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

Monday, 31 March 2008

Zimbabwe votes

One of the laziest and most complacent slogans is, If voting changed anything it would be illegal.

Norm writes:
This piece assembles some of the indices of Zimbabwe's economic meltdown. A couple of highlights:

Average life expectancy dropped from 63 years in 1990 to 37.3 years in 2005, according to World Bank and U.N. figures.
The World Food Program says 83 percent of Zimbabweans live on less than $2 per day and that 45 percent of the population are malnourished.
I'm no statistician, so please excuse me for any error in reasoning here (and correct it if need be), but Mugabe's government appears to have stolen an average of 25 years of life per person from the population of Zimbabwe - stolen them and thrown them away. This is now a country nearly half of whose people are malnourished. (Via Memeorandum.)

On telling a Republican from Democrat

From Hadley

Even Suzanne Shaw, who the other week professed ignorance of the existence of both Clinton and Obama, would be able to tell which one is the Democrat and which one the Republican just from looking at photos of the two men, and this has nothing to do with race or age. Look at McCain, striding around in his boxy blue suits, single button always done up to cover the paunch, ties always just that little bit too wide. This man could not look more establishment if he went around doing secret handshakes and butt-slapping Karl Rove.

Then we come to Obama. Watch him stride in that slim-cut suit that suggests more than an element of style consciousness that somehow, in itself, suggests, not vanity, but rather new-age sensitivity. Here is a man who, rather remarkably, did not worry that appearing on a magazine with Vogue in the title (Men's Vogue, to be precise) would compromise his masculinity. Whereas McCain, almost liberal by Republican standards, would far rather be photographed hanging with the boys in Iraq. Debate the merits of these opposing photo opportunities all you like but the fact is, both were staged and therefore equally artificial and equally meaningless. Obama is always happy to take off his suit jacket: an easy way to emphasise his friendly informality, which also, by convenient coincidence, lets him show off the fact that he still clearly goes to the gym every morning despite running for president, while the rest of us use the excuse of having to pick up the dry cleaning as a reason to skip that day's session.

Thought for the day

We sacrifice to dress, till household joys
And comforts cease. Dress drains our cellar dry,
And keeps our larder lean; puts out our fires,
And introduces hunger, frost, and woe,
Where peace and hospitaility might reign.

William Cowper

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Thought for the day

'I must say I hate money but it's the lack of it I hate most.' Katherine Mansfield

Saturday, 29 March 2008

My other blog

I have started another blog, its name is Buchmendel, after the Stefan Zweig short-story and I will be posting occasional passages from books I am reading.

Here is the first entry, from Bruno Shulz's story, Tailors' Dummies'

'Carried on their shoulders, a silent, immobile lady had entered the room, a lady of oakum and canvas, with a black wooden knob instead of a head. But when stood in the corner, between the door and the stove, that silent woman became mistress of the situation. Standing motionless in her corner, she supervised the girls' advances and wooings as they knelt before her, fitting fragments of a dress marked with white basting thread. They waited with attention, and patience on the silent idol, which was difficult to please. That moloch was inexorable as only a female moloch can be, and sent them back to work again and again, and they, thin and spindly, like wooden spools from which thread is unwound and as mobile, manipulated with noisy scissors into its colourful mass, whirred the sewing machine, treading its pedal with one cheap patent-leathered foot, while around them grew a heap of cuttings, of motley rags and pieces, like husks and chaff spat out by two fussy and prodigal parrots. The curved jaw of the scissors tapped open like the beaks of those exotic birds.'

Grow up!

our girl

For a year I have been banging the same drum: that we have to stop buying cheap throwaway high street clothes and invest in fewer, more expensive pieces. And I have been saying Jaeger Jaeger Jaeger (and Cos). In the past week I've seen pictures of Sarah Brown, the wife of our prime minister, and Anne Enright, winner of the Booker this year, in this season's Jaeger jacket with shoulder detail.

Now here is the Times with more of the same:

The sector of the fashion high street once unflatteringly called middle market has lost its flabby lack of focus and identity, and been given a fierce shot of retail Botox. It’s been upgraded and rebranded as something called Affordable Luxury or Masstige (that’s prestige for the masses; desirable things for everyone, not just the rich), and it’s meant to appeal to women, rather than girls, who appreciate youthful but don’t do teenage. Belinda Earl, Jaeger’s top woman, who has transformed the label into a fashion must-have and recently kicked off London Fashion Week with Jaeger’s first international catwalk show, is one of the movement’s forerunners.

“Today’s consumer is very discerning,” Earl explains. “Because of the huge amount of fashion information available through the internet, weekly glossies and TV, she’s aware of trends but wants them interpreted in a way that flatters her shape and is right for her lifestyle.” The ailing Jaeger label, bought by Harold Tillman in 2002, has been completely revitalised by Earl, who was wooed from Debenhams (where she negotiated the Designers at Debenhams ranges). “Our customer shops with her hands and wants quality fabrics that feel good to touch and against her skin.” Items such as the cashmere poncho and printed silk shirt have rapidly become contemporary classics at Jaeger. Since Earl joined, the number of stores has risen from 89 to 120. As a company, it has gone from losing £3 million a year to last year’s profit of £70.6 million. “When I arrived at Jaeger, I did lots of research and focus groups with our customers. They told me, ‘You must do this. There is nothing for us out there.’”

