of the stuff goes by and, of course, people stop reading.

I suppose the real story, the basic story, the story I would like to hear, see, read, is the story about how connected we are, not only with one another but also with the place we live in. And how it's almost infinitely rich, but it's in some danger; and that despite the danger, we can do something to overcome it.

. . .

AS: What gives you a sense of wellbeing?

PP: My first answer would have to be a good day's work. If I have done my thousand words, my three pages, and it's gone well, then nothing else matters - I'm satisfied. If I've done it and it's gone badly, well, I can correct it tomorrow, it's there.

If I combine that with a little bit of exercise, a little bit of play, which for me involves usually making things with wood, or playing music, and if my family is well and happy, and I have something nice to eat - that would be a good day for me.

I am very lucky. And I'm wary of preaching about how we should live, because I know how lucky I am: very few people have the chance to do what they want to do and stop doing it when they want to, and I do. Mind you, for 30 years I didn't. I had to write in my spare time while I was doing other jobs.

So perhaps I am entitled to preach a little bit. I'm entitled to say that in order to do the thing you want to do then you have to do it, whether or not you've got the time. If it means missing Neighbours, then miss Neighbours, or EastEnders or whatever. You must ask which is more important to you in the end.

The Great Mutton debate - menswear

With with AW/08 collections about to kick off, in the Observer Jeremy Langmead, editor of Esquire, explains that for the past few years the menswear shows have been throwing stuff down the catwalks that looks like it should only be worn by the founders of facebook - beanie hats, jeans with the crotch slung down the mid-thigh. Who wants, he writes,

. . . to look like the work experience guy unless they are the work experience guy? More fun surely to look like the boss with the bonus, comfortable in your middle-aged skin, rather than tragically aping the low-slung, hip hop style of the mail boy?

Personally, I can't say I know any 40-year-olds who dress this way and I do know several style-conscious men (and one who recently replaced a US army surplus jacket he bought in New York in 1970 while in town from Boston for a demo against the Vietnam war, with another one exactly the same, which went in the wardrobe for 'best' while the original remains his everyday wear.)

But Jeremy assures me that

The kidult look that has, for the past three or four years, monopolised the catwalks and therefore the high streets - cue hordes of metropolitan men dressing like their children, a sad sight in every sense - may finally be on the way out. There are early signs that fashion-conscious men may start dressing like grown-ups again. Instead of baggy, low-slung jeans or skintight trousers, the designers are sending models down the catwalk looking like adults: three-piece suits, loose trousers and coats that actually keep the cold out. Gone are beanie hats and manbags; in are briefcases and spectacles.

Someone in Milan and Paris, the world's two most influential fashion hubs, has recognised that style-conscious metropolitan men with money, usually those from their thirties up, may be wearying of being forced to look as if they want nothing more than to get down with the kids.

And then he makes rather a cutting point:

It is women, in fact, who have helped men realise how dangerous the desire to look young can be. We have watched them submit themselves to the surgeon's knife, spend thousands on caviar-filled potions and eat nothing but low-cal yoghurt in order to fit into size six dresses. It doesn't look fun. Men might have been oafish enough to encourage it, but we're not foolish enough to follow it. While gender generalisations are never popular, men, on the whole, do tend to look a little longer before buying into something. And thankfully, with this youth cult thing, we've realised just in time that it's not worth the money.

And still we await the return of the doublet, hose and pantaloons.

Thought for the day

(Yoko Ono being presented to the Queen - there is only a seven year age gap between them)

A man must be a profound calculator to be a consummate dresser. One must not dress the same, whether one goes to a minister or a mistress; an avaricious uncle, or an ostentatious cousin; there is no diplomacy more subtle than that of dress. Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Saturday, 19 January 2008

At the sales

I went to the hairdressers' today at Sloane Square which is a brisk, ten-minute calorie-burning walk to Harvey Nichols so I dropped in to look at the final reductions in the sales. Since my resolution to stop buying cheap clothes my spending has dropped away to almost nothing, so with signs in the window saying up to 70 per cent off, I was well within my rights to see if they had anything I liked.

I tried on an Armani Collezioni jacket, at 60 per cent off, but it wasn't special enough to win a place next to all my other black jackets.

I tried an Anne Klein cocoon-shaped black wool coat, which was original, but the mark-down wasn't that great and I don't think the cocoon shape is a trend with any legs. And I have two black wool coats already.

