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

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Conventional dressing


From The New Republic - I like this because it doesn't just deal with how the women are dressed:

Like his niece, Ted Kennedy, who delivered the most moving (at moments heartbreaking, given the circumstances) speech of the evening, was dressed in navy blue. If, as Diana Vreeland once quipped, "pink is the navy blue of India," then navy blue is the navy blue of politics. All the prominent politicians of the evening--Joe Biden, Jim Leach, John Kerry, Kennedy--wore navy blue jackets, white or blue shirts, and white-and-blue patterned ties. Their ensembles were so similar one began to suspect they had, like a clique of junior-high girls, called each other the night before to coordinate outfits. (Kerry's take, however, was rather more patrician: cornflower blue tie; matte where others' fabrics were meretriciously shiny.) The reasons for all the blue are obvious. It's patriotic, and it's also the party's color. Perhaps more relevantly, navy seems safe and stalwart in this aforementioned time of war and economic insecurity: the color is free from the suspicious slickness of black, and the dowdy, Beta-male connotations of brown. A real man throws on a navy blue sport coat when he cleans up and goes out. Navy blue is a color that will--to quote another commentator from CNN's very deep bench, who was himself quoting Groucho Marx --"play well in Peoria."

Politics or not? YOU decide

I had this idea that with the US election coming up I'd have a post a week where everyone can talk Obama/McCain, but there's a feeling that you want this to be a politics-free zone.

I'm a great believer in democracy so I'll go with the popular vote. Punch your hanging chad in the comments below. One comment, one vote.

But if you're in New Orleans, just get in the car and go NOW.

Ain't she sweet

The strange world of me


I have a deadline. The deadline is actually tomorrow but I managed to get an extension to the end of next week. The deadline is for the book of The Thoughtful Dresser and I have been stuck in London all summer finishing it, and a cold, wet and windy summer. It's not been good or memorable.

But I have done something I have never done before, I have now almost completed buying my Autumn/Winter wardrobe. I broke with the habits of a lifetime and instead of going into a shop and saying, 'Ooh! I like that', I sat down and thought about what I needed, looked to see what was coming in to the shops and then went and got it. Yesterday I bought knee length boots, the day before, ankle boots, the previous week, winter coat. I bought scarves on eBay, a coat-dress at Jaeger and I've ordered a bag which will be in mid-September. One more item and I'll be done. I bought stuff when it had just arrived in the shops, and the sales were still on. They had not sold out of my size.

The clothes are all hanging in the wardrobe, unworn, under protective anti-moth covers, so it makes them feel old before I ever wore them. A little of the joie de vivre of life has gone, the impulsive purchase. I have far greater confidence in the capsule collection of clothes I've chosen. I have some marvelous investments in there. But it feels old. I feel old.

I realise that what I really want is to be rich enough always to wear new things. Change keeps the heart light.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

US elections


Two months to go. Since there seems to be a lot of interest in discussing the issues arising from the election, I'm proposing to have an open thread every Friday where you can discuss the past week's campaign.

If any American voters would like to write a guest post, drop me a line at lindagrantblog(at)googlemail.com

Fat or unfashionable?


Jess Cartner-Morley in the Guardian asks, I assume rhetorically of the new peg leg trousers:

In my ignorance, I initially dismissed the look as an unflattering trouser shape that would never catch on. The second time I saw it, I suspected it was a ruse to quieten the size-zero debate by making models look twice as broad as they are. But the third time I saw it, I had to accept it was a trend.

Ever since, I have been dreading the day I would have to write about peg-leg trousers. For photographic purposes I have wimped out of the cutting-edge version of the look, in which the trousers are the same shape but lopped off above the ankle, in favour of a more forgiving, ankle-length pair, but still. The brutal truth is that unless you are blessed with long legs and a tiny waist, they do you no favours. Yet the peg leg is indisputably the on-trend trouser shape of the season. So we are faced with a stark choice: to look fat or unfashionable?

Friday, 29 August 2008

Family drama


I have a piece in the Guardian today about how to make family films about the Nazi Death Camps. Or perhaps not.

This is a Hollywood version of the Holocaust, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is literally a Disneyfication (you wonder whether The Gas Chamber ride is being installed outside Paris). When you make films about the Final Solution for children there's not much you can say other than to introduce the historical events in a palatable way, and to make a general lesson about being nice to other people. When The Diary of Anne Frank was adapted for the stage in the 1950s, it was with the intention of suppressing the specifically Jewish element of the story to make it "universal".

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Harry Peers Through The Looking Glass





















There has been something of a debate recently on these pages about unwearable designs and the fashion writers role in promoting them.

