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

Friday, 30 May 2008


This is a movie so unbelievably girly, whirly and twirly that, on leaving the cinema, I felt like reading three Andy McNabs back to back, just to get my testosterone back up to metrosexual level.

writes Peter Bradshaw, film critic of the Guardian.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

UK Vogue: The Ageless style issue

Vogue has just biked round the July issue of Vogue which has a piece by me on 1968 fashion, Thatcher chic (apparently) by Mario Testino, a long piece by Lisa Arnmstrong, fashion writer of the Times on how to dress as you get older, a cover shot of Uma Thurman, facing forty with glamour and a piece by editor Alexandra Shulman on her own wardrobe at fifty.

Farewell, I might be some time.

Yet another reason not to buy cheap clothes

Every once in a while I take a bag full of clothes to the charity shop. My view is that yeah, all right, I've bought disposable clothes, but since they'll get a second lease of life in someone else's wardrobe, with the charity benfiting as the middle man, then when I buy something, I am, in part making a charitable donation further down the line.

Or so I thought.

“Disposability has caused an explosion of problems,” says Dr Lucy Norris, the co-curator of a new exhibition at the Horniman Museum in south London, which traces the odyssey of clothes dumped in Oxfam clothing banks and charity shops. “Clothing is now given in such huge quantities to British charities that they can’t sell it all in the shops. The volume is increasing, while the quality is decreasing.”

For charities to get a return on our tat, most of it is exported. But if you had visions of your old treasures being parachuted into Burma as aid, think again. Charities don’t give clothes away, they sell them. “It takes too long to ship things to disaster areas, and to air-freight them is too expensive,” says Rob McNeil of Oxfam.

Instead, the clothes end up in eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, where they are either sold whole or organised into great colour- coded mounds, as in Panipat, north India, then shredded, pulped and respun into what is known as “shoddy” yarn (recycled wool) and made into cheap blankets.

. . .

The problem is that much of what is donated is synthetic, which is the most difficult to recycle; cotton is also expensive to reuse. The easiest textile to recycle is wool, but the demise of knitwear over the past 15 years has seen the “shoddy” industry suffer. And while donation bins are being stuffed with synthetics, charity shops are struggling to stay competitive with the likes of £3 jeans.

Now that our castoffs are being shipped halfway around the world, what about the environment? Do the benefits of recycling outweigh the carbon cost of shipping? Oxfam hasn’t assessed that: the environmental benefit is only part of the story — cash is the rest. And it’s a difficult area. Second-hand clothing exports can damage the local garment trade — from 1985 to 1992, 51 out of 72 Zambian clothing firms closed, partly due to foreign competition. “If we sent stuff to where there is already a second-hand clothing market, it could undercut that industry,” says McNeil.

You really should read the rest.

Doing the vamp

Go babe, go!

A film is released today which stars four female characters all in their forties. One hits her fiftieth birthday during the action. The actress who plays her is 51. The other actresses really are in their forties, not 23 year olds with prosthetics. It was its female audience which made Sex in the City, not studio executives. Women of all ages watched it. It contains a character which I don't think had ever been seen on screen before, the single, financially independent vamp.

Kim Cattrall has her number:

But is her vamp persona realistic at the the age of 51? "It depends on where you live," says Cattrall. And on what you look like. "It also depends on your financial security. She's a very successful woman, and she takes care of herself."

The vamp understands the power of her sexuality. She gets the idea that it's not just looks, hormones, but the manipulation of a whole appearance through clothes, scent, jewels. This role has usually been taken by the mistress, the manhunter (think Rita Hayworth in Gilda), occasionally by those with inherited wealth. The potency of the single, sucessful city-dweller who insists on taking her pleasure on her own terms is a new creation.

Not of course one than many of us can emulate, but in an age of the sixty-something Harrison Ford reprising Indiana Jones, we at long last have the older women come to centre stage, at least in fiction. Good.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Into the dark

This rather muddled piece on credit-crunch chic takes its cue from the M&S A/W08 range which was had its press show last week. It seems to think that we'll all be buying colour and pattern because black is too depressing and we'll need to cheer ourselves up.

It's talking about style-conscious women who have been buying a mix of Primark, Zara and some designer labels. Will they now cut the designers? I'm not a trend-spotter and I can't speak of what others might do, but the credit crunch (and it has had knock-on effects on me) means that I can no longer afford to buy disposable clothing. Stopping and thinking, asking if this will last more than a season, has now become instinctive.

On the other hand, do I want to be wearing the same black jacket for the next seven years at every party? I don't go to huge numbers of parties, but I do go to several, and wearing the same thing every time makes me feel like when I come in people think, 'There she is, in her jacket.'

Smile corner

'There is a real vulgarity in the way women dress at the moment," purrs Roberto Cavalli, stubbing out his cigarette in a turtle-shaped gold ashtray and reaching into his green, lizard-skin manbag for a cigar. "They show off too much and try too hard. They don't understand where the line is between sexy and vulgar. I know where that line is."