I tried a DKNY short mac in a sensational yellow but it was too big.

I tried a Donna Karan slate jersey dress reduced from £1995 to £675 but thank god it was too small because I couldn't afford it.

And looking round I thought how utterly uninspired I felt by everything. Far too many of the dresses were too short, there was a world of black and beige and stone everywhere you looked. The clothes depressed me. Either they were ugly or they were unwearable. I looked in at Zara and saw a scrum of women fighting over tat, black tat.

Fashion has lost its bearings. The fad for cheap disposable style has revved up the speed of design, so trends come and go in a heartbeat, there's an air of desperation. There is nothing with authenticity and confidence, and nothing at all which issues that old siren call . . . wear me. Clothes have little relation to the bodies that they are supposed to dress.

Perhaps this is why there has been a retail slump. No-one wants to buy the stuff.

Look at all you derive just by being alive

Voting for the Fabbies

I know that my very good friend Manolo the Shoeblogger was infuriated when the annual blogging awards once again ignored fashion blogs so the fashion blogosphere has started its own which are going to be awarded at New York York Fashion Week.

I'm pleased to say that I have been nominated in the category best new fashion blog, and if you would care to vote, which you can do up till 30 January, you can go here

UPDATE The organisers have had several problems with the site which is now closed and also have now extended the voting until April.

Thought for the day

Dress has not only no social but also no significant aesthetic existence unless it is actually worn. Anne Hollander

Friday, 18 January 2008

The Normblog profile and forthcoming events


In which I answer such questions as what philosophical truth I think it most important to disseminate, who are my cultural heroes, etc.

My website now has an update listing of readings, literary festivals etc for the next few months here

There will be further details of events Melbourne coming soon.

Reminder - The Thoughtful Dresser competition

You have until Monday to enter the Thoughtful Dresser competition. Put your entries here

There have been 51 so far, keep them coming.

Hadley Freeman on the rise of granny chic

She's considering the inexplicable rise of vintage

Nonetheless, I think it's fair to say that the majority of pieces culled from vintage bargain bins tend to be things such as floral blouses and tweed skirts and I think it is similarly fair to say that they were probably last worn and then donated by more mature women. Yet because vintage had become a byword for a kind of eccentric trendiness, this has led to the strange sight of twenty- and thirty-something women in predictable parts of east London and similarly image-conscious areas proudly sporting too-tight tea dresses, frumpy cardigans and battered, Queen-like handbags.

Quite satisfying that young girls are wearing the ugly clothes and we get to wear the beautiful ones, no?

Thought for the day

She had a womanly instinct that clothes possess an influence more powerful over many than the worth of character or the magic of manners. Louisa May Alcott

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The world is all that is the case

The dire record of mainstream British publishers (not to mention the US, but that's a separate story) in publishing foreign fiction is exposed by this piece by Joan Smith in the Guardian today on the funding cuts to small presses like Arcadia which go out of their way to find foreign fiction which has been rejected by everyone else, as being uncommercial. I have been on the receiving end of this philistinism from the English-speaking world by American publishers whose rejection letters rave about my work but then say, in sorrow, it is 'too British.'

So with alacrity I co-signed the letter together with 500 other writers, including Doris Lessing, Alan Hollinghurst, James Kelman, Graham Swift and Lady Antonia Fraser, complaining about Arcadia's 25 per cent cut in Arts Council funding. Joan writes:

Believe me, there is no other way for such writers to get published in this country. The dreadful state of mainstream publishing is an open secret; profit and celebrity are what drives the industry, and marketing departments don't see either in a promising young Polish or Croatian novelist. Earlier this week, one of the country's most distinguished publishers told me he had snapped up a Swedish crime novel, which has been a runaway best-seller in Scandinavia, after it was turned down by just about every mainstream house in London.

This kind of risk-taking is almost unknown in commercial publishing these days. Mainstream houses are more interested in publishing Russell Brand and Jeremy Clarkson than confirming Britain's role at the heart of an expanded Europe by bringing the best European fiction to British readers.

It's precisely that narrow, philistine view of culture that's been confirmed by the Arts Council's drastic cuts to small publishers. That's why so many of us are up in arms, trying to save the government from a catastrophe that is entirely of its own making.