Thought for the day

Youth is the time of getting, middle age of improving, and old age of spending. Anne Bradsteet

Friday, 28 March 2008

Everything's coming up Carla

Madame Sarkozy in Dior, Mrs Brown in Jaeger

The Guardian today goes Carla crazy, including my own brief observations on The Gaze.

The gaze

Just look at the man-trapping stare that Carla Bruni has triumphantly brought to Britain. Show us how it's done, Carla.

As a basic foundation one needs to be ravishingly beautiful with large, lash-fringed eyes above a slightly parted mouth. If you lack the gorgeousness, you might resemble that deranged fan in the Stephen King novel Misery, who kidnaps a famous writer and amputates his foot.

If you direct all your attention at a man, you need to have a face that commands attention.

The Gaze tells an unlikely story, which men fall for every time. Witness Prince Philip in his gilded coach yesterday, as Carla turned on the 10,000-watt radiance. He sits back, as if hit by a stun gun. The Gaze says, "You, my darling desiccated duke, you, you could make me happy. Everything you say and do absorbs me. Look, I am smiling. And why? Because you are so witty, so handsome, so debonair in your overcoat. So what, you are married? Wives are easily disposed of."

In the Gaze, the face is mainly immobile. It is unnecessary to speak. The face speaks. The recipient of the Gaze interprets its language: my God, she fancies me! Then, alarmingly, the Gaze turns off, or away.

The sun is put out. The Gaze is directed to someone else. Yet how can that be, when it is me she loves?

Try practising the Gaze in front of a mirror, or on your pets. Take a good look at the goldfish. When you try this at home you'll find you're more likely to resemble a carp than Carla.
Linda Grant

Thought for the day

'Why don't you write books people can read?' Nora Joyce, to her husband James

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Manolo discusses the dialectical contradiction of the designer shoes.

Specifically my designer shoes

Joy to an old man's heart

Lilibet, is that you?

Matchy matchy bags

According to Sky News, while Gordon and Nicolas are visiting the Emirates Stadium (with Arsene Wenger translating between the two of them) Sarah and Carla are having lunch at Lancaster House to discuss world poverty. It says.

Better suited, height-wise (and Nicolas explains his other advantages)
Meanwhile our prime minister demonstrates his command of the French kiss

That banquet at Windsor Castle, brought to you from a footman's mobile phone, with guest appearance by Ingrid Bergman and assorted Nazis

Today is National No Make-Up Day!

Once you've stopped laughing, here are some prominent women on the subject

Beverley Knight

I don't wear it every day but I really enjoy putting on make-up. If I could use only one product, it would be mascara. My big eyes love it.

Joan Bakewell

I've been wearing make-up for 50 years now. I'd be bereft without my lipstick. I wear orangey-brown shades as I've got rather sallow skin. Make-up isn't hugely important to me but it's always a surprise how much difference it makes.

Susan Greenfield

I carry blusher - the very pale pink kind - with me wherever I go. It's the quickest thing to change how you look and really lightens my face.

Jane Seymour

No matter what I'm doing, I always wear mascara.

Katherine Whitehorn

Make-up for older women is one thing we have over the men - we don't go bald and we can avoid the awful pallor of age. A decent fake tan two or three times a week can stop you looking like a lump of lard hung up for the birds, and concealers deal with those odd brown bits that turn out not to be exploded coffee grounds after all.

Paula Radcliffe

The one piece of make-up I just can't do without is black LancĂ´me mascara.

Lady Antonia Fraser

I'm like Marie Antoinette - I wear make-up with great pleasure. I've been wearing my nice pink lipstick since I was 16. Back then it it was something by Rimmel called, I think, Pink Plumb Beautiful. If I'm at home writing I'll put on a little. I look depressing without it.

Sheherazade Goldsmith

I use black eyeliner inside both eyelids. I can't live without Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Pearl. It makes my skin glow.

Ann Widdecombe

Goodness me, there's no make-up I simply couldn't live without. When I'm working I wear foundation, lipstick and eye shadow. No mascara. But I couldn't tell you what make or even what colour they are.

Giorgio Armani - Holy Grail

Thought for the day

Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid. Hedy Lamarr*

*Avant garde composer George Antheil, a son of German immigrants and neighbor of Lamarr, had experimented with automated control of instruments. Together, he and Lamarr submitted the idea of a Secret Communication System in June 1941. On 11 August 1942, U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and Hedy Kiesler Markey. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.

The idea was impractical, ahead of its time, and not feasible due to the state of mechanical technology in 1942. It was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba,[4] after the patent had expired. Neither Lamarr nor Antheil (who died in 1959) made any money from the patent. Perhaps due to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for this contribution.[1]

Lamarr's and Antheil's frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology used in devices ranging from cordless telephones to WiFi Internet connections, namely CDMA.[5] Similar patents had been granted to others earlier, like in Germany in 1935 to Telefunken engineers Paul Kotowski and Kurt Dannehl who also received U.S. Patent 2,158,662 and U.S. Patent 2,211,132 in 1939 and 1940.

Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but she was told that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds. She once raised $7,000,000 at just one event.

Hedy Lamarr

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Thought for the day

As she had not hope of raising herself to the rank of a beauty, her only chance was bringing others down to her level. Emily Eden

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Shoes versus bags

Bags have been getting a bad rap these days for being overpriced. Buy shoes instead! we are told.

