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

Monday, 30 June 2008

Scarves yet again


I have a mini-obsession with scarves at the moment. Last week I bought a Gucci scarf on ebay for £37. It arrived in a condition as close to new as I could make out, having been bought in Gucci's Bond Street shop, by a woman in Bayswater selling designer accessories and buying designer baby clothes (wonder what the story is there?) I've seen a sample of Jaeger black winter coat which I'm pretty much decided on buying. Around the neck of which one of my growing collection of scarves will be worn to keep black away from the face.

The designer scarf is an interesting phenomenon. I am not crazy about vintage Hermes designs, with their bridles and horseshoes, but other designers have some brighter ideas. I bought scarves by Dior and Lacroix at Le Bon Marche in Paris last Autumn and have worn them constantly. Not to mention the winter staple, the Etro I got in Hong Kong. Compared to the designers' other accessories they are quite inexpensive, given that they ought to last a lifetime and aren't subject to our old favourite, wardrobe shrinkage. I see that Vogue is predicting the return of the scarf, even suggesting one should knot it under the chin, like our dear Queen. As if.

Scarves really are a good bet to buy on ebay. If you carefully vet the seller, they're unlikely to be fakes, more probably an unwanted present, bought by a weary husband at duty free.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Interesting thoughts on eccentric glamour


To claim it, think of the basic elements of your personal style. Let’s call them your style constants. Whether it’s a glossy, jet-black ponytail, a saucy beauty mark, a nuclear explosion of natural red curls or a penchant for livid-green tango shoes, every gal needs a repertoire of well-chosen style constants. Simultaneously communicating and defining your unique identity, these flourishes are unaffected by fleeting trends or the whims of fashion. They are the glamorous foundations that will remain with you through thick and thin (literally and figuratively).

Now take your style constants and punctuate them with a jolt of the unexpected: a rhinestone bucket bag, a pair of mariachi slacks, a vintage Pucci poncho. Et voilĂ ! Eccentric glamour is the happy result.

Do today’s celebs possess eccentric glamour? No! Red-carpet glamour is the antithesis of eccentric glamour. Hiring a stylist who scrounges free frocks on your behalf from top designers does not really qualify as “creative expression”. And today’s celebs are, for the most part, much too chicken, too risk-averse, too scared of those what-were-they-thinking pages in weekly magazines to indulge in eccentric glamour.


and then some categories

Saturday, 28 June 2008

See London before you die


I have some friends staying with me and I sent them off yesterday on a tour of the East End of London with my old mate Harry Jackson who is a London Blue Badge guide. He is a specialist in the East End, Brick Lane and Jewish London as well as all the usual sights. If you're coming to London, I highly recommend checking hiom out at his site. My friends have been raving about how good he was.

If you've read Monica Ali's novel, and want to see the real thing, Harry's your man.

Mao and make-up


Was it only Monday evening, when, after an overnight flight (in economy) from Toronto, and three hours sleep at home, I met Tina Craig of the Bag Snobs on her last night in London and we got through two bottles of Veuve Cliquot and four ginger martinis at Momo? And possibly a bit to eat.

So much information was transmitted during the four or five hours that some of it is still sinking in (what she told me about her grandmother's experience of Mao's Cultural Revolution remains in sharp focus, reminding me that I really must get round to reading Jung Chang's Wild Swans, about fifteen years after it first came out - the author, I can attest from spending a weekend with her and her husband, a lover of Issey Miyake's flawless dresses.)

What I noticed about Tina was that despite the largest number of make-up brushes I have ever seen outside the professional collection of the make-up artist, the impression of wearing no make-up at all was accomplished by the finishing touch being just lip-gloss.

And I have come to the conclusion the lipstick can be ageing,* at least in the summer. A little lipgloss in a colour close to your lips' own natural shade, as Tina was wearing, is fresh, natural and takes years off you. I'm currently using Chanel's Aqualumiere, in Bubble Plum for evening and Freeze for day.

* Unless you are one of those women whose skin tone allows you to get away with a slash of deepest red. Which I am unfortunately not.

Friday, 27 June 2008

A man and his jeans

Harry's post below reminds me of a dear friend who went out to buy a pair of jeans, his old ones having suffered that perennial problem, wardrobe shrinkage, and returned home empty handed. He had tried on his usual jeans in his usual size, 34 waist, but found they were too small. Why didn't you get the next size up, I asked him?

Because they're 36 and I'm 34, he said.

Well, I pointed out, obviously if the 34 are too small, you're 36.

No, he said. I'm 34.

As if it was his date of birth or star sign, or the colour of his eyes, something fixed and static in the universe.

He hired a personal trainer.

About a dress


Regular readers will know my wearying search for new dresses. I had a crushing disappointment yesterday, with a dress I had first seen back in February, and which I believed, on the basis of the press sample I had been shown, to be empire line. It turned out to be a smock.

However, just before I went to Toronto I found in H. Nicks, a very good collection of summer dresses by Nicole Farhi and bought one of them, the downside being that it's linen, and all that that entails. But they must be on sale now.

Above is a shot from the SS08 catwalk show which will give an idea. The one I bought is the shape illustrated above, but actually, a nicer fabric. Quite low cut but a top underneath fixes that.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Shopping For Jeans


I've been thinking ( 0r rather, reminiscing ) about jeans, which I must confess is something I've not done much before. The following is what has surfaced .