The problem , it seems to me, lies with the fashion pundits
or style arbiters and what they say about these clothes, rather than with the designers.
It’s not only ok for the designers to produce clothes that are impractical and perhaps even unwearable: we want them to. We want to have glimpses of a fantastic world where fabulous people wear fabulous creations. It plays to our innate child like sense of wonder. We like to imaginatively believe that there is a wonder land somewhere out there . And, just as we did as children, we get to this land by reading about it , and, very importantly, by looking at pictures. The higher reaches of fashion and style have become , for many, the enchanted land that is populated by princesses , and princes, where real life is suspended and all sorts of things may , or may not , happen, just by dreaming of them. For many, of course, the door to this land can be found in the metaphorical wardrobe.

Most of us would maintain that we left fairy tales behind us years ago. We’re wrong . The fables that nurture us have just taken on a different guise. Hollywood once understood better the adult appetite for enchantment. Fred and Ginger didn’t just live in a world where people danced at the drop of a top hat. They lived in a world where people wore immaculate clothes, in houses with drawing rooms as big as a hangar, and rooms furnished in sleek cream leather. It may have been monochrome , but we were transported to a world of otherwise unimagined glamour.
Hollywood doesn’t seem to deliver this anymore ( perhaps it is Bollywood that has taken up the fabulist role)

So what are we left with? Fashion and style. And celebrity and gossip. And these volumes of fairy tales are published monthly, or weekly, and the newsstands are like carnival kiosks forever hawking new instalments.

Of course, some readers have a more refined taste . But for many a quick cheap fix will often do. I am referring to the acres of photographs devoted to second rate celebrities, and the spreads of the tacky lifestyles and bad taste mansions inhabited by the rich and famous. These celebrities don’t really pass muster as the princesses and prince charmings that we are looking for.
But in the more rarified reaches of fantasy inhabited by the likes of Vogue we do see a fabulous world. And it’s been designed by Prada or Galliano. And it’s been art-directed. And beautifully lit. And dramatically photographed. And populated by exotic and beautiful creatures. And they are wearing fabulous clothes. That we have never seen before. Or imagined.

That’s when the fashion writers step in and ruin it all. There is no point in telling people that this is what they must buy and wear. That’s actually got nothing to do with it. It should be about feeding the imagination , not laying down rules.

Not all fables appeal to all people. My advice is simply to devour and cherish the fables that you like. And ignore the commentator.

Occasionally the real world has palpitations when it seems that someone has managed to inhabit both the real and the fabulous world. Step forward Ms Paltrow, recently to be seen in just about every newspaper in the UK. The allure of Gwynneth in the highest of heels is surely because she plays to a sense of this fabulousness. She doesn’t need to run for a bus. Heavens, she doesn’t actually need to walk if she doesn’t want to. She has untold riches. Almost like living in a movie . And this is her way of communicating it. And we lap it up.

Bye bye posh girls


The media has been rife with rumours that ITV are going to cancel Trinny and Susannah's contract. Now it so happens that I go to the same hairdresser as these two goddesses, and that hairdresser also does the make-overs for the show, when they actually still did makeovers.

A long time ago, these two posh birds used to tell badly-dressed women the truth about how they look. It wasn't nice, it wasn't kind but they did manage to shoehorn them out of their beige sacks. And in my view, it was the conjunction of fast fashion and T&S which really jacked up British style in the past few years.

Now we have this guy Gok Wan, who gets a fat woman to look at an ID parade of other fat women and force them to say that they look fabulous naked. Often I'm sitting there thinking, no, you don't look fabulous. Cover yourselves up! (This is equally a criticism of myself.)

Where it went wrong for T&S was when they turned themselves into agony aunts, to 'refresh the formula', delving into people's personal lives. For godsake, it's just the frocks we're interested in.

The point of What Not To Wear was contained in its title. It told you how to dress for your figure, age, colouring. It's not rocket science yet many of us still aren't very good at it. The pleasure for me was watching someone look and the mirror and realise that, whoa, I've got a waist. Their choices might have been eccentric at times, they were obsessed with bosoms, but they were like two bracing St Trinian's prefects. They took you for a walk on the wild side. I loved them.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Sir Salman and me

There's a Q&A interview with me on the Man Booker website (and the other longlisted authors, too)

Democratic National Convention: Reprise



And here's a lesson on how to beat the credit crunch (is that really the National Rifle Association backing the New Deal?)

Trousers: The Truth



The Telegraph has gone through all the trouser trends and tells you which ones to wear for your height/shape.

You can read this in full, if you like, but what you are about to find out is: There are no trousers that suit pear shaped women of average height.

"Cropped trousers only suit those with long legs,"

"Wide-legged trousers are ideal for tall women,"

"High-waisted trousers are wonderful on tall or petite women with hourglass figures," says Pinnot, "but they should be avoided by pear shapes as they accentuate the hips and the waist."

