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

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Further Australia/New Zealand events and dates

My main website now has details of all the forthcoming events on this Australia/New Zealand tour

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Orchard Road, Singapore

I was supposed to be staying at a gracious old hotel slightly off the main drag, s I was alarmed when the driver who met me with a name sign at the airport took me to an entirely different hotel. Was it possible that I had jumped the limo of another Linda Grant? But a woman from the desk came out and gave me a faxed itinerary with the change of venue. The hotel is more like an airport than a lodging, but I cannot help but notice that outside it is Gucci, Prada and much else. In fact I seem to be right in the centre of shopping mile.

And having eaten a late Vietnamese lunch down by the river , and done masterclass to some fascinating writing students, and met a banker turned poet, and had a late Italian dinner, and got some sleep, and after a tv interview coming up at 9 am and a bunch of newspaper interviews afterwards, I examine the shops before leaving for the airport for the next leg of my journey: Singapore to Melbourne to Adelaide.

I hadn't realised Singapore was so much fun, and had not realised how many Singaporeans have English as their mother tongue. Someone really should write the great Singapore novel

Handcream update

Creme de le Mer handcream at Heathrow Duty free is £51. In the US its normal price is $70. I didn't get it.

They didn't have LOccitaine. I agree with others about Ahava, but I don't like the strong smell and you can't get it at duty free. So in the end I got Clarins. £13. I agree it's an excellent handcream, and it has an SPF. But it also has a slightly medicinal smell which I find off-putting. But beggars can't be choosers. £51 for handcream at Heathrow, $70 at Saks.

Singapore event tonight

Details here

Saturday, 23 February 2008

In which Saudi Arabia proves itself to be unexpectedly egalitarian

Usually it is women whose immodest dress and flirtatious manner is condemned as leading impressionable men to commit acts of sexual violence.

Saudi Arabia, however has rounded up 57 young men accused of wearing immodest dress, hanging round shopping malls and flirting. And loitering with the intent to buy red roses.

Saudi men arrested for 'flirting'
Young men in a shopping centre in Saudi Arabia (archive)
Relations between the sexes outside marriage is against the law
Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia have begun investigating 57 young men who were arrested on Thursday for flirting with girls at shopping centres in Mecca.

The men are accused of wearing indecent clothes, playing loud music and dancing in order to attract the attention of girls, the Saudi Gazette reported.

They were arrested following a request of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The mutaween enforce Saudi Arabia's conservative brand of Islam, Wahhabism.

Earlier in the month, the authorities enforced a ban on the sale of red roses and other symbols used in many countries to mark Valentine's Day.

The ban is partly because of the connection with a "pagan Christian holiday", and also because the festival itself is seen as encouraging relations between the sexes outside marriage, punishable by law in the kingdom.

The Prosecution and Investigation Commission said it had received reports of such "bad" behaviour by 57 young men at a number of shopping centres in the holy city of Mecca, the Saudi Gazette said.

The guardians of some of the men defended their actions, however, saying they would regularly get together at the weekend to have fun without ever violating laws governing the segregation of the sexes, it added.

Creme de la Mer handcream

US price $70

UK price £60 (approx $120)

Duty free would be minus 17.5% circa £49 (approx $98)

Oh, land of the free, home of the brave and the unlined.

Hand-cream: readers, please recommend

I am nearly out of my ruinously expensive Creme de la Mer hand-cream and if there's one thing I like to have on long-haul flights it's plenty of hand-cream. So I need to make a purchase at Heathrow duty free on Monday morning, and will accept recommendations.

If you know a fabulous drug store brand only available in the US, do tell, others may take advantage where I cannot.

Smocks - what are they good for?

I nipped down to Jaeger this morning to try on this top, thinking that I might be in need of a cool loose top on my travels.

Who exactly do smocks suit? Not me, and not most of the Jaeger customers, according to the intelligent and helpful saleswoman. 'Most of our ladies find that smocks make them look quite big,' she said.

I went to Cos and found a rather good navy coat, which I'll be travelling in. Click on the hyperlink and check out their SS08 collection on the video. Cos, for my American readers, is the upmarket arm of H&M, only available in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. Ha! And soon we'll have Banana Republic (20 March) and if ever we get Zappos, that'll be the end of those New York shopping weekends.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Not fashion

Joan Smith, who covered the Yorkshire Ripper murders in the early 80s, has an outstanding and lengthy analysis in the Guardian today on the sex trade and the Ipswich murders:

To begin with, it seemed as though nothing had changed since the 70s when Sutcliffe's murders unleashed a torrent of insensitive headlines about the women he preyed on in the red light districts of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Manchester. The Sun's "Fears for vice girls" on November 16 2006 was followed the next day by the same paper's "Fears for hookers", while the Times joined in on December 5 with "Ripper murder strikes fear into vice girls".

But public attitudes to women in the sex industry have changed, as the press quickly discovered. In Ipswich and elsewhere, people were outraged by TV and radio bulletins that baldly announced five "prostitutes" had been murdered in Suffolk. Many people are uncomfortable when the word is used in headlines as though it's no different from "teacher" or "dentist"; the dead women were daughters, mothers and girlfriends but their whole lives were being defined by something they had embarked on out of absolute desperation. "As soon as it became a national story, it became apparent that the language used to describe the women was inappropriate," says a journalist who went to Ipswich when the third body was found. "Everybody knew one of the victims or had been to school with one of them."