Today I went to the V&A for a private view of the jewels which will be on exhibit in the the new William and Judith Bollinger jewellery Gallery which is opening on 24 May. I lugged home a catalogue, a press pack and a copy of Grazia to read on the tube. The receptacle in which these items were contained, along with my wallet, lipstick, compact, keys, mobile phone, was my Anya Hindmarch cream Carker. The same bag took me though three weeks in Australia, frequently having to bear the load of my lap top as well, when the airline refused my carry-on and consigned it to the hold.

The Carker still looks as mint as when I got it, eighteen months ago. So here's a question, what pair of designer shoes, worn day after day after day, would still be wearable a year after you bought them?

The cream Carker was the It bag of AW06, but it's a classic (it's been around since the mid-90s). I imagine I'll still be using it in a decade or even two decades. Of which shoes can one say that?

The quality of shoes

I mentioned last week that I had bought a pair of Dolce & Gabbana shoes. I wore them for the first time on Thursday. When I got home the leather on the soles was pitted and worn away. I was going to take them back to Harvey Nichols for a refund but first went into my excellent local shoe repairers for an opinion. They told me that the shoes were not designed to be worn before having rubber soles put on them if you were going to wear them in the street, rather than carpet, and if it rained, and that L.K. Bennet shoes apparently contain a warning to have them resoled before wearing them. I said this seemed like something out of Alice and Wonderland, and picking up my £300 Dolce & Gabbana shoes he said, well, you see they use cheap, thin leather.

Thought for the day

(has been photoshopped)

This Englishwoman is so refined
She has no bosom and no behind

Stevie Smith

Monday, 24 March 2008

Clive Owen on being the new face of Lancome

Resting after discovering the potato

“I would argue that this whole thing is not about vanity,” says Owen practically. “This is not plastic surgery, Botox or make-up, it’s just skin creams and aftershaves. I’m not standing up there saying, ‘I’m great and I’m so sexy and cool, and that’s why I am doing this.’ It’s more to do with acknowledging the way that the whole products-for-men thing is changing. Most guys I know do use moisturiser. In theatre and film, looking after your face is a pretty normal thing. It’s just business.”

Buying vintage: The pros and cons

Personally, my days of buying vintage are long behind me. In my early twenties everything I wore came from the second hand clothes boutiques in Kensington High Street antique market or Portobello Road, or, when I moved to Vancouver, a shop called Joe's Old Clothes. I would swan around the windy university campuses in 1930s bias cut evening dresses worn with Mary Quant purple opaque tights bought at Liberty, with no thought to occasion-appropriate and didn't own a single pair of jeans. I still dislike trousers and prefer dresses to anything else.

Here's a piece in which sort-of famous people give their tips on buying vintage:

'This Ossie Clark top is the first designer item I ever bought. I was 18 when I got it on the King's Road in London, and since then both my mum and my daughter Leah have tried to nick it from me. I stole it back eventually. Isn't it amazing that three generations of my family have worn it, and it's never gone out of style?'

'I found a handkerchief in the pocket of a pair of second-hand trousers, which really made me realise that I was wearing a dead man's trousers. Old clothes do have a kind of aura of death, but a good wash usually sorts them out.'

Thought for the day

I had always looked on my beauty as a curse, because I was regarded as a whore, rather than an actress. Now at least I understand that my beauty was a blessing. It was my lack of understanding the way to merchandise it that was the curse. Louise Brooks

Sunday, 23 March 2008

apropos of nothing

Clive Owen - the new face of Lancome

On not being able to leave the house

“The hardest thing to sell at the moment is a black kitten heel,” says Rebecca Farrar-Hockley, the buying and creative director of Kurt Geiger. According to her, a shoe boom is nigh, spurred on by It-bag fatigue and pared-down ready-to-wear.

Incredibly useful article about shopping in Paris

. . . and how to look like a Parisian. Here

I was in Paris in September and the key to looking like a Frenchwoman is scarves. Artfully tied.

Do you want to look old?

I have a piece in today's Telegraph about a new book about to come out in the UK but which has already courted controversy in the US, Charla Krupp's 'How Not To Look Old.'

In the 1950s and 1960s there was a craze in America for a procedure called rhinoplasty, in which a cosmetic surgeon broke the patient's nose to give her a new, always smaller, one. Little upturned ski-slope noses sat on faces they did not fit, but they had solved an age-old problem: how not to look Jewish in Wasp America. When Charla Krupp published her how-to manual in America at the beginning of this year, entitled How Not To Look Old, there was something of a furore in the press. Krupp argued that, since older women were discriminated against, the best way they could deal with the issue was not by tackling the discrimination politically, but by changing the way they look. As she pointed out in the New York Times, 'There was a book on how not to look Jewish. It was called The Preppy Handbook and it was a bestseller.'

Helen Mirren
Tight jawline!

But Krupp's book touched a raw nerve in the American media. 'Age management' is the essence of her thesis. 'Until age becomes a non-issue,' she writes, 'I don't think it's particularly smart for women to advertise their age… As Christie Brinkley said in her CoverGirl commercials, "I love being the age I am, I just don't want to look it." No one wants to "look it", because of age profiling and the fear of being outed. Why does anyone, besides your doctor, need to know your age anyway?'

To the feminist baby-boomer generation it was an outrage, for they (and that includes me) were the first to challenge every assumption about women's lives from contraception to menopause. To a politically correct American media, Krupp's book was as shocking as suggesting that Barack Obama use bleaching agents to lighten his skin; and yet during the presidential race Hillary Clinton has been proudly promoting feminist values with a face that looks suspiciously stiffened by Botox and a glare of forensic scrutiny about her appearance that her Republican rival, John McCain, aged 72, has evaded. For the reality for many of those outraged women is that in a highly competitive workforce and a culture in which celebrities are never seen to age - where all the role models have had face-lifts and a 50-year-old looks 35 - it is hard to get a job when you resemble the age on your birth certificate.