"Skinny jeans look fantastic on petites," says Pinnot. "But curvy women should steer clear, because skinnies accentuate curves."

"Peg legs are an interesting, edgy cut," says Pinnot. "They flatter taller women, and drown small frames."

What we're left with is the boot cut:
"Boot cuts suit women of all shapes," says Pinnot. "They flatter the leg and bottom and create subtle curves." (Because pear shaped women need more curves?)

My problem with bootcut jeans is that if they fit on the waist they're tight on the thighs and I cannot stand the sausage thigh, I like trousers to skim, that is right, skim over the thighs. But then they're too big on the waist.

I am 5' 5". I have one pair of trousers, they are wide legs and they skim over the thighs. If only we could lower the hem of the dresses to below the knee I could stop worrying and forget about trousers altogether.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

In which Margaret Atwood and I speak of many things


In all the various excitements, I neglected to mention that I had dinner with Margaret Atwood and her husband (and several 19-year-olds) on Saturday night. Despite the noise in the restaurant we managed to talk at some length about Margaret Laurence, Janet Frame, and even for a minute or two about the importance of clothes.

Cashmeres died so I might live





Lagerfeld: I am not an intellectual


He glides in looking relaxed, wearing a black suit jacket by Tom Ford, black jeans by Christian Dior, a 4in-high Edwardian collar, and fingerless biker gloves adorned with rings. He offers a gloved hand and a well-practised apology, and takes a seat at a large wooden table in a room attached to the main studio, surrounded by sleek filing cabinets, yet more books and stacks of hip fashion and design magazines.

“I’m mad for books,” he says, sitting motionless behind his black Dior shades. “It is a disease I won’t recover from. They are the tragedy of my life. I want to learn about everything. I want to know everything, but I’m not an intellectual, and I don’t like their company. I’m the most superficial man on Earth.”

Lagerfeld relishes such contradictory language – or should I say, he relishes talking rubbish, probably because it makes understanding him more difficult and shields his private life. “There are many Karls,” says the publicist Caroline Lebar, who has known him for 22 years. “He is like – how do you say in English – the animal that changes its skin?” A snake? “No, a snake changes only once in life.” A chameleon? “Oui, oui. Karl is like a chameleon. Always changing.”

. . .

Discussion about “the hidden depths”, as he calls them, should be avoided. “The quest to find yourself is an overrated thing concerning not very interesting people very often. Psychoanalysis – I don’t want to hear about it. Before Freud, people weren’t tortured by these things that have undermined the territory of perception. You have to live with your shortcomings.”

I’m just trying to get behind the many faces of Karl, I suggest. He laughs.

“This reminds me of when Annie Leibovitz photographed me for Vanity Fair. I didn’t know her very well then, and she said, ‘I have to spend three days with you to see what’s behind.’ And I said, ‘Annie, you’re wasting your time. Look at what you see.’ ” He casts his hand theatrically over his face. “There is nothing else.” Why do you want to be known as superficial? “I like that image. I don’t want to look like an old teacher.

from the Times

Baby come home

Today, I am going to pick up this.

When I have brought it home, I will show it to you

Monday, 25 August 2008

I speak!

The excellent on-line magazine Nextbook has quite a long audio interview with me on the subject of The Clothes On Their Backs

I am now firmly of the opinion that you get a far better deal and better service from The Book Depository, which offers free shipping worldwide Though charging in £s, they have several fulfilment centres in the US

A well-judged column

So rare that finds a really, really good writer about menswear. Harry has disappeared to his country retreat, so I am offering the position of locum menswear writer to Hardeep Singh Kohli. I wonder what he does with the rest of his time?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a well-made cotton drill sweat top as much as the next slightly overweight, amply-arsed man, but there is a time and a place for such frivolity. Perhaps I belong to another era - maybe the 1950s - but I do yearn for all men to enjoy the suit again, feel pride in their smartness and become elevated by elegance. It's time to promote the peacock and I am happy to be at the vanguard of the strutting. I have plenty of denim and trackwear but I'd rather been seen in a beautifully tailored, plum-coloured three-piece suit, a multi-stripe double-cuff shirt and an appropriately complementary tie. Upon my oversized, calloused feet I would have tasselled Bally loafers. I have even invested in half a dozen pouchettes and a handful of cravats, either or both of which I intend to coordinate with my turban. I will be embracing dandyism in every way possible.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Second place in the Karachi Bonniest Baby Contest

Last week I commended to your attention the weepingly funny account of author Imran Ahmad's trip to the Edinburgh International Book festival where he met Gordon Brown, while dressed in shorts.

Yesterday afternoon, in the the authors' yurt in Edinburgh, a pleasant man in a linen suit came over to introduce himself to me. This was Imran Ahmad in person. He had been deluged with visits to his blog from The Thoughtful Dresser, more he said, than from all the other sites put together.