That yeti look, again


MaxMara AW08 - do the designers know something we don't? Or haven't they heard of global warming?

On the road

From early Monday I am on a three-week book tour of Singapore, Adelaide, Melbourne, various places in New Zealand, culminating in a one-day shopping trip in Hong Kong. (Thank you, Sarah.) Details of the events will be going up on my main website in the next day or two.

I will be maintaining this site, but it will be more of a travel diary. No thought for the day, I'm afraid, or polls.

In the meantime, I'm pleased to say that I have just signed a contract with my publisher to write a non-fiction book about our relationship with clothes. The provisional title was Why Clothes Matter, but my editor has come up with a better name: The Thoughtful Dresser. Now why didn't I think of that? Publication is scheduled for this time next year.

I hope to meet some of you in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In the meantime, keep checking in.

Thought for the day

in memoriam: Gemma Adams, Tania Nichol, Anette Nichols, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell

'"My dear, I had to laugh," she said. "D'you know what a man said to me the other day? It's funny, he said, have you ever thought that a girl's clothes cost more than the girl inside them?' 'What a swine of a man, ' I said. 'Yes, that's what I told him,' Maudie said. That isn't the way to talk,' I said. And he said, "Well, it's true, isn't it? You can get a very nice girl for five pounds. a very nice girl indeed; you can even get a very nice girl for nothing if you know how to go about it. But you can't get a very nice costume for five pounds. To say nothing of underclothes, shoes etcetera, and so on." And then I had to laugh, because after all it's true, isn't it? People are much cheaper than things.' Jean Rhys

Thursday, 21 February 2008

An apology to my American readers


The name is Bond, James Bond

For the past forty or so years we in Britain may have given you the impression that our security services are staffed by devilishly handsome, impeccably tailored men in Aston Martins who exclusively drink martinis shaken not stirred and who have a license to kill.

Due to the the subpoenaing of the retired head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove, to the inquest of Princess Diana yesterday, we must now concede that this is not the case:

He was MI6's director of operations from 1994 to 1999, and served as head of the agency from 1999 to 2004.

He denied that any assassinations took place under his authority.

Ian Burnett QC, for the coroner, asked him: "During the whole of your time in SIS, from 1966 to 2004, were you ever aware of the service assassinating anyone?"



Sir Richard replied: "No, I was not."

He added that the service was legally required to seek authorisation from the Foreign Secretary to carry out any operation which involved breaking the law.

actor

A rocket aimed at Moscow

'That collection was like a rocket aimed at Moscow and Brazil and many other places that are influencing through capital and other means the rest of the world.'


So writes Cathy Horyn in her NYT blog of the Milan shows this week. We labour under the illusion that designers design clothes for us, whoever us is. She goes on

I kept thinking, as Zegna pointed to this row of fabulous shoes and that display of $10,000 vicuna jackets, “Who buys all this stuff?” America is hurting, so is Japan. But Zegna told me that nearly 20 percent of the company’s sales now come from the so-called emerging markets, like Brazil, Russia, China and parts of the Middle East, and that’s happened in just a matter of a few years. And the runways shouldn’t reflect that fact both in design and the casting of the models? It’s an interesting reality challenge for fashion companies, maybe more so for its design leaders like Prada.


Of the Gucci show, the Telegraph writes:

The Gucci designer, Frida Giannini, staged a Russian Revolution at Milan Fashion Week this evening.

Gucci autumn/winter 2008/2009 collection
Russian Revolution: Frida Giannini's new a/w collection for Gucci

Her models invaded the Gucci catwalk as a band of sexy Cossacks in folklore-printed tunics, heavy metal hip-belts, skin-tight jeans bristling with studs and riding boots, embellished with long, whip-like, leather thongs.

If, at times, they looked more like early 1970's Rolling Stones' girlfriends, this was exactly what Giannini intended.

Her aim was to combine the bohemian mood of Paris at the turn of the century when Russian émigrés transformed the arts and theatrical scene, with the kind of 'boho chic' in vogue when The Stones recorded 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)'.

The semi-colon



From the Guardian, today:

New York has been celebrating the semicolon; a development as welcome as it is unexpected. According to the New York Times, an announcement about the disposal of newspapers, posted on the city's subway, which was to have read: "Please put it in a trash can, that's good news for everyone" was amended by some scholarly hand in the marketing department to insert a semicolon in place of its comma. Congratulations have followed, and rightly; it is usually seen as bad practice to join two sentences together with a mere comma, that is something only the semi-literate do. "In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising", the New York Times reports, "the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism." Not, however, in the Guardian, whose most famous editor was unusually fond of the creatures. The speech in which he declared that comment was free but fact sacred is peppered with them, as in: "It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair." That is how the semicolon ought to be used - as a kind of necessary staging post on the way to the end of the sentence; or as the great authority Fowler put it, to indicate "a discontinuity of grammatical construction greater than that indicated by a comma but less than that indicated by a full stop". This is, of course, dangerous territory; where pedants are on the prowl. Even the best intentioned will sometimes blunder; but as Alexander Pope impeccably said: "To err is human; to forgive, divine."

Thought for the day

Annie Hall

Being 'well-dressed' is not a question of having expensive clothes or the 'right 'clothes - I don't care if you're wearing rags - but they must suit you. Louise Nevelson (sculptor)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Diana: The Movie

Over on this side of the pond, dear readers, we remain in thrall to the latest testimony of Mohammed al Fayed at the Diana inquest.