My friend Pete, at the age of 15, first introduced me to the concept of the Levis 501 ( or was it 601?) and the cold bath 'shrink to fit' ritual. I was amazed. And impressed ( and he had the first Who album).
I never followed suit. I obviously wasn't serious enough. I think my first jeans were Lee. And then a couple of modish short-lived brands. And then some Wranglers. At one stage some OshKosh dungarees ( well, I was running a wholefood cafe).
In the mid 70's , when I rediscovered clothes that fitted I came across Fiorucci  jeans. And they did sizes to every inch; not just 30, 32, 34, but 30, 31, 32. Best fitting jeans I ever owned.
Then I remember some Pepe jeans fitted well. But the rest is all a bit of a  blur of indifferently fitting Levis, Wranglers, Lee Cooper. I sort of took my eye off the sartorial ball ( otherwise known as reaching middle-age).
A few years ago I started to make a bit more of an effort and came across some Paul Smith velvet jeans. They didn't fit as well as the Fioruccis , and my sons weren't entirely convinced of their appropriateness, but I liked them. And then some Valentino black denim ( but I had to remove the back pocket label- just a  bit too flash for my liking)
Currently my badly fitting Levis are consigned to gardening duty. But I do have two pairs of jeans that fit, and I'm happy to wear.
I am told that 7 For All Mankind were a fashionable label last year, which is when I bought them. I was visiting friends in the USA and said that I wanted some new jeans. A modest ambition. So the charming Ms T took me to Barneys LA. Well, that's what I call shopping. The terribly nice young assistant asked what I was looking for. They appeared to have countless brands and styles. I said I wanted dark blue denim, straight leg, and no extraneous ornamentation.He delivered six pairs for me to try. I chose the ones that I felt fitted best, which was confirmed by my shopping companion. It was only then that I looked at the label ( and the price). They have subsequently prompted the occasional compliment.
My second pair were purchased more recently, from Uniqlo, the Japanese retail brand with a couple of branches in London. A completely different experience, close to being challenging, and certainly quite hard work. Primarily because this is a youthful shop. But it's quite utilitarian in design so one doesn't feel that it is a completely alienating environment. They have  a wide range of styles, but, of course no help from the assistants.  I persevered , and came away with a well fitting pair of straight leg jeans with no contrived fading or rips. They also have no branding, which for me is a plus. And, another plus, they were very cheap.

Jeans and the Older Male




Should they or shouldn't they?
It's a question that others have asked.
I actually don't think it's an age thing. But rather a 'looking ok' thing.
Some chaps have never looked anything but a bit baggy or disheveled in jeans. Arguably they were ill-advised to have ever worn them in the first place. But as we ourselves get baggier that's an awkward look to live with. Because it accentuates loss of youth, when scruffy was perhaps the order of the day, or even a post-modern signifier of something. But if you once looked ok in jeans there is a fair chance you still might.
Apologies to 'The Thoughtful Dresser' readers for another music reference, but I saw Bruce Springsteen ( soon to be 59) recently. He has shown no desire to change the way he looks, with denim much in evidence. And he looked entirely sound. Well, sound enough to have a fair number of considerably younger women swooning ( as shown on the giant video screens). But if he hadn't been so energetic, skipping ( yes, skipping) about the stage for two and a half hours, and been quite so trim, then arguably he wouldn't have looked so good.
Small but crucial detail: his jeans fitted.
They don't always . My last two pairs of Levis have been highly unsatisfactory in that department. I bought them whilst in blokeish mode- find the right size, and then a cursory try on, because sometimes a bloke feels too inhibited to be parading around the store being , for want of a better word, vain. Mistake.
As you get older the fit becomes  both more problematic and more important. So to get it right you may actually have to apply yourself. And do that thing called shopping.
More on that anon.

How to turn a clutch into a shoulder bag


More instructions here

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Leonard Cohen suit hommage






Truly, a sharp-dressed man (Harry F. take note)

Hats off to Lenny


Still doing it. And still doing it in style.

Leonard Cohen has just played a few dates in the UK. The Guardian reviewed one of his shows: Tonight, in his suit and hat, he resembles a senior 1920's mobster, only with a guitar instead of a tommy gun. When he and his similarly attired band open with the Italian-flavoured Dance Me to the End of Love, we could almost be at a mafia wedding. The hat is gracefully doffed to acknowledge applause.'  Read on.

Leonard Cohen grew up in Montreal. His father was a tailor. He once said in an interview that he has always worn suits ( I guess that's when he's not in a Buddhist monastery or on a Greek island). And , yes, he has always looked, and been, stylish.
He is now 73. He hadn't played live for a long while. He told the Manchester audience: 'It's been 15 years since I stood up on stage. Fourteen years ago when I was 60 - a young kid with a crazy dream....'
It's a bit late in life for me to have a new one , but I think maybe he makes  a good candidate for a role model.

What we are wearing in SW19


Wimbledon fashions

What is new is the extent to which tennis stars are incorporating not just glamour, but trend. Roger Federer's penchant for retro, garden-party attire is well documented, but on Monday he stepped on to court in a cardigan - the premier success story in menswear of the past two years. This autumn, the style looks set to get a boost from the Brideshead Revisited movie, which designers are beginning to reference on the catwalk. The decision by the No 3 seed Sharapova to ditch a miniskirt for shorts reflects what style-savvy women have been doing for the past two summers. Of her pleated, bib-fronted top, Sharapova said: "It's kind of a tuxedo look, very simple lines, classic." Tuxedo-styling is a strong theme in womenswear for next season.

Urszula Radwanska's mini-tutu is no less on trend. Givenchy's most recent haute couture collection was inspired by Odette/Odile from Swan Lake, and has sparked a rash of ballet-theming on the high street. Ana Ivanovic proved that she is on top form in styling by swapping the puffball number she wore in Paris for a petal-shaped skirt that has echoes of Prada's flower-fairy themed summer collection.



Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Misogynists' corner

Women in a northern Malaysian city ruled by conservative Islamists are being urged to forsake bright lipstick and noisy high heels in an effort to preserve their dignity and avoid rape.
. . .
Loud high-heel shoes should also be avoided, though if women insisted on wearing them the heels could be padded with rubber to mute the sound.