He pressed into my hand a signed copy of his book Unimagined: A Muslim Boy Meets the West, which I read on the plane coming home. Later he would persuade Salman Rushdie to take a signed copy off his hands. And has the photographic evidence to prove it.

I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed this book, particularly his account of how he was robbed of the title of Karachi's Bonniest Baby by political corruption and nepotism. Here he is, pictured on the cover, in the contest.

Look, just go and buy it. It's the story of a Pakistani Muslim Adrian Mole. What's not to like? Eh?

UPDATE

Imran has updated his account of Edinburgh:

On Sunday morning, a quiet chap wandered into the Writers’ Yurt. I could see that he had no Festival ID and obviously wasn’t supposed to be in here – maybe another wannabe writer?

The Festival staff were all very busy, so gallantly I stepped in to deal with this situation, with my characteristic sensitivity and tact.

I shared with him some advice on writing and getting published; I gave him a signed copy of my book (so that he would gain an appreciation of the standard of writing which has to be attained in order to get published); I let him have his photo taken with me; and then I gently nudged him out of the Writers’ Yurt.

Although I am a successful internationally-published writer, I’m always ready to help aspiring writers on their long journey to some form of publication.



PLEASE NOTE: The Writers’ Yurt is strictly for invited writers, authorised Festival staff and nominated guests only (all to be wearing Festival IDs, unlike this gentleman).



Here's another bit:
I returned to the Festival on the weekend of 23-24 August, taking a train up to Edinburgh on Friday night.



At Kings Cross, there was a huge crowd waiting to board the train, but I was quite relaxed. This being the last train to Edinburgh on the Friday evening before a holiday weekend, I wouldn’t even contemplate this journey without a reserved seat in First Class.



The crowd surged forward as soon as the platform number was revealed, and I still got caught up in the herd mentality – even though I knew I had a comfortable seat waiting for me. I boarded the train and began to arrange my stuff around my seat (suitcase in the luggage rack, jacket on the overhead shelf, food bag at my feet, book on the table etc).



A man in the next carriage was yelling into his mobile phone. An attractive woman seated at the next table smiled at me, as we both realised we could hear a phone conversation taking place so far away.



“… THERE ISN’T A SINGLE UNRESERVED SEAT! …”



He was moving towards me …



“… THIS IS A COMPLETE TYPICAL F--- ING FIASCO! …”



He came into my carriage … He was a thin man, with very short, dark hair and wearing jeans and a t-shirt …



“… MY TICKET? IT’S A STANDARD SAVER RETURN …”



He sat down in the reserved seat opposite me (although a Standard Saver Return would not entitle him to a seat in First Class).



“… WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO F---- ING DO? …”



An elegant Japanese couple stood hesitantly alongside me, conferring together and looking back and forth between their tickets and the seats opposite me.



“May I see?” I asked them, and examined their seat reservations. “Will,” I said to the man on the phone, “these visitors to our country are waiting to take their seats.”



Studiously not acknowledging that he had heard me, Will Self moved off down the carriage, back in the direction he had come from – still yelling into his phone.



Later during the journey, I was unable to overcome my curiosity. I made the hazardous journey into Standard Class and down the length of the train, to find out what had happened. The aisles and connecting areas were strewn with people on the floor: reading, talking, sleeping and (in some cases) drinking far too much.



Eventually, I found him. He had a seat and was furiously scribbling notes and using a purple highlighter in a copy of Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’.

A curmudgeon writes


Norm goes shopping:

I will leave aside the fact that my body is always overcome by a draining fatigue the instant I arrive in this environment - a physiological phenomenon I have never been able to comprehend. And I will leave aside the puzzle that, on entering a large department store, the intending purchaser never arrives at the part of the store he (for he it is in this case) needs or wants; there are always floors to negotiate, by lift, stair or escalator, and then vast spaces to cross, as if shopping doubled as a training ground for long hiking expeditions. And I leave aside, too, that the air in such places is like a condensed falsehood all of itself. These obstacles and inconveniences I now know, in the light of much experience, I must expect.

Friday, 22 August 2008

The grown-up moment


Everything I read tells me that clothes are about to undertake a dramatic change: hemlines two inches below the knee, jackets that cover the bum, feminine blouses instead of clingy tops. Long sleeves. Alexandra Shulman told me a few months ago that in fashion, you just have to wait it out. If nothing suits you, don't rage against fashion, just wait. Your turn will come.

Here's Sarah Mower in the Telegraph:

The season we're contemplating looks like a veritable field day for those of us who don't regard "classic" as a synonym for boring; who like to change our appearances in small yet wickedly effective increments; and who enjoy nothing more than focusing on sharp, economical purchases while ignoring all nonsense trends strewn in our paths.