My friend George Szirtes has written the scenario for a forthcoming blockbuster based on the Harrods owner's penetrating insights into the British Establishment (I particularly enjoyed his rejoinder to the judge who asked if he had any evidence - 'How can I have evidence? There is a ring of steel around the security services.'

20.02.08 : FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA AND THE WOLFMAN



The Mohamed Fayed story has gone down in history as a mixture of pathos and comedy. I can't entirely resist the comedy element. Particularly this, of course:

The murder was, he said, the result of an audacious plot hatched by Prince Philip, who was not only a member of the Frankenstein family but also the real ruler of Britain and a crypto-Nazi. Philip was assisted by his son Prince Charles, Mr Al Fayed claimed; they were the two principal royal plotters, the senior male members of what he called a "Dracula family".

Hard to resist the conjunction, that is, of Frankenstein being a member of the Dracula family. Then there is the 'Crocodile Princess'. It's good. It's very good, but he hasn't gone far enough in my opinion. It's a missed opportunity. Here, after all, is a horror movie to trump all previous horror movies such as King Kong vs Godzilla and Frankenstein meets The Wolfman.


Scenario:

Prince Philip (Frankenstein) is plotting with Prince Charles (Dracula) - OK, I know even the Daily Mail has got so far, but are too thick to go on - the murder of innocent naive American tourist, Diana (played by Tuesday Weld).

He enlists the help of the Queen (Bride of Frankenstein, natch), Rupert Murdoch (The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and a nauseating butler (The Blob).

Alistair Campbell (The Wolfman) persuades Tony Blair (Child of the Damned) to arrange an accident employing the driver, Henri Paul (The Alien) of Diana and Dodi (Jack Nicholson) to drive into bright flashlights operated by Russell Brand (The Mummy) on 'The Night of the Living Dead'.

Paparazzi (Zombies) enter and eat everything in sight.

Dracula marries The Crocodile Princess and she gives birth to Captain Hook.

It's a winner. Ridley? Wes? Abbott and Costello?...

Deception

One of the advantages of having a soi disant relationship with the media, is that you do get to know about what the press cannot, for various reasons (usually legal) report. So from time to time one hears things that are not in the public domain but for which the the word is so firmly out, that it's only a matter of time before it goes mainstream. Charles and Diana's marriage being on the rocks, was one such story I remember hearing, as early as the late 80s.

You go along for years thinking that certain fabulous women in their fifties and sixties look fabulous because of a combination of personal, beauty, lucky genes, good diet, exercise, facials, and make-up artists, and believe that if only you could put the same dedication into your appearance as they do, why, you too could look - not as good, but a bit as good.

And then you find out that all is an illusion. Facelifts, botox, fillers. They have all had it done. Do I blame them? No, I don't. If your career is dependent on how you look, then you do what you must do. And we can stop beating ourselves up because we don't look like that. For unless we're prepared to go under the knife, the fact is, we won't. I hope I have made myself clear.

Beauty awards

The Telegraph's beauty editor hands out her annual awards.

In the past year I have also convinced by this, which has replaced the ruinously expensive Eve Lom cleanser in my bathroom:

For taking it off, my Best Cleanser prize must go to Liz Earle's Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser (£10.25, lizearle.com). If there is a beauty secret to let you in on, this is it.

Beauty editors and models rave about it and I've been hooked ever since I first tried it. It's a simple, creamy lotion, containing almond milk, rosemary and eucalyptus, which you apply with your fingers and take off with a wet muslin cloth.

It removes all your make-up and the cloth gives you a gentle exfoliation. Furthermore, it's pretty cheap. Friends says that it's helped with everything from acne to mild eczema.


Strictly speaking, it's not new this year but it's easier to get hold of thanks to a new shop opening in London (53 Duke of York Square, Kings Road, SW3) and is available in selected John Lewis stores.



And here's something I didn't know about

The gong for Best Lash Enhancer goes to Lancôme's Hypnôse Strass topcoat (£19.50), which is currently flying off make-up counters.

The thought of adding a shiny layer on top of mascara sounds WAG-ish, but it's a subtle way of giving lashes some va-va-voom for a big night out. In fact, dozens of celebrities were spotted having it added by make-up artists at the Baftas last week. Expect a raft of copycat products.

All hail Anya!


Anya Hindmarch speaks!

The designer and maker of all my bag purchases in the past 18 months explains all:

My bags are about craftsmanship. If I could be allowed just one from my extensive collection, it would be my bespoke Ebury that has a lovely message inscribed inside from my husband and children. And I want my children to pass it down. My mother gave me one of her Gucci cast-offs when I was 16 and it made me feel fantastic. The power of that handbag was the impetus for my business. I was planning to go to university, but went to Italy and found a bag that I thought women would like. I sent it to Harpers and Queen, they placed it in the magazine and I ended up selling 500.

If I had to describe the brand in three words, they would be: British, humorous and bespoke. It’s still very connected to London, where it started in 1993. I am British and proud to be so, plus you absorb so much of what is around you. When I started, I spent time in Hackney, alongside leather and metalworkers, so it’s really part of the brand’s DNA. What I like is the feeling that anything can happen in London.

It is very frustrating when you see a copy of one of your bags. So much hard work has gone into each one. Often we can take 15 or 16 attempts to get an angle right. That said, when I saw my first copy on Canal Street in New York, there was a moment of “Yes! We’ve made it”, quickly followed by: “What creeps, you’ve stolen my idea.”