Two-thirds of Malaysians are Malay Muslim, while the other ethnic groups - mainly Chinese and Indians - follow other faiths.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party scored a huge success in the general election three months ago, winning an unprecedented number of seats that propelled it out of its Kelantan backwater powerbase on to the national political stage.

and so on

'It's not about the dress'

Observations from Patricia Field on style, in which she makes the point that after a certain age, being too thin puts ten years on you and makes you look weak.

(thanks, Ruth, 34 [a different Ruth])

Eating from the tree of knowledge



I keep turning over in my mind the period of time last night when I examined Tina Craig's Hermes and Chanel bags. A bit like test driving a Ferrari and then driving home in a Honda.

101 uses for a scarf



After coming back on an overnight flight from Toronto, I managed a bit of sleep then got a call from Tina Craig, co-proprieter of the the bag-site, Bag Snob.

She was in London on the last day of a Paris-London trip and so I went over to her hotel to drink champagne and then have dinner at Momo and she shows me how she has taken an Hermes clutch and run an Hermes scarf through it to turn it into a shoulder bag. Genius.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Life and fate

I have spent the past week in Toronto interviewing a woman who is a survivor of the worst crime of the twentieth century

She asks me not to reveal her age, but she was transported to Auschwitz when she was a teenager in 1944 so do the sums. And here she is, sitting drinking cocktails in a John Galliano jacket, Versace t-shirt, bootcut jeans, Roger Vivier shoes and Dior bag, talking about her friends Giorgio Armani and Valentino. Sometimes there is justice.

She is also an object lesson on how not to grow old. How if you have the indomitable will, the taste and the chutzpah you can tear up that mutton-dressed-as-lamb rule book. She left me with a great deal of think about. Such as a closet with absolutely no black in it (but a pink mink).

You'll be able to read the full story, in the book of the Thoughtful Dresser, in February. Pre-order now!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

How to shop


The Bag Snobs show how it's done

The weather is a bit dreary but the friendliness of the people here is enough to warm my spirits. Remember my disappointment of missing the sales next week in Paris? Well the SAs in Paris didn't agree to pre-sale anything to me, (sniff sniff) but the lovely British more than made up for it! I arrived and immediately went to Harvey Nicks, where I was told everything would be on sale on Wednesday (I'll be home by then). I noticed a woman who looked like a person of authority near the Dries van Noten bay and I asked her if she would kindly consider pre-selling to me or shipping items to me in the States. Not only did she agree, she assigned two Brand Specialists to show me around! After trying on countless amazing items from Balenciaga, Dries, Alexander McQueen, Burberry Prorsum, Stella McCartney, etc. I found a few pieces that I loved and guess what, she let me have them right then and there at the discount! A big thank you to Heather, the sales manager of Harvey Nicks and Suzanne and Tom-- Brand specialists for Dries and Balenciaga. I love the UK! If you live near London, run over to Harvey Nicks this Wednesday, June 25th and ask for Suzanne (Dries) or Tom (Balenciaga)!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Fat black women in Italian Vogue


Italian Vogue's editor, Franca Sozzani, said her decision was influenced by the New York group, as well as by Barack Obama's success in the US presidential primaries.

Meisel, who worked with Madonna on her controversial coffee-table book, Sex, brought several of the black fashion world's big names aboard for the issue. He photographed Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Liya Kebede, Jourdan Dunn, Alek Wek and Pat Cleveland, among others.

"I thought, it's ridiculous, this discrimination. It's so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race - every kind of prejudice," he told the New York Times. He blamed designers, magazine editors and advertisers for the decline in the numbers of black women in fashion shows. "I have asked my advertising clients so many times, 'Can we use a black girl?' They say no."

Among the black models on his roster was the full-figured Toccara Jones. Meisel argued that weight was also an issue in the fashion world.

read on

and more, here

This magazine exists to inspire women. How do fashion editors get inspired by watching the same procession of anonymous, blandly pretty, very young, very skinny, washed-out blondes with their hair scraped back in show after show? The glamazon supermodels of the late eighties and early nineties (Linda, Christy, Cindy, Naomi, Claudia) all looked equal but different as they thundered down the runway. Like the Spice Girls, each had an individual personality, a different physicality. So did the late-nineties wave of sexy Brazilian girls (who come in all colors, from milk to brown). The current wave of Eastern Europeans all look pretty much alike, which is odd for a trade that thrives on appealing to a woman's personal style. And all are, obviously, white. Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm model agency in London, remarks, "It's a naughty thing to say, because I've got some beautiful Eastern European girls, but to be honest, when I go in cars with them in Paris, I do get snow-blinded."

Friday, 20 June 2008

What do these three men have in common?

This post first appeared in November 2007





A few years ago, I was having lunch at Moro in Clerkenwell Market with the then women's page editor of the Guardian. Sitting at the next table were a group of adoring acolytes hanging on the every word of a flat bloke with a blonde bristly head like a pig, dressed in combats encasing thighs which oozed like over-ripe Camembert sluggishly running off the edge of his chair.

That, said my lunch companion, is Alexander McQueen.

And a spasm of pure rage passed through me. Who was this fat bastard to tell women that they were obese if they couldn't fit into a size 10? To make clothes that half the population couldn't wear? I am tired of fat men telling non-skeletal women that they don't exist. Granted, McQueen, like Lagerfeld, with the assistance of the finest trainers money can buy and no obligation to prepare family meals three times a day, have slimmed down, or in the case of Lagerfeld, turned himself into his own corpse, but fashion is full of fat men (sorry Alber, I really love you in every other way) giving normal-sized women an inferiority complex.

I had my picture take a couple of weeks ago to go with a magazine piece I'm doing . There was a photographer, a picture editor, a make-up artist and the manager of Hobbs all involved in this operation, and after the make-up artist had bemoaned that she couldn't find a pair of trousers to fit her in Zara, the photographer said that one her friends was a plus-sized model. 'What's plus size?' I asked. It's size 12 (US8) she told me.