Roberto Cavalli with Celia Walden
King of the world: Roberto Cavalli with Celia Walden

I expected many things from the 64-year-old Italian designer - lover of leopard-print and creator of red-carpet dresses that stay up against all the laws of physics - but not this. Remember the slashed, lime chiffon number worn by Victoria Beckham to her own Full Length and Fabulous ball?

There are many words to describe it: understated is not one of them. But then we are in Cavalli world - a floating parallel universe where the senses are assaulted by a frenzy of satiny animal prints, gilt, mahogany and orchids.

and on and on, a pleasure to read

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

What are these people on about?

Apparently the designers are pushing the cruise collections because global warming means we no longer have a winter. So that's why sales of shearlings have collapsed and why you can't see one in the shops and Joseph doesn't stock them any more . . .

You can no longer always tell what you are looking at," said Liz Walker, executive fashion editor at Marie Claire. "A winter fashion show may have no coats or sweaters, and the only thing that reminds you it's a summer show is if you see a girl in bikini."It's definitely to do with climate change. Ten years ago you knew you were going to have to shoot coats and sweaters in Russia or Iceland, but nobody wants those clothes anymore.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Some ebay items

Since my moth catastrophe I have been doing some serious wardrobe pruning and have decided to sell a few items, two Anya Hindmarch bags and one Nicole Farhi jacket which is a bit big.

You can see the listings for each item here:

Anya Hindmarch Cooper
Anya Hindmarch Whistler
Nicole Farhi navy swing jacket

Please note, none of these items have been infested by moths, but a Brora green cashmere cardie was.

Bank holiday Monday

Sunday, 25 May 2008

An appeal to my readers

A friend of mine has been sending me some wonderful emails on the perils of menswear. He has written about the male mutton-dressed-as-lamb conundrum, and the difficulties of 'smart-casual' in the business environment - a sea of boring men in pressed jeans and polo shirts. Not to mention his early teenage forays into clothes buying in Swinging London.

I have invited him to come over as an occasional guest contributor. Among his long list of increasingly feeble excuses has been his contention that no-one would be interested.

So do we have any takers for a column from a well-dressed but cool Englishman of a certain age?

Record your responses below and I'll pass them on.

The gentleman in question has moved an inch or two, having sent me a list of possible pseudonyms, but has now pissed off abroad for a few days. I will update you when I hear more. All I can say is, it will be worth the wait.

So tell me . . .

Betty Jackson says:

'I still think that clothes look better on thin people. I'm sorry, that's the truth. They look better in a size eight and ten than they do in a 16 and 18.'

Do we disagree?

It's not a love story

Ripped off from Norm, who spotted it first, this very telling insight from David Baddiel, about Jane Austen, summing up my disgust at the recent biopic (not to mention the increasingly Mills and Boonish quality of film adaptations of her work.

I first read Austen as a teenager, given Nothanger Abbey as an O level set text. I did not much enjoy it, unable to appreciate at such a young age, what Baddiel so effectively describes. I am not, like Norm, a Janeite, but Baddiel's assessment of her as the firs modernist, will take me back there, right now:

However, the great writer who has really been portrayed this way most frequently in recent times is one who hasn't yet been visited by the jaunty Gallifrean: Jane Austen. Both in the film Becoming Jane and the TV movie Miss Austen Regrets, Austen was depicted as a waspish cynical tomboy, clever with words if not so clever with men: a sort of Regency Sue Perkins. In the TV movie, there was a greater stab at complexity, as the character grew bitter with age - an Elizabeth Bennett who never nabs Mr Darcy - but in both there was, I would hazard, an incipient underlying sexism, based on the notion that Austen's work was underpinned by her own failures in love.

Because here's the thing about Jane Austen. She was a very great genius. She is possibly the greatest genius in the history of English literature, arguably greater than Shakespeare. And her achievement is not that much to do with love, although that was her subject matter. It's to do with technique. Before her there are three strands in English fiction: the somewhat mental, directly-reader-addressing semi-oral romps of Nashe and Sterne and Fielding; the sensationalist Gothic work of Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe; and the romances of Eliza Haywood and Fanny Burney.

However great these writers are, none could be read now and considered modern. When Austen gets into her stride, which she does very quickly with Sense and Sensibility, suddenly, you have all the key modern realist devices: ironic narration; controlled point of view; structural unity; transparency of focus; ensemble characterisation; fixed arenas of time and place; and, most importantly, the giving-up of the fantastical in favour of a notion that art should represent life as it is actually lived in all its wonderful ordinariness. She is the first person, as John Updike put it: “to give the mundane its beautiful due”, and her work leads to Updike as much as it does to George Eliot.

I have no idea how a mainly home-educated rector's daughter came by all that, but I know that imagining her as a kind of acerbic spinster flattens out this genius. It becomes all about the subject matter and not at all about the huge creative advance her work represents.