Thought for the day



Shoes are the first adult machines we are given to master. Nicholson Baker

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Not perfect, but she brightened things up

I have an alibi, Mr Fayed

crocodile wife

Emporio Armani

New York Paris London Milan


I asked last week which of the global centres was the most fashion forward. I was referring of course to the collections, not street style. Not many of you ventured an opinion but those that did voted for Paris.

For my money, Italy is ahead of the rest when it comes to beautiful, wearable, womanly clothes: just look at Armani, Valentino and Alberta Ferretti.

New York is close behind for clothes for the working woman.

But it is London and Paris that are streets ahead in terms of innovation and determining trends. And Paris takes London's greatest designers - Galliano, McQueen and synthesises the traditions of British tailoiing and British eccentricity and street style, with Parisian chic and couture skills. That's what makes Paris Paris. The world epicentre of fashion.

Comfort make-up


Never have I heard the this experience described so accurately before.

You know how it is. You’re pregnant with your second child, you’ve got the first one howling at your hip, you haven’t brushed your hair and you may well be wearing yesterday’s pants and, whoa – you bump into an ex-boyfriend. He has his arm slung casually over the shoulder of some slip of a thing, all skinny jeans and floppy spaghetti bra-straps. They’ve clearly spent the morning in bed. You, on the other hand, haven’t slept properly for a year, and have the kind of bra straps that would hold up the Severn Bridge.

. . .

You can almost hear him saying it: “Honestly, babe, she never looked like that when I was going out with her.” You fancy you hear her giggle.

Just you wait, you seethe under your breath, just you wait, and then suddenly you feel utterly deflated. You catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop mirror and before you know it, you’re in SpaceNK and talking to a lady with eyelash extensions. You want something for under the eyes, a cream to get rid of wrinkles, maybe some mascara, blusher and, yes, a lipstick, definitely a lipstick. Nothing gives you a lift like lipstick, does it? You don’t even ask for prices. Twenty minutes later you leave almost £100 lighter, clutching a bag of tricks you know you’ll never use but which, magically, makes you feel better.

Comfort make-up. It’s a lot like comfort eating, only more expensive and less fattening. And no one does it better than Laura Mercier.

Thought for the day


Fantastic garbs succeed each other, like monster devouring monster in a dream. Thomas Carlyle

Monday, 18 February 2008

Give me that dress


Alberta Ferretti, AW08

Jessica is fooling around behind your back

a propos of nothing II



Patrick Dempsey is the new face of Versace

Dressing in tribes


Utterly fascinating piece about how we dress in tribes

There is a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where the eponymous hero addresses a vast crowd of devoted followers who have mistaken him for the Messiah. 'You are all individuals,' he shouts. 'Yes,' they reply with one voice. 'We are all individuals.'

It is the sort of joke that delights Dutch photographer Ari Versluis, who has spent the last 14 years documenting the disconnection between our human desire to feel unique while also belonging to a greater whole. Since 1994, he and his stylist, Ellie Uyttenbroek, have travelled the world seeking to document the dress codes of different social and cultural groups. What they discovered was a series of modern fashion tribes - people who dress the same, often without even realising it.


Thought for the day


Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something, and that something is to a large extent outside the control of our conscious minds. James Laver

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Madame Gres - the couturier time forgot

My piece in today's Telegraph about Madame Gres

For many years I had heard the name Madame Grès and thought I knew who she was, for it conjured an image of one of the indefatigable Mayfair dressmakers who, from the 1930s to the 1950s, ran up copies of French fashions for well-dressed Englishwomen without the budget for the originals. But Madame Grès was the original, a Paris couturière to rival Lanvin and Chanel, once as famous as both of them. In her time she dressed Marlene Dietrich, the socialite Nan Kempner, Jacqueline Onassis and Barbra Streisand. That she is now forgotten, and her house merely a name in license held by a Swiss company, is a lesson in the difficulties of charting a course into the fashion history books.
Alix Gres
Madame Grès photographed by Diane Arbus for 'Harper’s Bazaar'

All clothes at some point take on the appearance of fancy dress before they are reincorporated into fashion again, but not hers. Looking at the dresses she made in the 1930s, one is struck not by their modernity but also by their timelessness. Influenced by the ideals of classicism, she made evening gowns that sculpted the human form, using techniques practised only by herself, a specialist skill known as draping, quite distinct from tailoring.

Why is she not better known? As a new book, Madame Grès: Sphinx of Fashion, reveals there were several reasons: because she made some disastrous business choices; because for the first part of her career she designed under another name and had to rebuild her reputation during the difficult circumstances of the German occupation; and because she never courted publicity. Working in complete solitude, she was 'more Garbo than Garbo', according to the fashion journalist Cathryn Horn. Only in the aftermath of her death and the bizarre revelations about her fate - she died penniless, forgotten, the announcement of her death suppressed by her daughter - did she come again to public attention.

Observer review

Vivien Kovaks comes from a family of 'mice-people', Jewish-Hungarian immigrants who arrived in 1938 and are simply grateful to England for giving them refuge. This is a novel about identity and belonging. There is nothing lightweight about its themes and yet it is so artfully constructed that you barely feel you're reading it at all, so fluid and addictive is the plot. But like all the best books, the serious ideas it raises stay with you for a long time afterwards.
. . .