Myself, I'd put every man in fashion who weighs over 150 pounds on the Atkins diet. And don't come back until you can fit into skinny jeans.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Is this a handbag? Harry poses a question




Of course it's a back pack. Or it could be called a day sack, or ruck sack, or a shoulder bag. Its near relatives might be called a messenger bag, a courier satchel, or laptop case. They are all bags for men.

I have occasionally referred to mine as a handbag, and have met with looks somewhat askance ( female) or mildly uneasy ( male). It would seem to be a bit of a gender tease .
But the truth of the matter is that I am not a messenger or a courier, and my bag rarely has a laptop in it. It might be retailed as a day sack, but I'm not actually going to call it that. It's a handbag in so much as it is where I carry my keys, diary, analgesics, notebook, umbrella, indigestion remedy, sunglasses, i-pod and Murakami novel. 
Stating the blindingly obvious: men do not have the same relationship with their bags that women do. But bags for men have been evolving and it is now possible to make more discriminating choices in this area. Without compromising one's masculinity. Well, the younger members of the species seem to be able to. But it remains a conundrum for the older male. Or perhaps it's off their radar.
Earlier this year I bought a lap top case by Mandarina Duck. I had coveted something from their range having seen the most stylish of briefcases in Venice a few years ago.The Mandarina  Duck case is immensely practical; it even has its own rain hood built in. But it is pleasingly designed, and manages  to avoid being one of those macho executive statements by brands such as Tumi that shops in departure lounges are so full of. And that makes a change.
Yesterday in  the quite modish Reiss menswear window display  I noticed two handbags. Of course they call them despatch bags. 

Hadley Freeman is banned from Paul Smth shows

Although bans have been sprinkled around the fashion press for some time, they do seem to be coming down with increasing frequency - a sign, perhaps, of a growing anxiety in the luxury market that with the impending economic downturn not as many people are buying £900 dresses and trousers. It is also likely to be a reflection of the power of advertising. Fashion magazines and some newspapers are financially dependent on fashion advertisers, which muffles the writers who work for them. They are unable to say anything remotely negative about the clothes, out of fear of losing that precious £100,000-a-year advertising account, which is why so much fashion coverage often reads as little more than advertorial puff and fluff. Designers then get used to such obsequiousness so that any words of dissent are treated as a shocking display of heresy.


read the rest

Maestros of fashion

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Paul Poiret

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Harry Goes to a Gig


Music and clothes have always been linked as far as I am concerned. Not surprising as my adolescent years were the sixties.

I have retained my enthusiasm for music, both old, and, importantly, new. But music and fashion don't seem to be so closely linked. Pete Townshend is always stylishly turned out and seems to innately know what works well for a man of his stature and demeanour. Unlike so many of his generation. But I can't off-hand think of an artist or a band who has recently prompted me to wonder where they get themselves kitted out. Certainly not Radiohead.
The other evening I went to see Joan as Policewoman. The fantastic Joan Wasser was launching her new album. I had seen her twice before and her performance was captivating. I can thoroughly recommend either of her two records ( if that's what we still call them)
Joan looked gorgeous as ever, but it was her bass player who particularly caught my eye. 
Rainy Orteca, a slight , impish presence on stage. And so stylish. A very well-fitted man's suit, and a well chosen shirt and tie combination. The business. Definitely the best dressed person in the room. And how refreshing to see someone on stage that actually did prompt the question; 'I wonder where they got that?'

Jacques Fath 1956

Monday, 16 June 2008

YSL, 1962

Sunday, 15 June 2008

He roller-skates, he tap-dances

As I'm on a mission in Toronto all this coming week, I'll be posting some videos, unless Harry has anything to say, but he's buggered off too, to take in some country air.

Meanwhile (hat-tipping Norm

I am an Aquarius

Donna Karan has designed a series of astrological handbags.

Often she is so excited she speaks in crazy free-association sentences. For example, when talking about her decision to create astrology-themed bags, she says, 'I don't know anybody who doesn't go right to the astrology page to see. Everybody needs the support. What's today about? Because, quite honestly, we are not the masters. It is all mapped out. If you ask me, "How come bags?" I say, "I don't know. Why did he decide that now is the time for bags?"' (He, presumably, being God.)Karan's personality is so wacky and unbridled that it freaks some people out. 'Donna's a little koo-koo,' says her best friend Barbra Streisand. However, most people put up with it because she is probably the most powerful woman in American fashion today.

Here is the Libra bag - so what do you do if you're a Libra and you prefer the Capricorn bag?
Actually, I'm rather fond of Donna and wish I could afford one of her main collection dresses. And obviously I'm all i n favour when a nice Jewish girl with a big bum waxes rich and powerful by her own efforts and creativity (rather than marrying a nice Jewish boy with a big bum)

Saturday, 14 June 2008

At home with Chanel

Work and play in Toronto


Next week my sister and I are hooking up in Toronto, where we both have a spot of work to do. Can readers recommend restauarants and shopping and any other pleasures?

The purpose of my visit is presently a secret. All will be revealed on publication of The Thoughtful Dresser.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Art over commerce


Hadley Freeman has a very interesting piece about being a judge at Graduate Fashion week.

Her point is that because fashion courses in Britain are based at art schools, designers have a supreme understanding of art and none about commerce, ie how to produce clothes that someone would want to wear. Including the designers themselves:

That brings us back to the question of why British students favour the artistic over the commercial. Marian McLaughlin, head of the international office of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, is attending the London shows and agrees that undoubtedly British fashion students favour "quirkier designs". "You can really see the difference between them and other nationalities," she says. "Probably it's because of the art-school influence. It does produce interesting clothes, but I don't know whether they get jobs afterwards. All of our students definitely do."