Gay or grey

Let me very firmly indeed declare myself on the side of the author, here:

I look dreadful with both white hair and blonde hair. I am a dark-haired woman. And so shall remain.

And there's the rub. Women will admire Anna Ford and the rest of the glamorous grey brigade, but they will hesitate to follow suit. We don't want to go grey because of ageist prejudice, but the guilty secret is that many of us are scared we haven't got the cheekbones or the chutzpah to carry it off. My suspicion - and OK, it's deeply unsisterly - is that some women are happy to turn silver because they know they still look hot; it's not so much authentic ageing as a subtle assertion of superiority.

The other problem about grey hair is that it is such a high-maintenance option. You don't have to get your roots retouched every five minutes, but if you want to stay fabulous, the rest of your grooming has to rise exponentially. Flawlessly styled hair, immaculate clothes and perfect make-up are indispensable, as is a trim figure.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

What French women do differently

When I was sixteen I was packed off for the summer to a kibbutz. Me and agricultural labour are not a match made in heaven, nor the spartan socialism of daily life. One hot morning, and every morning got hotter than the next, I was walking along a lane-type arrangement holding a small scythe to hack away the dead leaves in a banana plantation when I raised my arm for some reason. The kibbutz girl next to me screamed. Oh, she cried, you are bald.

I was supposed to have looked like this

apart from the red sequinned dress and the clutch, obviously.

Susannah Frankel, in the Indie, writes:

It is the stuff of legend that European women the chic, beach-loving French in particular are less likely to remove underarm hair than their British counterparts, who are, also famously, considered not to be as comfortable in their own skin. Given that France is a country where beauticians will wax eyebrows, top lip, chin, nostrils (yes, nostrils) in the blink of an eye, this is not just an oversight. Instead, while hair on legs and, indeed, pretty much anywhere apart from the head might be considered unsightly, armpits are left just as nature intended.

Friday, 23 May 2008


As Jess Cartner-Morley points out

Wearing calf-length is this season’s way of telling the world you read Vogue. It is so very fashionable that you won’t even see it in the shops yet, because this is next season’s trend. The trouble with fashion, of course, is that it is so very often at cross-purposes with old-fashioned notions like Looking Nice. (You will notice that Anna Wintour, though presumably well aware that calf-length is quite the dernier cri, does not go near it with a bargepole.)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Useful idiots

A man I know, a man not unknown to military manoeuvres on the battlefield, a man who, in fact received a battlefield promotion during the Yom Kippur War, tells me that he too has moths in his house.

His moths are on the lower level, and he says that to ensure that they do not ascend the stairs and eat his Gieves and Hawkes jackets, he has given them a small carpet to eat.

For if we give Germany Czechoslovakia and Poland, they'll leave France alone, won't they?

Patricia Field for M&S

'Wait till Carrie finds out what she's wearing next'

I wasn't able to make the M&S A/W08 launch yesterday but here's news of it

Marks & Spencers announced today that they have signed a deal with trend-setting Sex and the City stylist, Patricia Field to sell a one-off 35 piece fashion range. This is due to launch mid October and will be available from 10 M&S stores, online and with selected pieces going to a further 50 stores across the U.K and several stores abroad. Of her collaboration with M&S, Field said that she “wanted to be involved with a brand who really understood women of all ages”. This retailer has always lived up to the maxim of ‘being all things to all women’ and in these uncertain times they’re going to have to try as hard as ever to deliver that.

Actual M&S outfit available this Autumn

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

For those in Monaco this summer

'Linen kaftans and dresses and jewelled leather sandals were invented in the land of the mummies to suit the needs of the people based on climate and on social status.
Today kaftans are a must have accessory for covering up at the beach and leather bejewelled sandals help protect against scorched soles of the feet, when leaving sun chairs in search of refreshments. Linen dresses; trousers, tops and tunics are currently filling up the high street waiting to be purchased by holidaymakers, or Brits who believe that their summer has not been the two sunshine filled weeks in May.
'To celebrate Ancient Egyptian women, including their attire, the Principality of Monaco will this summer host the largest Egyptian exhibition ever to be staged in Europe, the Reines D’Egypte. The exhibition will be the first to focus on the female pharaohs, wives, mothers and daughters who influenced three thousand years of Egyptian history, including exhibits on Cleopatra, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Nefertari.
'More than 250 superb antiquities and works of art will go on display at the Grimaldi Forum between the 12th July and the 10th September 2008.'

Clothes origami

Word of the Plume Cocoon dress is all over the shop.

Thinking the same thing at the same time

The largest number of comments ever received on this site is the discussion on scarves. It seems like everyone is thinking about them.

Now the Telegraph has two pieces about the economy of having things made bespoke, an even greater rejection of the throwaway culture of cheap clothes. It argues that buying bespoke is the way to go during an economic downturn, the sartorial equivalent of 'only the rich can afford cheap shoes.'