This, in other words, is the season that will sort the women from the girls.

It's a pity that it's taken such a terrible dive in the economy to lasso most designers back from their stampede into frivolity and force them to produce more useful, serious content. But having to imagine what would appeal this season while we were back in the first twinges of the sub-prime crisis has done them the power of good.

So what we're seeing on the rails now is measured, grown-up, curvaceous, functionally considered design - with the odd invigorating flash of something different. Which is what proves a designer's worth in the first place, I'd say.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The necklace returns, it says

one of mine


For years on end you wander around oblivious to the fact that you are completely out of fashion. I have always been big on necklaces. They cast light up onto the face. They draw attention away from the hips. I have lots But apparently I was hopelessly out of date. I know this because they have just come back into fashion:

The neck was last a focal point during the mid-Eighties, when girls in pearls reigned and costume jewellery mostly comprised naff, paste baubles. The good news about the necklace's reincarnation is that there are plenty of avenues to be explored. After something bold, chunky and with a reassuringly noisy clunk? Well look to Lanvin, or at least Lanvin-inspired jewellery. At Balenciaga, gutsy, Dynasty-style, bling chokers replaced bags as what fashion folk like to call the “must-have accessory”, while at Givenchy, girls were laden down in threads of gold and silver chains.

Whatever you choose, the advantages of this trend are tenfold. With all this activity going on around your neck, no one is going to be checking out the ply-content of your cashmere poloneck, thereby obviating the need to fork out on lots of expensive clothes. And don't underestimate its power to utterly transform an outfit. Averyl Oates, the buying director of Harvey Nichols, points out that an oversize necklace is the best way of lifting all that black and the gothic mood that is prevalent this season.

If you are looking to buy something special, a great neck-piece makes a good investment, something that can be pulled out of the wardrobe year after year. Another point to consider is that costume jewellery is so well made and designed these days that it's often hard to tell the difference between something that came from Topshop and the designer, upwards-of-£600 variety.


Of course it would come back in style just as I start to experience crepiness.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Let them eat Boden

Americans have Obama, we have these two

I have a piece in the Guardian today about Rachel Johnson's slimmish paperback, Shire Hell. New readers start here.

Rachel Johnson is a Yummy Mummy, sex columnist on Easy Living magazine and sister of the more famous Boris- blond, tousle-haired mayor of London since he defeated newt-loving Red Ken Livingstone in May.

Rachel lives in Notting Hill along with her neighbours Elle McPherson, Richard Curtis and Esther Freud etc, about which she wrote a novel, Notting Hell, satirising life amongst the gadzillionares.

Now she has written another, about Dorset, where she has a country place, and if you want to know who are our coming political masters when Old Etonian David Cameron finally ejects Gordon Brown from No 10, this is the place to start.

The intersection of the worlds of Notting Hill and the countryside are brilliantly illustrated by an incident that took place at last year's gala dinner hosted by Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, to launch the Golden Age of Couture show at the V&A. On being introduced to Kate Moss, Cameron commiserated with her for the summer flooding that had washed out her Cotswold village, which is in his constituency, and spoke knowledgeably of when the local pub might reopen. Impressed, Moss asked for his phone number. Returning to his table, Cameron proudly announced that he was expecting a call from Moss; unfortunately it was because she thought he was a plumber.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Sometimes, like Molly Bloom, you have to say yes yes yes!

Sometimes the heart must rule the head. Sometimes you see the item of clothing you have been looking for your whole life, and when you put it on the friend you are with says, Yes! YES! (having previously made a face at everything else you tried on)

And you go home and make the necessary financial arrangements.

It's currently being altered.

It's a coat. It's from here

Lia takes a first step




Yesterday, my friend R. and Top Baby Lia (now aged two) met for lunch and then worked our way down Bond Street where R. bought a a dress in the Vivienne Westwood sale. In Nicole Farhi, while R. and I were trying things on, Lia found a pair of high heeled shoes, put them on and proceeded to walk confidently across the floor of the shop to the amazement of the staff and customers.

Without being told, Lia had understand that to walk in Difficult Shoes takes application and practise. It seems a shame that Louboutin does nothing for her age range.

Monday, 18 August 2008

All is explained


Why does fashion regularly produce hideous fashions, when we were getting along so nicely with the trend for dresses and opaques?

You see, these sorts of people [fashion snobs] like to look different from the masses. Nothing wrong with that. Problems arise, though, from the fact that the masses often have quite sensible taste (with the exception of Ugg boots, but let's not talk about such distressing things on a Monday morning. Gladiator sandals are bad enough). Anyway, fashion snobs then have to find something that the masses don't like and don't wear - often, though, for a reason. Hence the sudden popularity of ridiculously high-waisted jeans over hipster versions among the Dazed & Confused types, and ditto for gladiator sandals over less Greco-Roman ones.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Throwing foetuses down the catwalk

There's a very interesting piece about a scout for a model agency, who twice a week goes and hangs around Top Shop looking for new girls to take on.