This is a wonderful, tightly written novel that charts one woman's emotional life while weaving in politics, history and morality. It does not come to any easy conclusions: the murderous Sandor is no less of a monster than his silently raging but impotent brother Ervin, who is sleepwalking through life. Ultimately, though, Sandor's defence does not wash; by choosing a path of violence and revenge, he descends to the depths of the fascists he hates.

Grant does not hit you over the head with politics, though. She transports you to another era and into another woman's life so gently and effortlessly that it is not until the end of the book that you realise the points she is making are universal and timeless. This novel is above all a quiet masterclass in the perils of hypocrisy. No man is all good or all bad. And a decent suit can make you overlook a lot.

more




Saturday, 16 February 2008

Scotsman interview

There's an interview with me in today's Scotsman newspaper, in which, among other topics, I speak of the readers of this blog:

Grant, who has been interested in clothes all her life, last October even started a blog, thethoughtfuldresser.blogspot.com, as a forum for intelligent discussion. It is subtitled: "Because you can't have depths without surfaces."

But isn't it dangerous, taking fashion seriously? Doesn't she run the risk of being dismissed as frivolous. Is it any sillier than talking about football, a topic near and dear to men's hearts? "Yes, it's identical. And the world wouldn't cease to exist if football ceased to exist; you can live without it, but you can't live without clothes.

"In terms of living without fashion, it's very difficult to find any society which has suppressed the interest in dress and clothing. The Puritans tried it for ten years – a complete failure. So they go to America and try to do it there and again it's a failure. It must be a deep human instinct to adorn the body, to change it through clothing. I would say that it's as central to our nature as a desire for art.

"I wanted to write about clothes the way women think about clothes. It's not the case that if we write about clothes we might as well write chick lit. Judith Krantz wrote the very first books that really talked about labels. She was good at portraying how people got dressed and what they wore at a given moment. I felt it was possible to incorporate that into literary fiction. I felt it was a subject generally neglected by male writers in the 20th century, because it's not manly. But we all wear clothes and most women are interested in them. In this novel clothes are at the centre of absolutely everything and at the heart of the book. It's asking questions about survival and how clothes affect a multitude of situations."

. . .

Her next project is a non-fiction book exploring why clothes matter and why we care about what we wear. To that end, her blog is partly a research tool. Via the comments section, Grant has discovered her readership comprises a highbrow crowd, women who work in embassies, in politics, even someone using a Nasa log-in. This doesn't surprise me at all, being an intelligent, fashion-curious gal myself. I can't wait to read this as-yet-unwritten book. In the meantime, I'll console myself with Grant's backlist.


read the rest

Daily Telegraph review

Naked we come into the world, and naked we leave it. Linda Grant, whose career spans both prize-winning fiction and journalism about fashion, has written a novel about the way clothes can offer a new beginning, even in the face of bereavement.

Transformers: clothes maketh the woman
Transformers: clothes maketh the woman

Vivien, her heroine, has lost both her husband and her father in one year. Dumpy and despondent, she passes by the boutique where Eunice, her Uncle Sandor's ex-mistress, is having a closing-down sale.

Her encounter with Eunice - and her discovery of her tapes of Uncle Sandor's memoirs - lead to an account of her past.

This includes her relationship with her immigrant Hungarian parents and her wicked Uncle Sandor - a rogue inspired by the slum landlord Peter Rachman, whom her father loathes, and forbids her to see: "My parents had brought me up to be a mouse. Out of gratitude to England, which gave them refuge, they chose to be mice-people, and this condition… was what they hoped for me too. And whatever Uncle Sandor was, he was no mouse."

This vivid, enjoyable and consistently unexpected novel is like Anita Brookner with sex.


Amanda Craig in the Daily Telegraph

Made in Italy?


In Harvey Nichols yesterday with my sister we came across the Alberta Ferretti dress I hope to have copied.

It's a stunning dress but, as my sister pointed out on close examination of it, do we really want to pay £895 for a garment whose side seam is puckered from under the sleeve to the bottom of the hem? And would one put up with that if one was having it made by a dressmaker?

Thought for the day


Diana Vreeland

Three-tenths of a good appearance are due to nature; seven-tenths to dress. Chinese saying.

Friday, 15 February 2008

London event

I will be doing one London event for The Clothes On Their Backs before leaving for Australia and New Zealand. The event is at Jewish Book Week* on Sunday 24 February, interviewed by Rachel Seiffert, whose first novel was shortlisted for the Booker.

Full details here

*You don't have to be Jewish

Fashion and conceptualism

Christopher Kane

Jess Cartner-Morley, in the Guardian, one of Britain's most intelligent and thoughtful fashion editors (her degree is in history) says this of the shows at London Fashion Week:

I start with the designers' ideas rather than the clothes themselves because ideas, rather than clothes, were what this week's collections seemed to be about. If London fashion week was uncharacteristically commercial last season, this week it retreated back underground. Last season's blockbuster collections were replaced by arthouse looks that made little attempt to appeal to the mainstream.

And while new ideas are a necessity for a good fashion week, they don't make a good fashion week by themselves. Great catwalk moments are made when a designer can take an idea and turn it into clothes that are not only original and interesting but beautiful and desirable in their own right. Alexander McQueen and John Galliano are the current masters of this - but although both are British, stage their catwalk shows in Paris. One of the most promising students of this on the current schedule is Noki, who makes his collection entirely out of second-hand clothing, giving punch to his message of sustainability by creating fantastical catwalk pieces that are more haute couture than hair shirt.