"It may seem contradictory that people want a more specialised service when talk is of less disposable income," says Lauretta Roberts, editor of the fashion industry magazine Drapers. "But it does seem to go that way: we trade up in a downturn.

"Buying bespoke is about finding your own style and investing in it, rather than falling prey to every trend. It becomes about spending wisely and not wasting money."

During the good times of the past decade, the idea of having something custom-made was eschewed in favour of fast, throwaway fashion. But now frivolous spending on cheap clothes feels wrong - not to mention ecologically unsound - and our appetite for unique, well-made replacements is growing.

"There is a huge backlash against mass production and anything that suffers sameness," says Marian Salzman, a New York-based trendspotter. "Thus one-of-a-kind has great status. Bespoke makes us feel like we're enjoying a good life. It's the new special."

This woman had this dress designed and made for her. Personally I think it's bloody awful but if she likes it, and feels good in it, and it fits, that's the main thing.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

On the recommendation of the Manolo

I am awestruck.

For the past couple of the weeks, the Manolo has meaning to recommend to you The Clothes on Their Backs, the latest novel from the Manolo’s good friend Linda Grant.

The reason the Manolo recommends this book to you is not just because Linda Grant is the friend, but because The Clothes on the Backs is among the best things the Manolo has read in many years.

There are many reasons the Manolo loves this book, one of the most important of which is that our friend Linda does such the masterful job of demonstrating one of the Manolo’s core beliefs: that the clothes we choose to wear say volumes about us, not just about that which we choose to reveal, but also that which we attempt to conceal.

Linda Grant’s memorable characters wear memorable clothes that aptly reflect their status, their personalities, their era, and their internal condition. And so, if you love clothes and you love shoes, and are prepared to think about them in complex and meaningful ways, you will find this book very satisfying.

But, beyond this narrative facility with fashion, the Manolo especially loves the Clothes on their Backs because there is real life in this book–messy, complex, disappointing, sometimes difficult, sometimes glorious life–our preconceptions are overthrown, moral clarity is difficult to come by, and, just as in real life, things rarely go as we would have wished. In the end, however, the message comes through, you cannot shirk life, you can only live it.

So, you must buy The Clothes on Their Backs and read about Uncle Sandor and Vivien, and their clothes, and their lives, for in all ways this novel has to it the ring of authentic truth.

'It never will be clear as long as she's explaining it'

Courtesy of George Szirtes, the following. Sublime.


Pale denim is back. This is what it will look like on you.

Monday, 19 May 2008

The male mutton

In a feature on the divine Nicky Haslam, whom I once sat next to at a New Statesman lunch, of all places, this observation:

But in real terms, 'mutton' is much more of an issue for men (mutton dressed as ram, perhaps?). Women have lived in fear of committing this premier fashion sin for generations. This has left us extremely well-equipped to do and wear whatever the hell we want, without looking daft or inciting judgment. We know how to get away with stuff.

Men don't. Men - who have only recently been introduced to the possibilities of metro-sexuality, of Beckham-endorsed experimentation with challenging fashion statements, of expensive denim and He-vage (man cleavage, achieved with especially deep V-neck T-shirts) - are not yet aware that an extremely fine line divides these thrilling, liberating styles from age-enhancing daftness. They don't know how to age these brand-new looks, how to carry them off into their thirties and beyond. See 33-year-old Beckham's over-plucked eyebrows and too-tanned skin; the contrast between 35-year-old Jude Law's thinning hair and his army jackets. And Russell Brand, who at 32 should start rethinking his signature silhouette quite soon, because his hips are perhaps no longer as lithe, and his arse no longer as trim, as his super-skinny jeans require (and the kaftans aren't distracting us). These boys are a couple of years and a couple of bad denim choices away from Tony Blair and Jeremy Clarkson in jeans status. Or Richard Madeley, in weekend garb.

On the face

Deja pseu in the comments sums up to the letter my views on cheap face creams:

Every time I've tried the new Olay "wonder cream" du jour, it's sat on top of my skin like a sticky film.

I did not start using a moisturiser until I was in my early thirties for this very reason. Every cheap cream I tried made me want to wash my face as soon as I put it on. Then one day Shiseido launched in Canada, where I was living, with a machiney thing that took a picture of your skin and told you the rate at which you were ageing. Needless to say, I bought the entire range. It was apparent that one of the big differences between cheap and expensive creams was/is the formulation rather than the contents.

I have used a variety of brands since then, and every excursion into the budget ranges including Boots No 7 has produced exactly the same sensation of wanting to wash my face because they don't seem to be absorbed by my skin.

I no longer now buy anything without consulting first with Mary Greenwell, so a week or two ago I asked her to recommend a lighter weight summer night cream. She is a big fan of Chanel and she told me to try HydraMax+. I found the fluid formula to be perfect for summer, and that's what I'm now using. Do I believe that it will give me younger firmer skin? No. I just want it to do the business of supplying moisture.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The best face cream on the market, Definitely.