'There was a girl called Emily Smith who I saw when she was 11. I kept in touch with her mum for three years. Eventually we took her on. We have five girls at the moment who are about 13 or 14 and we have to get child performance licences, doctor's certificates, permission from the council, permission from their school. It's proper.'
The interesting thing to me, is how young the girls are to whom she gives her card. Why do models have to be in their very early teens? Their job is to model clothes, what does age have to do with it? Sorry to come the feminist harpie but could this obsession with pubescent girls have anything to do with infantilising women? Compare and contrast with Agyness Deyn, who is a geriatric 25 and only discovered when she was well past 20. Interesting face, loads of self-confidence, actual personality.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Literary fabulousness

I am doing a gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival next weekend (with Rose Tremain - too late, it's sold out!) and having dinner with Margaret Atwood on Saturday night, apparently.

This account by a writer attending the festival is the most amusing summing up I have ever read of the sheer glamour and pace of the literary life and the social whirl we all move in, hanging out with Mart and Phil and Salman and even Gordon. This is why Madonna and Sarah Ferguson started writing books, you know.

US stores that do not ship internationally

A useful guide here

Who ships to Canada (and other countries where indicated)
American Eagle- Ships to Canada, but not other destinations
eBaywww- Make sure to check where the seller ships BEFORE bidding
NeimanMarcus.com- must call 1-888-888-4757
Bloomingdales.com- must call 001-1-513-573-8170 for international shipping
Bluefly.com- Bluefly ships to the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and Switzerland. (other countries via Access-USA)
YOOX.COM- ships pretty much to every country in the world
Beauty.com and drugstore.com (via AccessUSA)
Bare Necessities- Ships to Canada.
figleaves.com- (via i’s UK site)
Torrid.comwww- Ships to most international destinations
LaneBryant.com- Ships to Canada Only. Must have a Canadian Billing and Shipping Address.
J Crew to Canada and Japan only

Who doesn’t ship to Canada
Gap.com
OldNavy.com
BananaRepublic.com
Nordstrom.com
SaksFifthAvenue
Bebe.com
SmartBargains.com
Spiegel.com
Newport-news.com
Zappos.com
Target.com
Macys.com

You might think what with the credit crunch they'd be begging for our funny foreign money, but no.

The thick/thin of calf are booted

I have these in purple suede from two years ago

Some of us are doomed from birth with chunky calves and there is nothing you can do about it. Indeed, sweating on the treadmill will only bulk those muscles up. So for decades knee length boots were only shangrila to me. There were other women whose knee-length boots flapped around their skinny calves but you couldn't expect me to feel sorry for them. At least they had boots.

And then there was Duo which has their Autumn range just in. You pick the boots you like, take a tape measure round your calf, measure at the widest point, fill in your shoe size, and there you are - matchstick calves or calves like milk bottles, they can fit you.

It's mail order unless you live in Bath or Manchester, where they have a shop, or go to one of their fitting rooms, where they have the full range. They measure you, you try them on, pay and they arrive a couple of days later in the post. Yes, they do ship internationally. I am embarrassed to say how many pairs I have, just let's concede that I've been buying a pair or two a year since I first stumbled across them.

Are they as stylish as boots by Marc Jacobs? No, but I can't have boots by Marc Jacobs.* Every year I manage to find something. There are fifty-eight styles this year.

* A saleswoman at Russell and Bromley told me that fifty per cent of the customers who came in looking for boots, could not find anything wide enough to buy.

NOTE for any of you who are thinking of ordering, I have always found Duo to be a really reputable firm with first class customer service. On one occasion, when I rang them with a problem with Royal Mail who had lost the package, they passed me on to the owner of the company who dealt with chasing it up personally. The sole (ouch) problem I have encountered is that on one occasion I found the shoe fitting of the boots too narrow and they had to be returned. My chief complaint is that I think their styles are always a season or two behind, but if the main lines won't make boots that fit, there's no other option.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Fun without needles



(Thank you greying pixie)

Some cruel types might observe that the women demonstrating the techniques has a) had botox and b) has either a bad case of rosacea or a heavy hand with the blusher brush

Banana Republic: The Jackson Fit


Well, ladies. This afternoon I went to the UK (and Europe's) only Banana Republic where they now have the entire Autumn range in. Before me, black trousers as far as the eye can see so I begin to go from rack to rack searching for the Jackson and I do not find them. Eventually, I ask a sales assistant, who marches purposefully to the rack I have just come from, swings round a ticket, and says, 'Oh!'