The bad stuff happens when designers drape fabric on to models in order to represent their ideas in a literal way, instead of really setting their mind to thinking through how to make those ideas work as clothes. The result is that the catwalk looks like a bad puppet show. But the flipside of the cerebral attitude of London designers is that when the clothes do work - when they go the extra mile, add the touch of magic that transforms the ideas into real clothes - they tend to be much more interesting to look at than clothes in, say, New York, which are usually great for making your legs look long but not exactly food for thought. Christopher Kane, Todd Lynn, Sinha Stanic and Giles Deacon all hit the jackpot, delivering collections that felt like clothes, not concepts.



Independent review

Grant bravely explores – and exposes – such unfashionable viewpoints. Her novel is at once a beautifully detailed character study, a poignant family history and a richly evocative portrait of the late 1970s. The book's sole significant flaw is its failure to establish its extensive clothing imagery as the overarching metaphor for which it strives. Attempting a career as a literary journalist, Vivien summons "all the cruelty of the first-time reviewer trying to make her mark". This long-term reviewer has mellowed, for it is a joy to welcome such a vibrant and thought-provoking book.

more

Thought for the day


I should like my dress to be a poem about myself, my persona, the outward and visible presentation of my individuality. And that particular mode and fabric and manner which I should choose might not at all recommend itself to my next-dooor neighbour. Indeed, I hope it would not. For the loveliest and most human thing about humanity is the infinity of its types and modes of manifestation.

'A Girl Graduate'
Pall Mall Gazette 1884

Thursday, 14 February 2008

What you see is not what you get

Last week I wrote about Net a Porter's decision to sell two dresses from the previous day's Halston show on its site.

Cathy Horyn, the New York Times' fashion writer decided to order a dress having actually seen the show. And here's what happened:

The dress arrived Wednesday afternoon at the office. The delay didn’t really bother me. What’s one day compared to waiting five or six months, as you normally would for a fall 2008 dress. But I was disappointed with the dress. Although Net-a-Porter had clearly described the dress as wool jersey, I had seen the style in the show—and it was in sleek silk satin and a warmer tone. Further, the dress didn’t seem to be worth $1,495. Unlike the thousands of women who logged into Net-a-Porter, I had had the advantage of seeing the collection in the studio and on the runway, and the clothes had seemed more substantial to me. I was also having trouble seeing what distinguished this wool jersey dress from another designer make, and, frankly, I had been seduced by the silk version on the runway. It looked cooler. Also, the dress didn’t fit—that was my fault. I should have gone for the 42—or, anyway, something smaller. I looked a little schlumpfy, if you know what I mean.

wool Halston dressThe Halston’s wool jersey dress that Ms. Horyn ordered, size 44, from Net-a-porter. (Evan Sung for The New York Times)

Was this a case of bait and switch? Was the wool jersey shirt dress part of the runway collection or was it a so-called commercial look done specially for Net-a-Porter’s Halston sale?

A day or so later, I learned that the wool jersey dress was supposed to be on the runway—it’s listed, in fact, on the run-of-show—but at the last minute Marco Zanini, the Halston designer, had pulled it and substituted the satin shirt-dress. Zanini told me yesterday that he had switched dresses because there was already a lot of wool jersey on the runway—one of the long, draw-string evening dresses is in the same fabric, as is a teal gown.

what was on the runway

I also telephoned Bonnie Takhar, the chief executive of Halston, and shared my consumerist misgivings about the dress. She was concerned. She said the dress came from the same factory that had made the samples, so the quality should be identical. (Neither Takhar nor Massenet will say how large the initial Net-a-Porter was, but production and delivery of the garments from the factory took about 30 days, which Takhar said was normal.)

Anyway, I said to Takhar that, apart from the size, maybe the problem was the dress didn’t seem in the same stylish company as the other runway pieces, and not as flattering (to my eye) as the satin shirt dress. Obviously it would have helped if BOTH styles, the low-back draped shift and the jersey shirt dress, had been on the runway, given all the ballyhoo about the runway-to-consumer concept. Takhar agreed. She then offered to have my dress styled as it would have appeared on the runway.

Which Zanini did yesterday, using a size-44 model and pairing the dress with a sleeveless cashmere turtleneck and high suede boots. In Halston’s defense, it looked great—and better, I think, without the sash belt that comes with each dress. Net-a-Porter has sold out of the brown shirt dress, though it still has a size left in the teal, and Massenet told me last Friday that she had not heard any displeasure from customers.

Giles Deacon: London Fashion Week experiments with sharia law

Thank You, Anya Hindmarch


This is mine in caramel (above)

This is it in cream

A courier has just arrived at my door with the currently waiting-list only Anya Hindmarch Cooper in caramel. I didn't even spot one at London Fashion Week, amongst the dozens of AH bags carried on the arms of the ingathered fashionistas.

Check it out here, or on Net a Porter or Saks.

Also delivered, in the nick of time for my Australia trip was an AH upright trolley just the right size to be an airline carry-on, as sold here, but in beige and gold.

Tribute to Saul Bellow

(pictured below contradicting the Thought for the Day)

On his death in 2005, I wrote:

Even if he was not writing, it was enough to know that Saul Bellow was alive and thinking. When I heard the news of his death on the radio on Wednesday morning, I screamed aloud in rage and sorrow because what Bellow had to tell us in his fiction was that it was worth it, being alive.