The baby-boomers' unique selling point has always been youth. We are a generation born, we believed, to be young and stay younger forever, as if ageing were a lifestyle choice for our parents, a more conservative generation who longed for Crimplene dresses and set hair. But, though the generation born after the war and up to the early 1960s has rewritten most of the rules about how to behave over 40, watching iconic figures such as Twiggy age and become the face of Marks & Spencer's with-it granny look has been extraordinarily unnerving. Sir Paul McCartney's perennially bad hair-dye job, and Mick Jagger's wrinkled visage beneath his own light-brown locks, remind us that there is no real Dorian Gray option, short of the surgeon's knife.

Read on

Thought for the day

I have always a sacred veneration for anyone I observe to be a little out of repair in his person, as supposing him either a poet or a philosopher. Jonathan Swift

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Thought for the day

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God. Deuteronomy 22:5

Friday, 21 March 2008

Banana Republic comes to town

£100 less in America

For years I have been taking advantage of the weakness of the dollar to buy clothes when I'm in the US, and first port of call was always Banana Republic, cruelly denied to us Brits, and a favourite for well-priced fashion we couldn't get at home. I loved the 5th Avenue flagship store in New York and my wardrobe has several good things that have done service for years on end.

So we've all been drumming our fingers on the table waiting for its first European outlet to open in the old Dickens and Jones building on Regent Street, and lo, yesterday, it did. And as I had an hour-long gap between lunch with my agent and afternoon tea with a fashion editor at Liberty, I hurried in there out of the driving rain and bitter winds.

What a let-down. Maybe it's a question of forbidden fruit, you want what you can't have, but overall the stock was disappointing: Marks and Spencer's Limited Collection without any of the edge. And more expensive. They've introduced a UK only label which is supposed to be a bit more dernier cri, and there was a very nice white trench coat I tried on, but I'm not in the market for a white trench coat. The bags were okay, a very limited collection of shoes, some jewellery including one sensational yellow bead necklace, very this season. A good, Spring-weight leather coat at £300. But across the street is Cos and you could actually look out of BN's window's into it and see clothes that are more stylish, more European, more interesting - and it's owned by H&M.

According to the Daily Mail, BN is 'imposing huge mark-ups' on its UK prices:

A snapshot survey of Banana Republic's UK prices by the Daily Mail shows a printed silk halterneck dress sells for £95 in this country - 58 per cent more than in the U.S.

It can be teamed with a £125 Flatsunglasses-iron baby satchel, which is 40 per cent more, and a pair of espadrille wedge shoes that are 62 per cent more expensive here.

The entire outfit would cost £299.50 in the UK, £100 more expensive than the same items in the U.S.

An orange, textured coat appears on the firm's U.S. website at a price of just £60, while the figure in the official UK catalogue is £140 - a mark-up of 133 per cent.

A cap sleeve silk dress in pale gold is £55 on the other side of the Atlantic but £95 here.

A pair of black peep-toe wedge shoes is £79.50 in this country, a mark-up of 62 per cent on the U.S. price.

There is a similar mark-up on some accessories.

The fashion editor remarked that one problem with BN is its colours, which are probably better suited to the stronger light of America. I also had an impression that the sizing is smaller, as I usually go a size down in BN in America, but not here.

So I dropped in at the Jaeger press office for a cup of tea and they showed me some things that are coming in at the end of April, and I saved my money for those, instead.

Thought for the day

Some ladies think they may, under the privileges of the deshabille, be loose and negligent of their dress in the morning. But be you, from the moment you rise till you go to bed, as cleanly and properly dressed as at at the hours of dinner or tea. Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, 20 March 2008

In classical times . . .

Sarah Mower and I might have had our differences in the past regarding the mutton question (see passim) but here she is in the Telegraph today laying out the bible for women of common sense this Spring and Summer:

This season, though, I've come back charged with a sense of clarity. What I want is actually very simple. It's not a flowery see-through chiffon dress, no matter how pretty they looked on the spring runway six months ago. It isn't a jumpsuit, in spite of the number of spring fashion shoots that are pushing them. And it absolutely, definitely is not a pair of drop-crotch trousers, dhotis, harem pants or any hybrid thereof.

Rarely has the word "classic" looked so tempting. For one thing, this is hardly the time to be wasting money on insubstantial fads that will be over in a second (the multi-floral thing, for example, which - according to the latest collections - will be dead by next winter).

And for another, having just emerged from spending a month embedded in the advance guard of some of the world's most dedicated dressers, it became startlingly clear to me how few editors, stylists and buyers have taken spring's notions literally. The really great dressers - the women you stare at across runways - have whittled their purchases down to a few brilliant things, which they then vary with maddeningly clever choices of tops, shoes, scarves and jewellery.

After years of bingeing on fast-fashion that falls apart in weeks, that knack - the ability to play with classic, long-lasting clothes in a creative way - is something we need to relearn.

You should definitely go and read the whole thing, because she has several entirely wearable key pieces, and how to wear them, to look our best this summer

Thought for the day

Ms Mills

No mask like open truth to cover lies,

As to go naked is the best disguise.