But Marten Andreasson, fashion tutor at the University of Middlesex, disagrees.

"I think that, for the students, it is definitely more important to emphasise the creative because this is the time when they have the freedom to experiment and express themselves," he says. "By the time they get to their graduate show, then they should have decided whether they want to go commercial or be more experimental." But what happens to the ones who want to make collections based on the Holocaust? He makes a tactful shrug. "They probably go off and do MAs ..."

This is another thing that puzzles me. Fashion students say that their work is about "self-expression", but what they make always seems to be an awfully long way away from what they actually wear. There are a lot of pretty printed dresses and German tourist-esque shoes in the audience - almost none on the runways. Sharon Dewar, 29, a student at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, agrees that the delicate, multi-layered black dress she has designed doesn't seem to have much in common with the jeans-and-grey-cardigan combo she is wearing. "That's true. But I design things I aspire to, as opposed to things I actually wear, and it's a designer market I'm aspiring to." So what does she think is more important - being commercial or being experimental? "It's a balance really, isn't it? You want to enjoy making the clothes and other people to enjoy wearing them."



UPDATE Greying Pixie has some trenchant remarks on this in the comments.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Harry Goes Shopping




When you get to a certain age , where exactly are you supposed to go shopping? Or where might one actually enjoy the experience?
The old school menswear shops have largely disappeared. Perhaps no great loss. Although I lament the demise of Simpson's , which maybe was brilliant in the 30's when it opened, but when I knew the store they were certainly missing a trick.
There is a lot more to say on this subject, but for those readers ( or partners of readers) who are in London I'd like to bring to your attention the Designer Warehouse Sale.
They have been going for 21 years and hold about four menswear sales a year. I discovered them a dozen years ago, and go at least twice a year.
Next weekend they will be in new premises, so I can't give you a clear idea of what their new environment will be like ( they used to be in a photographer's studio).
They always have a lot of stock. Sure, much of it will be terribly youthful; skinny shirts, artfully modified jeans, streetwear with lots of unnecessary embellishment. But amongst all this you can still find well made and understated stuff.
That's if you are prepared to look. Because, although it is laid out largely by designer and types of clothing, it is rather like a well organised jumble sale. Which I happen to like. A lot.
And the people who run it are very laid-back, and certainly friendly rather than up themselves.
My last purchase there was a very fine Pal Zileri jacket. And before that a Jasper Conran overcoat. And , no, I certainly wouldn't have paid ticket price for either of those two items.
I will definitely be going next weekend. And I am very relaxed about probably being the oldest person there ( but one of my sons might come with me, and that's always fun)

Sewists' corner


I know there are quite a few sewists in the house, but me, I can't even get the needle through the thread and my attempts to re-sew a button in exactly the right place on a Jean Muir coat were humiliatingly inept. I do not do or make things with my hands. And my rule is, as my Jacobean manor house friends discovered when I stayed with them last weekend and they invited me to play boules, it is not that I am competitive, it's that I only do things I'm good at. Which is good, because it leaves so much time for lying around doing nothing.

But the next big thing, apparently is home remodelling of your own clothes.

Lilli Rose Wicks hopes to change our habits. In 2007, she won the Visionary Knitwear award at Graduate Fashion Week, and was inundated with offers to design for the high street. She turned them down as she felt the stores weren't willing or able to change their environmental practices. Wicks' work is made from organic or recycled materials. Her passion has always been to make or refashion her clothes rather than buy them new. "Before I buy anything, I work out whether I can make it myself," she says.

Wicks now runs workshops, in collaboration with the Soil Association, on customising clothes, and that is why I arrive at Wicks' cottage in Somerset with an armful of my own clothes, which, instead of joining the 300,000 tonnes of garments that end up in recycling bins, are going to be refashioned. I'm nervous because, having first-hand experience of my sewing, I'm not sure I want to mess about with my clothes. "Sewing is something you can learn. Everyone starts somewhere," Wicks assures me. Having spilt oil on a skirt I like, I'm hoping Wicks can help me hide the stain so I can keep wearing it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The closet, the closet . . .


Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am very late in seeing Sex in the City. I was supposed to go to a press screening over two weeks ago but it didn't happen etc boringly etc.

Now I have seen it. What point were they trying to make by scripting Hudson to fall in love with the most hideous Vuitton bag ever produced?

Other than that, it was two and a half hours of ceaseless frocks, Chanel 2.55s and their variants and a hunch that if Carrie had not come across Big in that closet she might never have forgiven him.

Now I must go and find a pink drink.

Le giraffe


Ines de la Fressange has been given the Legion d'honneur. I saw her at the party to launch the Golden Age of Couture show at the V&A. Tall women are sometimes called giraffes, this was the only time I have seen a woman who did exactly look like another species. You could see her everywhere you looked around that crowded, fashionable room. And I'm sure she eats only little leaves from tall trees.

(Which reminds me. On an entirely tangential note, it's official. Jews can now drink giraffe's milk.)

The ageing process is greatly helped when you're tall, thin and look a bit like a boy, albeit one with excellent hair, because let's face it, there's simply less of you to go south/downhill/wrong. So I actually believe her when she says she's reasonably relaxed about getting older, partly because she doesn't appear to have had any work done, and partly because age doesn't seem to be compromising her taste in clothes and accessories at all.

“That's not quite true,” ripostes de la Fressange in her perfect, idiomatic English. “I can't wear really short shorts any more, or fluorescents. Actually, I'm a bit of a navy jumper maniac now. But I'd certainly never go to a shop for 50-year-old women. And I wouldn't go really classic - it's very ageing.” This from the woman who used to live in Chanel, before Lagerfeld unceremoniously fired her as the house's face. But that was when she was still in her twenties, and even then she would mix her tweeds with T-shirts and jeans. Standard practice now, this was considered une vraie scandale at the time.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Summer in the City


It's what, on this side of the Atlantic, could be called the washed out Boden look. Probably borrowed wholesale in some of the smarter London postcodes ( we Brits are nothing if not impressionable) from the east coast of the USA.