It says, here.


I have been thinking a lot about scarves since a visit to Bon Marche in Paris last September, where I bought several, including one by Dior and another by Christian Lacroix. As we get older it's best to have some colour next to the face and the scarf (like the handbag) is one of those garments which do not torment us with being the wrong size or too uncomfortable to wear, like a pair of Manolos.

Even expensive scarves are cheap compared to expensive bags and shoes, let alone jewellery. When I had tea at Claridges with Joan Burstein a few weeks ago, (that is the Joan Burstein who is old enough to have saved her clothing ration to buy copies of the New Look when it was first launched,) she was wearing, at 82, a black Marni dress, a navy coat and a long, filmy scarf in pale blue. And some stonking diamond earrings.

The plain palette of an elegant dark dress and coat was the setting for the accessories which lit up her face.

After the moth genocide I had to go very carefully through all my clothes to see what they had eaten and discovered it was only an Ann Louise Roswald skirt and a brown scarf I bought at the Galleries Lafayette in Paris just before interviewing Agnes b, because it was unseasonally cold. I have a lot of scarves and apart from those velvet ones from the Nineties, none of them seemed out of date, indeed yesterday I wore one I bought in 1996 at inflight duty free on a BA flight from Vienna to London, having spent two very long weeks in Iran.

R. and I spent some time on the phone the other night talking about the Hermes scarf and whether we were leading up to buying one. I am a but unsure about some of their designs, which I find somewhat bourgeois (every middle-class Iranian woman seems to have one) and R. was uncertain how to tie them, but I explained that if you pop into an Hermes shop they will give you a little book.

In Paris every single woman knows how to tie a scarf in a way which gives her outfit that totally distinctive chic. Perhaps it is in the fingers, perhaps it is taught at school. But in an age of too short skirts and hopeless struggles to find what we want, perhaps it is the humble scarf that is the real investment and we ought to learn.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Buchmendel updated

I have been judging a literary prize which has meant that I have had little time for personal reading, and much of what I was obliged to read for the prize was not at all good.

Last weekend at the Du Maurier Festival in Fowey, I shared a platform with the editor of Virago Modern Classics, to mark the list's thirtieth anniversary. She gave me some works unknown to me from that list and I have selected a passage from one of them over at Buchmendel.

Friday, 16 May 2008

R. A case study in thoughtful dressing

Regular readers will be familiar with Top Baby Lia, she of the Agnes b cherry dress. The day before yesterday, Lia's mother, R. rang me to tell me of the Rick Owens dress she has just bought and to point it out on the Net a Porter website.

R. has for some time been a source of great interest to me. She is in her early thirties and describes herself, with a degree of irony, as a 'grey bureaucrat.' She works in the public sector arts field and does not have a large income. Yet R. only ever buys designer clothes. She was shopping at Emporio Armani when she was a teenager. Her parents are not rich. How does she do it? She buys, she says, very few clothes. But only the best clothes.

R. studied fine art at Cambridge. She has a strong and extremely definitive visual sense, as does her partner, an architect. She claims that she has a few things from H&M, but I have never seen any evidence of this. What she does have is a wardrobe full of stunning enduring clothes that can be worn season after season. Once, I took her with me to Anya Hindmarch so she could use my press discount. It took her an hour to choose a bag, an hour in which she looked at it from every single angle, discussed it, thought it through. No, I like it, I'll take it. This was shopping as hard work.

I asked her once if she could settle for more but cheaper clothes. She sounded puzzled, as if I were asking her if she might consider leaving her two-year-old daughter unattended in the middle of Oxford Street for a couple of hours while she went off to do something. The suggestion was insane.

Some people have nothing but lovely clothes and some of us have a wardrobe full of mistakes. And it seems you don't even have to be rich to be in the former category.

R. rang me last night to deny ever having stated that she owned anything from H&M. After some twenty minutes she conceded that it was true she had some Rakph Lauren for H&M trousers.

R. was also given a present by the Queen the day before yesterday. Yes, you read that right. HM Queen Elizabeth II gave her a gift with her own hands. It is a signed photo of herself and her husband in a Smythson frame. I think it's going to look lovely in the flat and look forward to seeing it next time I'm there. I suggested she could put it in Lia's bedroom and tell her the old couple are friends of her grandparents.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Estee Lauder ad campaign

Fascinating piece on the history of the face of Estee Lauder. If you flick through a mag today, what you see, because of photoshop, is a close-up of skin not flawless but not skin at all, a face with only two dimensions.

A decision was taken to personify the brand's products in the likeness of this fiction. The campaign would use the same model in its advertising photography over a run of years. Each of the exemplars projected a different kind of physical beauty, though they had much in common. Caucasian women, they are slender but not excessively thin, graced with elegantly long necks, trusty high cheek bones and classically regular facial features. Although a smiling face is thought of as being part and parcel of US product advertising, few of the Lauder lovelies succumb to a parting of the lips. A characteristic expression is of cool don't-mess-with-me reserve.