William Congreve

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

High maintenance

At my lowest ebb on the grand tour of Australia and New Zealand I got my publicist to book me in for a blow dry at a salon in Christchurch. And emerged feeling more fully human than I had done in many days. At the hairdresser's in London *on Monday, I recalled that in the 50s and 60s, my mother twice-weekly had a shampoo and set and always looked perfectly coiffed. It was the Vidal Sassoon five-point cut and later long hair, which drove us away from regular hairdressing and now I think that might have been an error. We all know that Anna Wintour has a hairdresser who comes every morning to her house to do her blow dry, and while can't all reach to that ideal, I'm starting to think that 25 quid for a blow dry once or twice a week might be a better use of one's income than regular manicures or taxis. Not that my hairdresser charges £25 for this simple service, but plenty of local ones do. And of course, in America it can't cost more that two cents.

* My stylist Roger tells me that a couple of you have gone along to him at my recommendation - I very much hope that worked out for you.

Thought for the day

The energy of imagination, deliberation, and invention, which fall into a natural rhythm totally of one's own, maintained by innate discipline and a keen sense of pleasure - these are the ingredients of style. And all who have it share one thing: originality. Diana Vreeland

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Orange Prize longlist in full

Anita Amirrezvani* The Blood of Flowers
Stella Duffy The Room of Lost Things
Jennifer Egan The Keep
Anne Enright The Gathering
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Tessa Hadley The Master Bedroom
Nancy Huston Fault Lines
Gail Jones Sorry
Sadie Jones The Outcast
Lauren Liebenberg The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam
Charlotte Mendelson When We Were Bad
Deborah Moggach In The Dark
Anita Nair Mistress
Heather O'Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Elif Shafak The Bastard of Istanbul
Dalia Sofer The Septembers of Shiraz
Scarlett Thomas The End of Mr Y
Carol Topolski Monster Love
Rose Tremain The Road Home
Patricia Wood Lottery

*I met Anita at the Adelaide festival and liked her very much. She is an Iranian-American whose parents left at the time of the 1979 revolution.

Discussion of the longlist here. and here. As usual there is the conventional moaning about the list excluding men, moaning which is curiously absent when it comes to any of the other literary prizes and their exclusions. I'd love to win the Pulitzer but as I'm not an 'American author', I can't.

Maureen Freely on the Guardian books blog, has an excellent piece addressing the inanities of the 'sexism' complaint:

In my view, the most significant thing about the Orange Prize is not that it is only for women. The prize's great virtue is that it is for all women writing in English. Most prizes, most notably the man Booker, respect (and so enforce) national boundaries. This despite the fact that national boundaries in Anglophone fiction became less significant with every passing day.

A quick look at the 2008 Orange long list bears this out. There are seven countries represented, eight if you include both nationalities claimed by the US/Iranian first novelist Anita Amirrezvani. Dalia Sofer, listed as an American author, is also Iranian by birth. Elif Shafak, though she carries a Turkish passport, was born in France. Later in life, she spent many years in the US. Though she writes mostly in Turkish, The Bastard of Istanbul, her seventh novel, is her second novel in English. Like so many of their readers, these authors are hybrids, and they are much better served by a panel that isn't bothered by that.
I've often wondered how many of our national treasures here in Britain would fare if they were pitted against a shortlist that included writers such as Roth and Ford or Orhan Pamuk and David Grossman.

News of shoes

I got it into my head while I was travelling, that on my return I would buy a new pair of shoes, having consigned to a hotel waste bin, for reasons of expediency, a pair that looked shabby and were perhaps not such a great idea in the first place. Though inexpensive. After the hairdresser's I walked up Sloane Street to Salvatore Ferragamo, where, legend has it, they make very good quality classic shoes, perhaps not the dernier cri, but wearable. I was not looking for flats, or sensible walking shoes, but day-to-nights: shoes I could wear to a smart lunch or a party, but no bling.


The bastards have done it again. First we had kitten heels. Then we had clumpy heels. Then we had high clumpy heels we couldn't walk in. Now we have high stilettos we can't walk in. There being almost nothing to try on in Ferragamo, I went to Fratelli Rossetti. Same thing. So I went to Harvey Nicks' shoe department and the dreadful truth was revealed. We are back to needle thin points. There were a few pairs of shoes of high clumpy heels, but not many. There were no shows with medium height points. The wedges were tall and wooden, make them too heavy to walk in.

Eventually, with the assistance of a very helpful Lithuanian sales assistant, I bought a pair of black patent Dolce e Gabbana peep-toe shoes, with a wearable clumpy high heel. I think I can walk in them. Just. They do fit. They cost £300, making them the most expensive shoes I have ever owned, though beautifully made. Of course they're cheaper in America, on Raffaelo.

I have no idea when I will next be able to buy any more shoes, if this is what faces us for the next couple of seasons, or more.

These are the shoes I bought, but in black patent - does anyone think I should have got the white instead? I couldn't decide in the shop, and thought I should be sensible and get the black, But now I'm not sure . . .

Thought for the day

There are skilled dyers and weavers in Masahiro's household, and when it comes to dress, whether it be the colour of his under-robe or the style of his cloak, he is more elegant than most men; yet the only effect of his elegance is to make people say, 'What shame someone else isn't wearing those things.' Sei Shonagon c. 966 -c. 1013

Monday, 17 March 2008

Orange prize longlist

This is not supposed to be released until tomorrow, but has been leaked by the Telegraph after the site accidentally went live on Thursday for 20 minutes.