Deck shoes and no socks. Distressed chinos. And a faded short sleeved shirt.

There is a message. And it goes something like this: the family has a house in Cornwall ( the Hamptons). We summer there. I am only temporarily in the city. I can't be bothered to change. And that's because really, if you take away the Porsche Cayenne, I'm just a surf dude.

Which, I reckon, is the same as the flip flop tendency. Which, unwittingly, is possibly trying to say: if you take away the Oyster card, I'm actually an Australian.

The world's greatest fashion museum


is in Santiago, Chile:

Yarur's grandfather founded the country's biggest bank, which his father went on to run as president. As an only child, Yarur inherited a fortune large enough to build his museum. But it is his parents' taste in fashion, not evidence of their wealth, that he wanted to preserve. As a prominent socialite and wife of a banker, his mother amassed a covetable collection of designer outfits, all of which she had kept in perfect condition. 'My mother was not a fashion victim, but she liked to dress in a special way,' Yarur, 46, says. In photographs his mother, who died in 1996, bears a resemblance to Rita Hayworth. With wavy, dark hair and voluptuous curves squeezed into silk blouses and pencil skirts, she was extremely glamorous - and she obviously loved to shop. Of the 8,000 pieces in the museum, 500 belonged to her, many of which were bought on her eight-month honeymoon in Europe.

Inside the museum are hundreds of photographs of Yarur's parents, along with home videos taken before Yarur was born: his mother on the beach in a scarlet swimming costume and matching lipstick; his handsome father swaggering towards the camera across the sand; his parents laughing together on holiday. Yarur, who now lives alone in his own house in Santiago, says the films and photographs still affect him. 'Every time I see them I feel sad. I was an only child so I don't have any other family.'

While he was devoted to his mother, as the only son of one of the country's most successful businessmen, and as a quiet, sensitive young man, Yarur found the weight of his father's expectation hard to bear. 'I didn't know what I wanted to do. My father wanted me to work for the bank. It was a very heavy burden.'

It was only after his father died in 1991 that Yarur began to think about creating a museum. 'After my father died, my mother told me that he had once talked about wanting to turn their house into an art museum. After they both died I didn't want to stay in the house, but I didn't want to sell it because of all the memories, and the house itself is quite important architecturally. So I decided to keep it, but to do something with it.'

Monday, 9 June 2008

I wouldn't do this but it does sound like fun

A few mates go to Manchester for a spot of shopping.

Ronke (pronounced Ron-kay) sweeps into the room in a riot of colour - from her draping orange and pink dress to her long tan leather coat tied with a green scarf at the back. I have a suspicion she's wearing a 1970s curtain but decide she must know what she's talking about.

We, her 'patients', line up on the sofa ready to be transformed into fashion-conscious divas; eager to discover our own style. We are four women in a city, contemplating a weekend of shopping. But this is Manchester not Manhattan and we haven't done our hair. Rather, we have booked a personal styling weekend to spruce up tired looks and get insider's tips on the latest trends. Our home from home will be a designer riverside apartment stocked with the latest Apple gadgets and a fridge full of organic treats.

The dress

According to Hilary Alexander, news of the dress's death have been greatly exaggerated:

But the "special occasion outfit" has passed its sell-by date, to be replaced by the "new special": a way of dressing that is much easier to achieve - and a lot more fun.

It's a trend long pioneered by a host of funky, high-profile, stylish dressers, from Gwen Stefani and Natalia Vodianova to Kate Moss, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and the reincarnated Gwyneth Paltrow - and it hinges around one adaptable wardrobe staple: the dress.

. . .

This season, they are everywhere - prom styles, floaty maxis, romantic, ruffled, you name it. And they are key to making this idea work. The trick is to invest in one great dress that makes you feel good, rather than "appropriate"; one that suits your body shape, highlights your personality, and makes you feel comfortable, confident and sexy.

It could just as easily be something you have worn on holiday, for work, or a favourite piece you have had for years, as something bought with a specific outing in mind. Then, you just "dress up the dress", adding accessories and layers as you feel inclined.

The best thing of all about the "new special" is that you can dress it down just as easily. You should be able to take off the jacket, swap your pill-box for a straw "pork pie", trilby or even a sun hat, trade your smart high heels for gladiators and your beaded clutch for a casual tote - and you're ready for a beach party or barbecue.


Basically, this is an argument for the LBD and its vairiants, ie it doesn't have to be black. But she's right, accessories maketh the outfit.

dress down
dress up (it's a cocktail ring)

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Small Jacobean manor house

with small ornamental palms

the Orangery
the coach house and stables
the English garden

a couple of swans on the Thames

Friday, 6 June 2008

Harry examines men in flip flops


Harry Fenton, the Sharp Dressed Man, discusses the Male City Flip-Flop:

You’re not at the beach. So why are you wearing flip –flops?

I don’t actually say this, of course, but kind of want to when I see a would be modish youth on a mission on the streets of London. I don’t have any problems with the retro T shirt. Nor the ironic vinyl shoulder bag. And it’s their choice to wear downright ugly sunglasses. But flip flops?

Ok, the sun may have come out. It may actually be hot. But the city is not the beach. Sometime in recent years street smart became street casual. It then osmosed into downright scruffy. And from there it has spawned a sort of ‘I’m so laid back it’s like I’m on holiday, man’ look.

Just so wrong. Mens’ feet are ugly. They will get dirty in the city. Flip flops just have to be a health hazard on public transport. Or even crossing the road. And they look just plain stupid.