Consistency was essential in the visuals and this was the responsibility of the Chicago-based photographer Victor Skrebneski, who was assigned to shoot the pictures throughout. In an interview in Town & Country magazine, he said, 'I love to design photographs, to consider the proportions of the figure, the space around it, the edge of the picture.' Among his best-known sitters are Audrey Hepburn, Orson Welles, Vanessa Redgrave, Fred Astaire, and among younger members, Jasmine Guinness.

Owing more than a nod to Hollywood lighting effects and film-still poses, the shoots went flat out for the aspirational. Whether location or studio, a whole slew of fashions in living were called on and called in: impressive houses, designer dresses from the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Halston and Valentino, remarkable accessories and interior design details with an emphasis on collector's level art, both antique and contemporary. In my telephone interview with Skrebneski, he recalled, 'The photographs caused a lot of public comment. People were interested in everything in the picture. The designers whose dresses were shown did quite a lot of business and I was always being asked where we had got hold of an item of decoration.'

Interestingly for such ephemera, the portfolio had an afterlife. It was thought that the pictures communicated more than segments of powder and paint time. A selection of the shots was first published in hardback in 1987 with an introduction by Hubert de Givenchy.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Eco fashion - beyond guilt

Lisa Armstrong nails it in the Times:

Not that I am recommending that you buy something worthy out of guilt. For guilt, as I hope we all agree, is the very worst motive for partaking in any sort of retail activity. It is only through not being bought out of guilt that eco and fairtrade set-ups discover what we really want, especially if you follow your rejection with a comment on their websites. Call it tough love.

And they are improving. Honestly. In the past you looked. You pondered. You thought: “What a nice idea, I really must support it.” Then you went to H&M.

But things are changing, thanks to some serious hard work and soul-searching. “We are constantly working on ways to keep our customers engaged,” says Sim Scavazza, of, which describes itself as “a sort of ethical department store” (it has cute fair-trade trousers, wrap miniskirts and necklaces, by the way).

“We change the home page weekly, as you would a shop window, and are adding an entire section on news and features. And there's not a hemp dress in sight. We know that the demand is there. The high street is taking note and London Fashion Week has its own eco-brand section. It just hasn't reached critical mass yet,” Scavazza adds.

So what first attracted you to the millionaire Harvey Weinstein?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Me and the emerald necklace

Laurel spray made for Empress Josephine

This is a piece I did for the Telegraph on the new jewellery gallery which is about to open at the V&A. I'm going to the private view next week - champagne, canapes and staring at tiaras. And where are you now, moths?

Chadour-Sampson takes out what looks like an ordinary plastic bag (though it's conservation-grade plastic) and opens it to reveal an emerald and diamond necklace and earrings: the Beauharnais emeralds, given by Napoleon to his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais, on her marriage in 1806 to the heir to the Grand Duke of Baden, and probably made by Nitot & Fils of Paris. It was about this time that jewellers began to develop open-back settings, which allowed more light through the stones. The simplicity of the setting, the square-cut and pendant emeralds surrounded by diamonds and connected by chains of diamonds and emeralds, must have been an early form of minimalism. Clasping it to my neck, I regret that I am not fit enough to make a run for it down the stone steps.

Cameos (the Victorian equivalent of keeping a picture of your loved one on your mobile phone), lockets containing strands of your nearest and dearest's hair (dead or alive) and jet mourning jewellery were all characteristics of 19th-century decorative jewellery, though it still incorporated religious motifs such as crosses. By the 1860s the trade had been transformed by mechanisation. Jewellery went mass-market with gold-plated base metals and machine-made chains, and was now worn by all classes. Inevitably, the simplicity of great - and easily copied - sets like the Beauharnais emeralds had to give way to jewels as works of art in themselves, such as a spectacular art-nouveau orchid of gold enamel, rubies and diamonds, designed to be worn in the hair, which has the slightly sinister fin-de-siècle decadence of the symbolist painters. At the turn of the last century the tiara became a fashion item, and no longer the preserve of royalty and aristocracy. Cartier was the leader in the making of tiaras, such as the piece made for Alexandra Comnène for her marriage in 1913 to Robert Everts, a diplomat, with cabochon rubies - early examples of synthetic stones, supplied by Comnène herself

Monday, 12 May 2008

Karen Cole dress report

I ordered this dress on Thursday. On the plus side it arrived by special delivery the following morning (shame I was away). On the minus, it was not very well packaged: in a plastic bag then shoved in a jiffy bag so it was extremely creased. The dress is as shown, a heavy knit jersey. It fell very well but there was cling, around the stomach. It like no cling there at all. I also felt that the v of the neck was a little wide and low as shown above. The big disappointment is that it wasn't the colour I wanted,; I was looking for a dark navy, a few shades under black. I would call this French navy. It looked good on, but my overall feeling was, not special enough for the price and not the right colour, so back it goes.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

And so farewell, moths

Victory is ours.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Happy birthday

To all of my friends who are celebrating today, the famous and the not-so-famous:

It might not be what Ben-Gurion had in mind, but that’s what there is.