I traipse along behind her as she goes through all the racks I've been through and cannot find any Jacksons.

She goes off into the office, and when she returns she tells me that every single Jackson in every style, and every size has sold out, 'because they have turned out to be more popular than we expected.' The stock, she says, was ordered a year ago, nine months before the London store opened its doors and that the company had 'misread the market.'

There are more Jacksons coming in on Saturday and all I can say is, get in line.

The man behind Zara

Further to yesterday's post about Zara, there's another piece on its reclusive founder, Amancio Ortega Gaona. It's worth reading it all. Zara spends almost nothing on advertising, which itself keeps costs down. There is no 'face of'' Zara. As I said yesterday, I think its design is amazing, but the quality control is dire:


The 72-year-old son of a railway worker is now, according to Forbes, the seventh richest man in the world. He is astonishingly reclusive - only one known photo of him is in existence. He is thought to be deeply involved in all areas of the business, including design, but little is certain. Zara was one of the first to bulk-buy Chinese fabrics at a time when rivals dismissed them as of low quality. Zara legend has it that Ortega himself felt the cloth and made the decision, but as he has never given an interview we can't be sure.

He opened his first store in Galicia in 1975 and expanded slowly across Spain. In 1984, he met computer whizz Jose Castellano, who developed a production and distribution system that allowed clothing to go from drawing board to shop floor in as little as 10 days. Zara recruited a team of young designers - 200 at the last count - who created clothes inspired by the catwalk as well as adding their own ideas.

"So-called 'fast fashion' is now common in the high street," says Maureen Hinton, lead retail analyst at Verdict Research. "But before Zara arrived in the UK in 1999, all retailers offered three or four seasons. Zara introduces new stock every week, which caught our stores on the hop.""Zara has absolute control of the design, manufacturing and distribution process," explains Robert Clark, senior analyst at Retail Knowledge Bank. "Fifty per cent of its product is made in Spain, 26 per cent in the rest of Europe, and 24 per cent elsewhere. With others, 50 per cent or more is made in Asia. Fast-fashion items, roughly half its sales, are made in company-owned factories in Galicia. It's the basic T-shirt staples that are outsourced."

Although Zara owns its factories in order to speed up the process, this has also allowed it to dodge many of the sweatshop accusations that hound the likes of Primark - although in June it closed a textile supplier's factory in Dhaka over poor conditions, insisting that the factory introduce unions if it wanted to remain a Zara supplier.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Zara has overtaken Gap


In sales, that is, not style, which happened light years ago. But I have stopped buying Zara, however affectionately I remember its badly made dresses:

Unlike Gap, there isn't a definitive Zara look - it is so dedicated to following the twists and turns of fashion that its very lack of definition is key to its philosophy. It is as hard to pin down and as fast-moving as mercury. But it does do directional, it does great winter coats, (one of my most memorable buys was a bright yellow swing coat which reminded me of Courrèges in the Sixties) smart trenches and brilliant tuxedo evening trouser suits. It is capricious and fun. I don't always find something there, but I wouldn't dream of going more than a fortnight without a visit.

While Zara innovated, Gap never responded imaginatively to the arrival of the internet and its instant catwalk reports, or to the globalisation of production and demand. (Meanwhile, Zara was zipping from "inspiration" on a catwalk in Milan to a Zara production line in Spain and back to a store on the King's Road.) Or to the fact that we have all started dressing up more; we are all ladies who lunch now and, if necessary, invent events where we can dress up - just like Sex and the City - indeed the queues to get in to that movie were red-carpet gangs of girls wearing you-know-what.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Woman goes mad with needles


From the Times. Is there a woman over forty who has not played around in her mind with the idea of a little injection here, a teeny bit of filler there? Twice I have made appointments and cancelled them. This woman went ahead



Things only got weirder after we moved on from playing with needles in NY, to LA, where we flirted with knives and lasers. I was on the rollercoaster, it was a thrilling ride and, my, there was a hell of a lot more of it to go before I was going to get off.

It was pathetic how quickly I went from someone determined to embrace ageing with some grace, to someone who was willing to let a fairly inexperienced doctor remove some fat from my backside, take it to a lab, separate out the stem cells and then inject it back into my ageing, sunken cheeks, up through the inside of my mouth, while also, seeing as he is up there and has got me under a general anaesthetic, getting the knife out and “redraping” the sagging skin under my eyes like a pair of old curtains.

The fat transfer didn't happen. A chance phone call at the last minute, telling me that nobody should work on me following the Sculptra injections, made me call off the procedure that could have left me looking ridiculous. Looking like a freak, I always thought, would keep me away from cosmetic enhancement, but in America, you meet countless women who look weird, yet think they look great. I reckon it's easy to join them. Perhaps I already have.