His vigour, vitality, humour and passion were always matched by the insistence on thought, not the predigested cliches of the mass media or of those on the left which had began to disgust him by the Sixties. 'I knew that what you need in a big American city was a deep no-affect belt, a critical mass of indifference,' he wrote in Humboldt's Gift. The Bellow character kept insisting on the right to feel that something mattered, it was an entirely personal integrity, the keeping of the terms of a contract, which was to know. And those characters knew a lot - the social conditions of the tenements they grew up in, Aristotle, Tolstoy, Al Capone. How to dress, how to make love.

. . .

Bellow was a writer about conscience and consciousness, forever conflicted by the competing demands of the great cities, the individual's urge to survival against all odds and his equal need for love and some kind of penetrating understanding of what there was of significance beyond all the racket and racketeering.

In the Fifties, he shared a place with Arthur Miller in Nevada while they fulfilled the residency requirements to divorce their wives. Bellow would go out to the desert and practise the therapy of the moment, the primal scream. That was him: I want I want I want. The yearning soul, now, unbelievably, silent.


Further review

From The London Paper

The Clothes on Their Backs
Linda Grant
Virago, £17.99

Award-winning novelist, journalist and creator of the increasingly indispensable fashion blog thethoughtfuldresser.blogspot.com, Linda Grant returns with the story of the introspective yet passionate Vivien. Born to mild-mannered Hungarian refugees in 1953, she grows up in a red-brick Marylebone apartment wondering what the world might hold for her. While her parents are reluctant to explore either their surroundings or their emotions, Vivien becomes fascinated by the appearance of a flamboyant uncle at the doorstep one day – a curiosity only fuelled when her father refuses to speak of him again. Their inevitable reunion provides Vivien with an education that is as harsh as it is glamorous, as she develops an understanding that it's the clothes we wear as much as the secrets we keep that define us. As a portrait of London in the 20th century, a coming-of-age tale and an explanation of why fashion is more than just frocks, it's a sublimely atmospheric and deeply moving novel.
Alexandra Heminsley

In which I completely disagree with Hadley Freeman

great length!
who writes:

With regard to the former, the slim and straight tunics - essentially long dresses without sleeves - are easily commercial, while the low-slung tuxedo-style trousers were some of the most flattering pieces seen all week. On the downside, the below-the-knee hem lengths, often described euphemistically as "awkward", would make anyone under 5ft 10in look like a squat mushroom, a comparison only consolidated by the muted colour palette. If Virginia Woolf were alive today, and perhaps worked in a publisher's office, her wardrobe would be sorted.

Pants to that


Can anything be more fatuous than this particular enterprise: a pair of orange knickers emblazoned with handcuffs, so when you drop your drawers you automatically think of Guantanamo:

As is the case in the happiest of marriages, this natural combination inevitably produced a most striking offspring: a pair of knickers in what is being described as "Guantánamo Bay orange", mini handcuff dangling from the front and the catchy slogan "Fair trial my arse" emblazoned on the, um, back. Happy Valentine's day, sweetie!

This is not the first time Agent Provocateur has mixed slogans with silk. There were the seductive knickers embroidered with the statement "The only Bush I trust is my own" because every woman secretly loves to wear a political pun on her pants. And it's a style that comes naturally to Corre, whose mother Vivienne Westwood likes to wear a shirt that informs onlookers: "I am not a terrorist."


But is there not a risk that flogging orange pants might diminish the seriousness of the politics behind them? Martha Lane Fox, a trustee of Reprieve, shrugs: "The absurdity of this collaboration reflects the absurdity of Guantánamo Bay, in which people are held indefinitely without fair trials. The pants are no more absurd than that."

No, the pants are absurd, the suspension of habeus corpus is something else again.

I notice when I go to the Agent Provocateur website there's a soft-porn video on the front.

Thought for the day

Saul Bellow

Poets, artists, and men of genius in general are seldom coxcombs, but often slovens; for they find something out of themselves better worth studying than their own persons. William Hazlitt

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Love that girl



Erin O'Connor on how to get through London Fashion Week


I can’t get through fashion week without pair of flip flops: you need to let your feet breathe in between wearing high heels. And when it gets cold I wear thick socks and Birkenstocks. I always carry around a packet of mints, because champagne does weird things to your breath.

The Thoughtful Dresser on the road

My apologies for the intermittent posts here. A combination of the publication The Clothes On Their Backs, London Fashion Week and my imminent departure on 25 February for a tour of Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong have curtailed my time.

Fuller details of events will be going up on my main website in a day or two. For those of you in Singapore, there will be a book talk and signing under the auspices of the British Council at the Arts House on 26 February. Full details are here, and advance registration by email is required. This will be followed by a series of media interviews the following day: with Channel News Asia Prime Time Morning (live) at 9.20 am, then with the Straits Times, Business Times, Harpers Bazaar Singapore.

I will also be doing some bookshop events in Melbourne, as well as the main Adelaide Festival.

There are no events planned for Hong Kong, but if any regular readers of this site would like to take me shopping, make your presence known!

Thought for the day


Often I have turned into [London's] old clothes market to worship. With awe-struck heart I walk through . . . Monmouth Street, with its empty suits . . . Silent are they, but expressive in their silence: the past witnesses and instruments of woe and joy, of passions, virtues, crimes, and all fathomless tumult of good and evil in 'the prison called life.' Friends! trust not the heart of that man for whom old clothes are not venerable. Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Thoughtful Dresser poll - fashion forward

Christopher Kane
Halfway through London Fashion Week, The Thoughtful Dresser poll asks which city provides the most fashion forward fashion week - New York, London, Milan or Paris. Vote on the right.