I can disclose that the longlist for the £30,000 award for women writers includes heavyweights such as Anne Enright, for her Booker Prize-winning novel The Gathering, and Rose Tremain, for The Road Home. Others listed are When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson; The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy; The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant; and In the Dark by Deborah Moggach

Hillary's clothes

Hadley Freeman has thought about Hillary and her clothes.

It is obvious to the point of cliche that Clinton is in a trickier position in many ways than Obama: when he is emotional, he is persuasive; when she is emotional, she is betraying her feminist roots. So just as Obama can cut a dash in his slimline, clearly style-conscious suits, Clinton has to hide herself in garishly coloured squares going under the name of "jackets", or else risk being dismissed as so vain that she would be too busy putting on her lipstick to respond to an international terror threat.

But is this necessarily true? One need only look at Condoleezza Rice to see that, contrary to what some might think, American voters aren't always horrified to see a woman in power who doesn't look like Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rice has to placate a far more conservative group of people than the one Clinton is meant to be wooing. Nor did Rice's appearance several years ago in US Vogue seem to harm her credibility. Clinton, on the other hand, was so fearful of such a possibility that she backed out of a shoot with the magazine at the last minute last year, provoking a diatribe from Vogue's editor, Anna Wintour. To make matters even worse for Clinton, who should appear that same month on the cover of Men's Vogue but Obama, appearing very suave and relaxed, whereas Clinton now looked as if she was neurotically focus grouping her campaign to death.

I declare myself to be in the deepest sympathy with any female politician at the receiving end of the mad-dog media about her dress sense. I work in an occupation in which I have little visible public profile, apart from book tours and readings, and my fashion mistakes are not dissected by strangers on a daily basis. I would also point out that Rice cuts a better fashion figure than Clinton because, simply, Rice has a better figure. Hillary has awful legs, she's short, she's stocky. No beanpole myself, I understand how difficult it is to dress this shape. Suits don't suit her.

Thought for the day

Clothes without a wearer, whether on a secondhand stall, in a glass case, or merely a lover's garments strewn on the floor, can affect us unpleasantly, as if a snake had shed its skin. Similarly, a pregnant woman describing how the little frock hanging up in readiness for her as yet unborn child seems like 'a ghost in reverse.' Elizabeth Wilson

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Can I dance in these?

Justine Picardie advances a theory about unwearable shoes.

What, exactly, is the point, you might well ask? You probably won't be able to walk very far in these shoes, and you certainly can't run in them; so what is one meant to do with them? Put them on a mantelpiece, like a quirky sculpture? This is always an option - a perverse one, I grant you - but I have a theory, borne out by years of personal practice, that if you love a pair of beautiful shoes, however fantastical, you are miraculously able to dance in them. Thus the right heels - and you know them when you find them - will lift the spirits as well as the feet.

I would sneer, but I have a pair of Kurt Geiger red suede stilettos, bought in 1999 which I adored and found them perfectly comfortable. I was looking at them yesterday with a view to sending them off to a new home at the Cancer Research shop, and I was asking myself why I didn't find them so comfortable any more. And Justine might have answered that: that I no longer love them as I once did.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Jil Sander bag

This is the bag I bought at the Hong Kong outlet. It's from the Raf Simons SS07 line and the bagsnobs liked it then. The one I got is silver. Simple, small, chic, minimalist.

I might not have mentioned that in another outlet I got a 'Marni' necklace and Sarah negotiated a chunk knocked off the price for me. And a yoga t-shirt (like I do yoga). And Aesop handcream, which, after intense discussion with Sarah over iced coffee, we agreed was the best.


At 5.30 am Hong Kong time I got in a taxi and drove through the darkened city, and saw, for the first time - undistracted by the soaring illuminated towers - the port. I was reminded of those old pictures of three-masted schooners densely rocking on a tide, but the spires were not sails, rather the cranes of the docks, loading the manufactured goods of China and setting them out on their container ships to the rest of the world. For here was the epicentre of fashion: not the Paris or Milan atelier, not the St Martin's graduate in his Shoreditch studio, but what comes of the reality of all those dreams. Hard commerce. And I could not help but think how distracted we are in Europe with the wrong political preoccupations, while under our noses a whole new superpower has sprung into life out of our needs and wants and desires. Ruthless, with not a democratic bone its collective body, all America's tarnished idealism (its Founding Fathers, its constitution, its will to happiness) is absent; trade is its DNA.

On the 13 hour flight, I finished Richard Ford's Independence Day and could have knocked my head against a wall for not reading it sooner: a hymn to suburban America, the philosophy of real estate and why there is always dignity in finding another man a home. I watched Elizabeth: The Golden Age (dire) and The Assassination of Jesse James (ponderous, but beautifully scripted and acted, another examination of American myth), three episodes of Kath and Kim, and three episodes of Extras.

I return to the new issue of UK Vogue with a piece by me on the emotional wrench of throwing things away, and on the cover, Victoria Beckham, whom Nick Kent has partially managed to convey as if she the subject of a Cecil Beaton between-the-wars society girl. Alexandra Shulman ( has a video of Alex talking about the decision to feature her) has written a definitive appraisal of her: her helpless urge to succeed, hints at her insecurity, an essentially suburban marriage, her teenage desire to always have the right thing: her shoes are always too big because she gets catwalk samples from the shoes, and has to stuff them with tissues. Trying too hard, not pretty enough, never thin enough for the mental picture inside her head, she's the triumph of the will: an oddity, a girl with nothing going for her except her determination that, knocked down, she will always arise and live to dress another day.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Hong Kong: The Shops

A few weeks ago I asked if any reader of this site wanted to take me shopping in Hong Kong during my one-day stop-over and by great good fortune I got a reply from Sarah Wyatt, who grew up in the city and knows it like the back of her hand. This morning she came to the hotel with a bag full of Hong Kong gifts, including a small silk bag she made herself. An artist, mother of two and thoughtful dresser, Sarah took me on a tour of the city that only an extreme insider could offer.