זה מה יש

What an unpleasant week, but Barbie is Jewish

Moths, builders, flu, too-short dresses . . .

However this piece of old news made me smile:

Although Barbie may seem to be an Aryan ideal, the doll was the brainchild of a Jewish woman named Ruth Handler. San Francisco filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby awards, considers Handler's role in creating Barbie one of pop culture's great ironies and explores that notion in her new film, "The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll ... in About 15 Minutes," written with her husband, UC Berkeley Professor Ken Goldberg. The film, narrated by Peter Coyote, premieres Saturday at a sold-out screening at Herbst Theatre. It will also screen at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The short of it

Every year I buy a fairly simple cheap summer dress, the kind of dress you can lounge around in on a hot day and not feel you look like a mess. Not a special dress, just an okay summer dress you don't mind spilling a glass of white wine all over. M&S always has a good supply.

So last week I ordered this

It arrived this afternoon and I was very pleasantly surprised It was a great colour, had a shocking pink cotton lining and was a perfect fit, in all but one respect. Unlike the picture, it comes above the knee. And when you sit down above the knee is mid-thigh. Now I am 5'5" which means I am taller than than model. How can that be?

And when will this madness end, I ask, as I pack it up for return?

Judith Krantz.

I am still ill, When I get better I'll be writing a piece on Judith Krantz. Share your thoughts if you have any.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The great unstriped

Every single year the fashion pages tell us that this year the big story is nautical chic, and every single year it isn't in the shops and no-one is wearing it.

I am not having a nice time

I went to bed on Sunday night with most of the cupboards cleared out, but with considerable mess all over the place. I woke up on Monday morning with viral flu, the symptoms of which I will draw a veil over, but required several trips to the bathroom.

An email from a friend arrives this morning:

I saw on your blog that you have moths - lots of sympathy, we had them SO badly year before last... they munched loads of my jumpers, and C's, and the silk linings of M's suits, and hung out in the carpets and the piano felts too....

I know you will have had loads of advice but anyway, we found that what worked for us - other than a big clearout, lots of drycleaning (and stashing clothes in rotation in the freezer), was to get a company called Terminex to come in twice, and they sprayed the flat from top to bottom, esp curtains, carpets, sofas, but also the insides of wardrobes and chests of drawers, under beds, etc etc, with really strong insecticide (they wear masks, it's not the kind of stuff you would handle yourself). We had to go out for a few hours each time for them to do the work, but it really did work - the moths haven't come back as far as we can see.
I am sleeping, and talking to a friend on the phone who is going to the dinner with the Queen on board HMS Invincible (a work thing) about the definitiuon of cocktail. I say it's knee length, the Palace says ankle-length. So in lieu of any fashiony posts you can discuss that.

Sunday, 4 May 2008


Short of burning the house down to get rid of the moths, the present course of action is as extensive as it can go. The loft conversion in this house has cupboards all around the eaves, into which I have crammed many many years of accumulated junk. The moth larvae have set up house here.

I have spent the past three days clearing this out, sorting out and hauling about fifty black bags down the 35 stairs to be stashed in the front garden from where I hope to persuade a young man with a van to take it to the dump.

I have found: letters dating back to the mid-70s that were yesterday's version of email, files, old magazines, large sets of my mother's Royal Albert dinner and tea services, tarnished silver, a suitcase full of clothes I last wore in the early 80s, when, without my understanding it at the time, I must have been actually thin.

A love letter to my father, not from my mother.

But mostly, just dusty moth-infested rubbish. And however long I keep going, there is always another box.

More fumigation. More vaccuming. And on Thursday the carpet cleaners are coming.

Lesson: Do not store old carpets.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Naked self-interest

I just want to mention that as part of the mammoth clean-out operation that awaits me today, I will be taking about 20 items to the dry-cleaners and buying a lot more moth death ray spray and a lot more insecticide, which of course means I can't buy any new clothes. Unless you ordered something from Pure Cashmere from the link above and I get 12 per cent of whatever you spend. Or 22 per cent if you're a new customer. Don't you need a pashmina? But, you know, no pressure.

How to look your best

This simple, straightforward set of rules is so basic and obvious that they scarecly need stating, but taken toegther they seem to me to represent the Ten (actually Six) Commandments of dressing, and as such, should be taped to the inside of every woman's wardrobe:

Top styling tips

  • The second you put a limb into a piece of clothing, you should feel good about wearing it.
  • Throw away anything you haven't worn for more than three years.
  • Never buy clothes you need to be slim to fit into.
  • Every outfit should have one "wow" factor item, be it belt, shoes or a piece of jewellery.
  • Never buy clothes that wear you: people should notice you first, not what you are wearing.
  • Buy jeans to suit your figure, rather than the jeans of the season.
  • Friday, 2 May 2008

    The root of all evil is

    . . . a cupboard at the top of the stairs containing an old rug, which has formed a sort of moth Waitrose, aisles and aisles of delicious things to eat. I now have to clean out the whole thing. The floor is covered with larvae.