Don’t they have friends to point this out to them?

‘Beneath the pavement is the beach’: one of the more lyrical 1968 Situationist slogans in Paris. The classic Situationist text is, of course, The Revolution of Everyday Life. But I don’t think wearing flip flops is the kind of revolution Raoul Vaneigem* had in mind. ( But, hey, I might be wrong)

* [Me neither, LG]

Short hiatus

I'm going away for the weekend, to stay with friends who have inherited a small Jacobean manor house in Wiltshire. Well, someone has to inherit these places and it certainly isn't me.

Harry will hold the fort.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Jews

A new BBC series called Jews starts on June 18th , this is a piece I wrote on the series in today's New Statesman


After the 11 September 2001 attacks, both Jews and Muslims ceased to be people and became ideas, concepts to be discussed in newspaper columns, internet chat rooms and blogs. Jews and Muslims as three-dimensional beings, independent of their role in terror or the war on it, separate from their opinions of the Middle East, dropped out of sight. The BBC has sought to rectify this situation by commissioning three films about Jews from the award-winning documentary-maker Vanessa Engle, whose 2006 series Lefties made me laugh out loud. The presence of the name Anthony Wall, a long-time editor of the Arena arts strand, also inspires confidence.

. . .

Engle's series tries to get to grips with Jewish life in Britain. What you are left with are those faces. The crooked smile of the Auschwitz survivor from Salonica. The trapped eyes of the Hasidic drug dealer. The cornered look of the Jewish atheist who doesn't want to hurt his father. They aren't issues. They're what life is, before you start having opinions about it and turning it into an issue.

Scarves II


Some of you will, I hope, be pleased to hear that Harry Fenton, the sharp dressed man, has agreed to become a regular contributor to these pages.

Last night he showed me some photos from 1970 of himself and his unversity friends. Apart from the fact that all the boys had beards, the other salient characteristic of their wardobe was that they all wore silk scarves.

This is a forgotten era in menswear, and one which we should encourage to return.

UPDATE Mr Fenton has asked me to point out that he does not himself appear in this photo, which was merely chosen to illustrate the notion of male hippies wearing scarves. Mr Fenton in his photo has a much smaller beard and very long legs in blue cords.

Our glorious leader


July Vogue has a piece on one M. Thatcher, style icon.

In the Guardian today, Zoe Williams says (and I think she is right) that back in the day, no-one obsessively commented on her clothes:

As improbable as it seems now, nobody seemed to care that much what Margaret Thatcher looked like in her heyday. There were very few remarks about her shoes; nobody was obsessively watching her weight.

[But. . . .]

I want to say those were nobler times, when everyone was less superficial, and that much is true; but truer and more salient was the fact that nobody cared what she looked like because we all hated her so much. You check out a politician's leopardskin kitten heels when she is an irrelevant person, talking irrelevantly about nothing. Conversely, when a politician is snatching your children's milk, smashing your union and kicking you in your metaphorical face, you tend not to notice what she's wearing.

Personally I think this is bollocks. The savagery unleashed on Hillary's Clinton's wardrobe is evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Guest post: On not giving up, by Harry Fenton, the Sharp Dressed Man


Introducing Harry Fenton, the Sharp Dressed Man,* who will be addressing questions of menswear from the perspective of a Londoner of a certain age.
* Don't bother googling, it's a pseudonym.

On Not Giving Up

By which I mean , the struggle to still care about clothes and what you look like.

Because when you get to a certain age you can wake up one morning and just be entirely underwhelmed by the clothing options that are in your wardrobe. Probably because the clothes there haven’t actually changed for a good few years.

But what once we felt was quite good/ quite cool/ perhaps stylish, is now, on closer scrutiny, looking decidedly boring. Or even worse than boring, a sort of a style vacuum. Dull neutral colours of the same old same old.

When I was a teenager in London in the Sixties, having failed to look like the Beatles, no sooner was one trying to look like the Who than we were introduced to the completely bizarre sight of the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart. So I had to suffice with one of those surplus greatcoats from Kensington Market (I didn't know that they were to become the uniform for pimply physics students who listened to King Crimson).

In anticipation of wanting to cut a dash at university I bought an old pin-stripe double-breasted suit from an Oxfam shop and took it to a cleaners for the trousers to be tapered. They ended up looking a bit like jodphurs, but I imagined I was subverting some kind of norm. On reflection the suit didn't go that well with the Anello and Davide burgundy cuban -heeled boots. But I had wanted them for ages, ever since the Beatles had made Anello and Davide famous.

There was a terrible band in the late sixties called the Edgar Broughton band. basically a trio of thuggish guys from Leamington Spa who I had the misfortune to see a number of times. They were forever the support band to someone I actually half wanted to see. Anyhow the 'Broughtons' liked to finish their set with a heavy metal version of 'Out Demons Out'. Which some of us knew was the chant that Ginsberg and the Fugs came up with when they circled the Pentagon. Anyhow this provincial English travesty was simply appalling. But made all the worse by the fact that Edgar Broughton was wearing an identical pair of boots to mine. You can imagine my dismay. Shortly after that I think I wanted to look like the Incredible String Band.

Eventually I got a job. I went to work in an office. And went to a lot of meetings in other people’s offices in a number of different countries. Which meant that for years my clothes shopping was dominated by suits, shirts and ties. Work was the environment where it was most important for me to feel well dressed. Or, more accurately, well presented. And a suit that fits, and clean shoes, and a good tie can do that admirably.

But now I don’t inhabit the corporate world . And rather than reach for a suit I have actually had to start thinking about what to wear. And it’s not that easy.

Primarily because the default option is fraught with problems. Dress down Friday has become dress down the rest of your life. And there’s the rub. But more to the point , dressing down can so easily mean we look like a troop of older blokes gone casual. Slightly ill at ease out of uniform.