We got a cab and headed off for an anonymous high rise office building in an anonymous suburb, or rather it seemed like an office building, but wasn't. On every floor were outlet stores, where they sell the unsold stock from the previous season: not just fashion but toys, interiors, you name it. We ascended in the lift to the 25th floor to the Joyce warehouse. Inside? Alexander McQueen. Dries van Noten. Issey Mayake. Jil Sander. Chloe. Marni. I only end the list there because frankly I can't remember any more, so dizzying was the sight of all those designers. Menswear, womenswear, bags, shoes, jewellery. The tags showed a descending list of prices, over a period of several months into the future, so if you can hold your nerve and wait two months, it will be even cheaper still. I bought a small silver Jil Sander bag at 75% off and an Etro scarf. I was tempted by a McQueen bag, but in the end the colour wasn't quite right.
Then we went down ten floors or so to another outlet, even larger: Armani. Pal Zileri. I couldn't take it all in. All this is real stuff, no fakes here.

Next we got a cab to Central District, and one of the most crowded, humid and polluted spots on earth, where stunningly beautiful women carrying every designer bag known to the accessories department of Barneys surged along in blacks, grey and other neutrals. Juxtaposition of wealth and intense urban jostle. Quick Vietnamese lunch in a kind of alley full of tables with hundreds of people eating, smoking, densely humanly many.

A block away, we go to a shop that sells second-hand designer bags, Chanel 2:55's, Hermes Birkins. In Hong Kong women discard their It bags every season. The owner was interviewed and asked if he sold fakes, they try, he said, but never get away with it. Across the street we climb some rundown stairs, ring a bell, a man answers, lets us into a little outer room. He pulls the sleeve of a red kimono and out of it pops a key on a string, he opens the next door and in we walk into an Aladdin's cave of designer fake bags. I won't buy fakes, I don't approve of fakes, but as Sarah points out., some of these bags are being made in the same factories and on the same machines as the originals: because as we now all know, a Prada bag isn't made in Italy, it's made in China. I see a fake Anya Hindmarch Elrod, similar apart from the lining which is fabric, not suede, and it still doesn't have the same production qualities. But the place is full of satisfied customers who come back over and over again, and will do, until the store is raided by the police.

Out on the street I am suddenly overcome by the pollution, can hardly breathe. Some people are wearing facemasks. So we ascend the longest escalator in the world, a moving walkway that takes us up and up through the sides of a densely inhabited hill and come to an area called Soho, narrow lanes of small shops and cafes, more European than anything I've seen so far. Sarah shows me some of the Hong Kong designers. Then I see something absolutely fascinating. A clutch made of the same silver distressed leather that Anya Hindmarch has been using for the past two or three seasons, and using the same leather-covered magnetic snaps except this is is not a fake, not even a copy: it's a bag by a Hong Kong designer who simply has access to the same materials. The bag has a sensational red silk lining and I would have bought it on the spot had it not been ruined by a garish cheap-looking gold fastening which is completely the wrong colour for the bag.

As Sarah points out, if the designers are using Chinese factories to make their products, then inevitably some of the materials will end up out of the designers hands, and later I will see fabrics I recognise being used to made dresses with the labels of Hong Kong designers.

We finished up at Shanghai Tang. My head was full of everything Sarah had told me about the ambiguous world of designer production, of what is real and what is not, and how they can overlap. And also the history of Hong Kong, its government, its relation to the mainland, its economy and its architecture. I told her that she would make a fantastic tour guide for anyone who wanted to see a Hong Kong unavailable to to those with a guide book. She was the most fascinating, informed and warm shopping companion. If anyone would like to engage Sarah's services for a similar trip, let me know and I'll pass on her details. I told her she should charge. It will be worth every penny.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

If it's Thursday it must be Hong Kong

After the most hectic two and a half weeks of my life, involving scary flights on 20 seater prop planes to the place where the sun comes up first in the world and across the horizon is the International Date Line, I finally flew from Auckland to Sydney to Hong Kong where I stepped off the plane into the most extraordinary place in the world, surely? It makes Manhattan look like a sleepy village in the Cotswolds. Visibly gasping as the taxi drove me to my hotel, Le Meridien Cyberport, I felt like a child in primary school with eyes like saucers.

After my overnight in Singapore, I have spent some time thinking about South-East Asia and its extraordinary dynamism, energy and its rampant capitalism. I have no idea what to say about it, except to absorb, absorb absorb. At 10 am Thoughtful Dresser reader Sarah will take me shopping.

Two small recommendations: Richard Ford's Independence Day, gently urged on me over breakfast in Adelaide by David Malouf, and which absorbed me on the journey from Auckland to Hong Kong; and a skin-care range new to me called Ultraceuticals, which was in the Qantas business class amenity bag. I thought the moisturiser and SPF30 sun screen were exceptionally good. It's available in SE Asia, parts of the US and Canada, but not Europe, annoyingly, and Sydney duty free only had $AUS$200 packs containing the full range, and weren't allowed to sell individual products.