    On the plus side, they don't seem to have got into the wardrobe. I hope.

    Having had the most disgusting morning putting half-eaten stuff and other stuff covered in larvae into bin bags, and having found a half-eaten vintage coat from the early 50s which a friend gave me in 1985, my cleaner has arrived and is going over the carpet inch by inch with a vacuum cleaner, crevice tool and insecticide. Next week the carpet cleaners are coming.

    I have to go to the gym now and have my trainer make me pick up heavy things. Lovely. Then home to find out if this is the new mayor of London, as predicted by all the news media.

    After I spent four hours this morning clearing out the cupboard, spraying moth killer and laying down insecticide, and my cleaner spent five hours vacuuming, this evening the moths are still there, on the walls and ceiling in the hall.

    I have had an email . . .

    Greetings --

    just a quick note of commiseration! it's a testament to the laxity of my cleaner that oh, god, nearly a year ago last november, i noticed some bald patches in a rug I'd bought at John Lewis (normally very reliable in all things) and when i turned it over, it was teeming with larvae and suchlike. it took me ages and ages to get rid of the damn things, using some of the same products I see you've got. unlike you, i'm not smart enough to store woolens in bags so ended up tossing a few things, though nothing quite as mind boggling as the rug itself! i'm not at all squeamish about bugs (rodents are another story) but I was grossed out. moths are so persistent, too.
    and just when I thought it was safe, I saw one flying round the room the other night. Luckily, so far, seems to be a solo flight. But the shorter version is just to say perservere and I feel for you!


    The Story of the Supremes, an upcoming V&A exhibition of the performance costumes of the seminal girl-group, makes it pretty clear that it's not just Marge Simpson that Amy Winehouse is channelling. The beehives and the beestung lips, the doll-like get-ups and the larger-than-life voices: it's there in grainy black-and-white stills of Diana and co from the early 1960s, and in a million grainy YouTube clips of Amy circa 2008. Winehouse uses the retro image to position herself in a roll call of female singing icons dating back to Ross and beyond, and distance herself from the world of contemporary throwaway pop. But no amount of hairspray can disguise how much the pop world has changed in four and a half decades: while the Story of the Supremes tells an old-fashioned tale, from the first album cover with its Woolworths pearls to the days of Bob Mackie gowns, the Amy show has been all about downfall, not rise. If the Story of the Supremes is about how to construct female fame, Winehouse, vulnerable in her overexposed body and unsteady on her five-inch heels, is about how vulnerable female stars really are.


    Thursday, 1 May 2008

    Update on evil

    The location of the moth infestation has been isolated to the hall carpet at the top of the stairs. They are breeding in the place where the carpet meets the wall and subsequently massing into the bedroom where there is a scrumptious banquet of cashmere and other items..

    The following actions have been taken:

    1. With my moth genocide kit I first sprayed clouds of deadly moth exterminator about.
    2. Next I sprayed the walls and carpet with insecticide
    3. Next I hoovered up a lot of dead and dying moths and applied a crevice tool to the carpet
    4. Then I set down traps, which are little open cages with a sticky strip on them dosed in something which attracts male moths in the hopes of some high class nookie, But actually kills them. The females fly about uselessly with no moth Mr Darcy to impregnate them, like characters out of Bridget Jones or Sex in the City.

    The result today is that there are lot of dead moths in the traps and lying around on the carpet and no signs as yet of any live ones.

    But our enemies are legion and they are cunning and cruel. I do not believe we have reached VE day yet.


    Today we have elections. In London we are voting for mayor and for the London assembly. It was my intention from the outset to keep politics firmly to the margins of this site, so that everyone is welcome who has an interest in the things that interest me.

    So I won't say anything about my strong distrust of the incumbent mayor, or my revulsion for his main opponent . But if we think democracy isn't worth leaving the house for in London, who are we to chide others for stealing it?

    The meme thing

    I've been tagged by Charles Lambert to do this:

    1. Pick up the nearest book.
    2. Open to page 123
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the next three sentences.
    5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.


    'No-one could resist the valiant girl who, having staked all she had on one throw, watched her dream disappear. She was among the young women visitors to Royallieu who spent their time devising new pranks to amuse Etienne Blalsan. For instance there was the memorable May night when Capel and his friends decided to make an entrance at Etienne's in disguise.'

    That's from Chanel, by Edmonde Charles-Roux

    I now tag Indigo Alison, Thumbelina Fashonista, 16 Going on 60, Bookslut, An American in London