Poll: Skirt lengths


Just below the knee the clear winner, there's a surprise.

Of course it's the most flattering length, it cuts the leg at its narrowest point, just before the curve of the calf. It elongates the leg and torso and hides bad knees.

Nuclear winter

Marios Schwab at London Fashion Week. A similar theme was at Jaeger. Why? But maybe we'll see a watered down version at M&S come October.

Why your clothes don't fit

I once, very briefly, studied Sociology. I recall sitting in a library reading a study which triumphantly concluded that people of different incomes lived in different parts of cities. I put the book down and thought. Money. Old Rope.

And now a landmark study by scientists! in Spain has reveals that many women can't find clothes that fit properly.

Scientists have confirmed what millions of women know already: the fashion industry does not make clothes to fit them. In the largest study of its kind Spain has taken full-body laser scans of more than 10,000 women and compared the resulting three-dimensional measurements with clothes on the high street

The conclusion was that four in ten women were unable to find clothes to fit them properly. “We are going to abolish the current system of sizes and move to another that satisfies the needs of women,” said Bernat Soria, the Spanish Health Minister.

The study found that women had three body types: a “cylinder”, in which the top, middle and bottom were broadly aligned, “hourglass” and “pear-shaped”. About a third of women fell into each category, though they tended to move from being cylinders to pears as they got older.

Women between the ages of 19 and 30 had the hardest time finding clothes that fit - mainly because they were too small or tight.

. . .

The Government hopes that if its new measurement system is successful it will be adopted as standard by all the countries in the European Union. Once it has dealt with women's problems finding well-fitting clothes, it will turn its attention to the other half of the population. Next into the scanning booth: 10,000 Spanish men.

Inshallah, as they said in Moorish Spain.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Jaeger AW08: terrifying the pony club


Jaeger showed for the first time at London Fashion Week this evening. No-one could accuse the clothes they sent down the catwalk of being safe. With some pounding music which seemed to have pumped directly from a club in Shoreditch, and the models with long poker straight hair by Sam McKnight, the colours were black, petrol blue, forest green, camel.


What can you say about a shaggy Mongolian bomber jacket, sailor trousers buttoned up at the sides, long, lean silhouettes almost to the ankles, huge bows and lots of fringing?


I shared the car of a magazine editor to the after-show and she pointed out that a decade ago Burberry made macs. So maybe Jaeger can become an international fashion brand.

Huge buzz about Ossie Clark, their press person inundated with requests for tickets this morning, he tells me.

By the way, no prizes for guessing what colour the majority of the audience at London Fashion Week wears . . .

What am I supposed to wear?

Do I have to wear a jumpsuit. Where is my waist? Can I get the bootcuts out of the wardrobe? Swing jacket, yes or no?

Fifty answers to those Spring-Summer 08 fashion questions are right here

Inside UK Vogue


What shocks me is that many of the clothes on the rail are quite grubby - some of them are even torn. Apparently these designer samples go from magazine to magazine, location to location, getting staler all the time. I can't see why fashion houses don't run up some more samples but apparently they don't, so one of the many problems of organising a shoot is that you have to book the clothes, as well as the photographer and models, and return them on the due date on pain of death.

The clothes are all size 10 but Kate Moss 'can fit anything'. Apparently she even has 'miracle feet' that can wear any shoe size. But Alex is a bit worried about her hair. 'Does she still have the fringe? I don't mind the fringe but I don't want her hair scraped back.' She also tells Phelan not to let Kate look 'too boudoir. Keep that coolness about her, not too overtly sexy.' (A couple of weeks later, I see the photos of Kate Moss in the art room and exclaim rudely, 'God, she looks awful.' She has a sort of Mia Farrow or pottery-teacher hairdo and looks dead-eyed and desiccated. The art room goes into shock until Robin Derrick the creative director murmurs, 'Of course we haven't done any retouching yet'.)
Alexandra Shulman

I ask Alex if Kate Moss is always a safe bet for a cover? 'Nobody's a safe bet, but a famous model helps.' One of her problems, she says, is that there are so few superstar models now. In the good old days you could take your pick of Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Helena Christensen and a dozen others but now - although there are plenty of good models who are well-respected in the fashion industry - their names mean nothing to the public. They work so hard, they don't seem to have any life outside modelling.

Read on

Standing still for five minutes

And still I am feeling rough, so in the meantime, courtesy of George Szirtes who got it from someone else, this

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Purchase

mine is purple

Without intending to, I bought this LK Bennett tweed jacket on Thursday, when I went out to pick up my new contact lenses. I got it in purple. I wore it Thursday night while being poisoned by Sardinian red wine, and I wore it at my publisher's lunch for me on Friday. It has been much admired. I always thought LK Bennett was a bit home counties for my taste, a more sophisticated Boden, home of the kitten heel and all that, but in this case, I think it came good. I wore it with the Jaeger dress.

Shoes in battle


Thank you Eamonn for sending me this fine photograph taken by Gerda Taro, Robert Capa's girlfriend and fellow snapper-in-arms during the Spanish Civil War. It's captioned, 'A photograph of a woman in Barcelona, Spain training for a Republican militia in August 1936, taken by Gerda Taro. '