Meanwhile The Clothes On Their Backs, only out a month, is already reprinting, and was, apparently, last week's most mentioned book in the Australian media. Normal service resumes on Momday. After I've been to the hairdresser's.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Ossie Clark revival

From a public computer at Melbourne airport en route to New Zealand I bring you this long piece I have been working on for several months on the revival of Ossie Clark, which appears in today's Guardian

Seven minutes. This is all the unknown designer Avsh Alom Gur and his backer Marc Worth have - seven minutes to convince the arbiters of fashion of the comeback of the century, the revival of a defunct label and a dead name: Ossie Clark. The fashion press and the buyers are on the front row, watching with chilly eyes the product of four months' work, presented on the etiolated forms of teenage Latvian models robed in a yellow dress, a turquoise snakeskin suit and an organza pierrot blouse.

The models step on and off revolving metal plinths and rotate to a soundtrack of Jefferson Airplane's LSD anthem White Rabbit - a tribute to the 60s or, perhaps, to Clark's drug addiction. There is the silence of ennui, then a sudden, frenzied heads-down as the fashion press make notes. A long pause as the last model disappears. The designer runs through the two rooms to take his bow, and the audience briefly applaud, scramble to their feet and into taxis. It's on to the next show, which is Jasper Conran.

London Fashion Week is not one long cocktail party; it is an impatient wait for shows that are running late, and other shows that are running late because the last one ran late, and nothing can start before the key editors and buyers arrive. And nothing exemplifies the reality of Fashion Week more than the brevity of these shows and the terrifying and final speed of the verdict. No time for thought, reflection, a second look. It's all in the momentary impression, the practised eye. The Ossie Clark collection, one of the week's hottest tickets, was launched at the Serpentine Gallery on a day that began with high hopes and ended with the threat of legal action by Clark's two sons.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Hello world

My apologies for the lack of activity on this site. I arrived in Melbourne yesterday morning from Adelaide and did two bookshop readings, thanks to those readers who attended, particularly the lady from Budapest - it was a pleasure to meet you. I very much enjoyed the observation by a a member of the audience at Readings who said that in New York in the 1960s, when a Jewish woman reached 50 she was awarded a fur coat. And with that carapace around her shoulders, she demonstrated her status. We need to find a modern-day equivalent of the mink.

Meanwhile, those of you of a literary disposition may believe that writers are lovely, sensitive souls. After seven full days in the company of some of the most important writers in the world, I can tell you that the clash of egos, the arrogance, the selfishness, insecurity, the anxiety about pecking orders, is a sight to behold.

I can say no more, but if you are interested in reading authors whose private personalities actually match up to their prose, try here.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Great minds

A group of Jewish schoolgirls in London boycotted an examination requiring them to answer questions on Shakespeare, whom they believed, based on the portrayal of Shylock in Merchant of Venice, was anti-semitic.

Addressing this charge in the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan dismisses the accusation, thus:

No, of course he wasn’t. His universalism, his grandeur, the wholeness of his understanding, makes such questions meaningless. Shakespeare cannot be confined by any set of beliefs: his genius always bursts out, putting both sides of a case far more eloquently than any other advocate. When you try and conscript him to a narrow cause, you make yourself look narrow. Shakespeare’s canon will broaden your experience more than your experience can ever broaden it.
But argues that Shylock has been, perhaps, the greatest source of trouble for the Jews:
. . . on balance, I’m with the pupils at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School. Shylock, precisely because of the depth of his character, precisely because his motives are made comprehensible, is the most dangerous archetype of the malevolent Jew ever created. He’s not just a nasty piece of work; he possesses the character traits that anti-Semites have projected onto Jews down the ages. He is greedy, legalistic, clever and lacking in compassion: a schemer who secretly loathes the Christians he lends money to.

I feel awkward every time I watch the play, as many gentiles do. I can only imagine how much more uneasy I would feel if I were Jewish. Harold Bloom, perhaps the most dedicated Shakespearean of our age, is beguiled by the play, and by the ambiguities of Shylock in particular; yet he well recognises how much it has worsened the lot of European Jewry. “Shakespeare’s persuasiveness has its unfortunate aspects; The Merchant of Venice may have been more of an incitement to anti-Semitism than The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, though less than the Gospel of John. We pay a price for what we gain from Shakespeare”.

And this seems to be the nub of a contemporary problem: that great, not narrow minds, can take positions of high moral grandeur, dismissive of the consequences for others.

Draped in despair but keeping up appearances

From this weekend's The Australian

THE last complete sentence my mother uttered before her death was said in a whisper, her hand shakily pointing towards my sister's neck: "I like your necklace." Following this utterance her speech centre failed, then everything else failed, and she died.

I grew up in a family where appearances mattered. My grandparents on both sides were Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, decanted from a remote area of Polish farmland into the English class system, and they believed in a series of maxims, such as, "The only thing worse than being skint is looking as if you're skint", and most significantly, "Only the rich can afford cheap shoes".

So I have never taken to the idea that clothes, shoes, handbags, hairdressing, manicures are part of the realm of the superficial, the trivial. That the high-minded woman should care little for what she wears. For we are clothed almost 24 hours of the day and, like it or not, we are looked at and judged. It came to me a few years ago that you cannot have depths without surfaces, it's a physical impossibility, and how the two cohere is what makes life interesting. There shouldn't be shame in being interested in fashion.

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