Because we probably haven’t given much attention to our dress down options. And the betting says that these options are stuck somewhere ten to fifteen years ago ( or even longer) So you are in danger of looking stale, or, more worryingly, (without it being a conscious decision), trying to look younger than your years.

Or , even worse , suggesting to others that you have the same approach to clothes as Jeremy Clarkson.

I don’t have a universal solution to this quandary. But it does start with actually bothering to think about clothes, and perhaps for the first time in many a year, trying to articulate what you do and don’t want to look like.

I have just three rules at the moment: I’ve got to like it. It must fit. There should be no visible logos.

But the biggest hurdle to overcome is that you have to start to go shopping again. Just like you did when you were a teenager. When it was, in some undefined way, important. And spending money on clothes made you feel good.

And going out in them on Saturday night made you feel even better.



*Clarkson is one of a few celebrities who have been blamed for poor denim sales. Louise Foster of Draper's Record, trade magazine to the fashion industry, is quoted as saying, "For a period in the late nineties denim became unfashionable. 501s — Levi's flagship brand — in particular suffered from the so-called 'Jeremy Clarkson effect', the association with men in middle youth."

More grooming, more fun


The Telegraph today has a piece on the new July Vogue style at any age issue and how to stay visible at 50. I like the advice from two grandes dames of British fashion, Vivienne Westwood and Joan Burstein. I can vouch for the fact that Joan always looks amazing:

Covering up necklines, legs or slack upper arms can be seductive in itself, insists 67-year-old designer extraordinaire Vivienne Westwood:

Everyone knows my clothes are sexy. It is playing with the idea of being clothed and then eventually unclothed. It’s much more sexy to be dressed. But for me, at my age, can I have a pair of high-heeled shoes? What really touches me is the woman who is chic, she knows herself, doesn’t buy into mass marketing or publicity, but takes the trouble to look good and shows off her best assets. This shows her to be generous yet discriminating and wishing to gain from her experience in life.

The older you get, the more grooming you require — but it’s also important to have fun, says Joan Burstein, fashion pioneer and owner of the Browns boutiques:

I am 81, so I’m very aware of the areas older women are concerned about. It’s all about deflecting from those areas. If you’re worried about your shoulders, upper arms or bust, buy a beautiful fine shawl and wrap it dramatically around yourself.

Also, use bright colours around the face: not white, which can be draining, but pale pink, blue or vivid — but not lurid — deep orange. And pay more attention to your hair and nails, because those are the things that pull you down.

If you go to the opera or out to dinner, swap your normal handbag for a smaller and nicer one, or get a professional make-up artist to make you up. These little things lift the spirits.



On the question of visibilty, having sold two of my Anya Hindmarch bags on ebay, I went yesterday to buy another. I knew I wanted a smallish cream bag which would go day to night. I did a lot of research, found the one I wanted on the AH site. When I actually saw it in the shop, it was exactly what I was looking for. Until the sales girl showed me another bag, in cream patent, the Alessandra, which simply had a bit more fizz. I bought it. Do not go entirely classic into that good night.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Coming soon

'Every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.' (ZZ Top - thank you Deja Pseu)

Tomorrow, I hope

When the world was very young

Sometimes I get a bit miserable about being 57. Then I watch this and realise that only by being 57 now could I have been 13 then, for this.

"[Chuck Berry's] 'Maybellene' is a country song sped up," Thorogood told Rolling Stone in 2005. " 'Johnny B. Goode' is blues sped up. But you listen to 'Bo Diddley,' and you say, 'What in the Jesus is that?'"


RIP





And a belated minute's silence for the Duchess

The man who invented the trouser suit


My piece in the Guardian today

My first job as a teenage reporter on a local paper in 1969 had a dress code: no trousers. A man had to wear a tie and a woman wore a skirt. My workplace rebellion came the day I turned up in a grey flannel Young Jaeger trouser suit (as worn by Jean Shrimpton and photographed by David Bailey), and was sent home. As there was a time before the pill, so there was once life before the trouser suit, which Yves Saint Laurent, who died on Sunday, invented in 1966. Or rather he thought a new thought: Le Smoking, the tuxedo for women that would become a permanent feature of his collections and would morph into the single most transformative piece of women's wear since Chanel created the little black dress.

It was the perfect garment for the 70s and for women who went out to work. Women had been wearing trousers since the 20s, but pants had never managed to struggle out of the weekend and into the office. The trouser suit put women on an equal sartorial footing with men. And the trouser suit, not the urban myth about bra-burning, is what fashion gave to feminism. When wearing it, your legs took longer steps; men looked at your face, not your ankles, and were forced to listen to the words that came out of your mouth. It killed the miniskirt stone dead. Hillary Clinton, a woman who does not possess good legs, has lived in trouser suits on the campaign trail.

Yet, even when he dressed women in safari jackets and trenchcoats, Saint Laurent understood how to make them feel sexy. Le Smoking was not masculine but androgynous. At 21, he had been anointed Dior's successor on the death of the man who brought pleasure back to clothes after wartime rationing. In the early 60s, Brigitte Bardot declared that couture was for old ladies. Saint Laurent understood the next great change and the huge range of roles that women were about to play. For two decades, he had his finger right on the button of the times he lived in.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Man Who Loved Women (just not that way)


Leading figures are rare in any field. In fashion, there were only five in the 20th century: Poiret, Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga — and Saint Laurent. All the dress ideas of the last century have come from them. There is a strong case to be made for Yves Saint Laurent as the most inventive, original and influential of all the five. Certainly, it is time to say that the way women have dressed in the past 40 years — regardless of age, class or wealth — has been the direct result of the ideas, often radical and even initially unacceptable, of Saint Laurent.
Times obituary



(There will be something from me in the Guardian tomorrow)