When you monkey about with what nature intended, things do go wrong. The Restylane in my top lip has slipped - there's a funny lump that shouldn't be there. Since the Fraxel laser therapy on my eyes (performed in LA by Dr Persky), the aforementioned tuna tatare has faded and, certainly, my eyes look less baggy, but, still, seven weeks on, they are a weird brown colour. My forehead is glassy and does not move. A glassy brow is not considered good Botox, but I now like this egg-like badge of self-inflicted paralysis. I may go back for more.

People have commented, constantly, on how well I look, and it started the moment I walked out of Brandt's office, when the sound man told me: “You're a real Manhattan girl now. You look awesome.” Even Anna Davies, the serious, Oxbridge-educated, bluestocking director, liked my lips. My best mate, P, who I had thought would be mildly disgusted, said: “You look great. I haven't seen you like this since the mid-1990s.”

Once you are inside, it's hard to get out. At a certain point, the Botox won't be effective enough, and it will be time for an eye-lift, a neck-lift, a face-lift and so on. If you want to be dramatic about it, you could say that injectables are the weed to surgery's heroin. More pragmatically, if you're going to play the self-improvement game, you had better accept you're in it for life. Boob jobs last only 10 years; eye jobs require volumising materials to be injected regularly into the under-eye area to stop you looking hollow.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Pears in pants

I have never quite forgotten the sage advice of Ogden Nash on this matter:

Sure, deck your limbs in pants,
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting.
You look divine as you advance . . .
Have you seen yourself retreating?

Come again?


Can anyone explain the link between the following two paragraphs from the usually accurate Lisa Armstrong?

Trousers. They’ll be everywhere – and not just the old fall-backs of jeans, straightlegs and drainpipes. The tailored trouser is back. The most modish are high-waisted, short-legged (they stop at the ankle – it’s a must) and need to be worn with heels and neat, tucked-in tops. YSL’s are the template, but Gap will have good versions, so will Joanna Sykes at Matches and, under the expert eye of Jane Shepherdson, the new, rebranded Whistles should be your first port of call. These are worth stalking, I promise.

For the first time in ages, we have genuine fashion statements that flatter pear shapes. Time to stock up.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Is your wardrobe bad for the planet?

You can have someone come round to the house and tell you.

We begin by analysing everything I've purchased over the past year. With laptop in hand, the screen presents an exhaustive list of clothing types to chose from, from cotton socks to jeans to silk shirts to wool suits. Having been in maternity clothes for 12 months, it's easy enough to remember what I've bought, although I need to think hard when it comes to household linen. I can count on one hand the number of clothes my husband's bought this year, even though he's a style-conscious Italian.

Admittedly, this is what differentiates us from the "average" household where a woman buys 34 new items of clothes a year, a figure that has nearly doubled in the past decade. What makes this possible is that, in that same time, the average cost of clothes has dropped by 36 per cent, with £1 in every £4 now spent on bargain fashion. Retailers exacerbate our obsession with "newness" by producing up to 20 different clothing collections a year. In this constantly revolving carousel, getting on the clothing treadmill has become too easy.

The next part is where I get into trouble. Over the following screens, I answer a rapid-fire set of questions. How many clothing washes do I do a week? About one wash a day. At what temperature? 40 degrees (I don't have a 30 degree setting). How many times do I tumble dry a week? None, we don't even have a tumble dryer. What about ironing? About seven hours a week. Phil gasps...

A couple clicks of the mouse, then a figure appears at the bottom of the screen. Our household EDUs is 1,282. A breakdown shows that our actual clothing EDUs is quite low at 558. But then there's the laundry, which at 724 EDUs is slightly alarming. It includes 324 from washing and a whopping 400 from ironing.

The ironing is what did us in, more environmentally damaging than our washing. "It's like having the kettle switched on for seven hours straight," says Phil. But more shocking, if we add seven tumble-dryer loads a week. The figure more than doubles.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

My Generation




One of the more intelligent and perceptive clients I once worked with gave a paper on marketing to the older consumer.

He observed that as a boy he was aware of senior citizens in his northern home town all looking rather similar. Waiting outside the pub ( those were the days when enjoyment was rationed) or chatting outside the Co-op ( no cafe culture back then). Their fashion tended toward sturdy shoes , baggy trousers, tweed jacket and waistcoat, and flat cap.
As a child he assumed that this was what you ended up wearing when you got to a certain age.
It was only after having been in marketing for a while that he revisited this assumption. And his realisation was that these chaps were simply wearing the clothes that had become them many years before. Given the period, this was probably similar to the de-mob outfit that those lucky enough to have survived to the end of 1918 were issued with.
The clothes were signifying the wearer's age by referring back to their youth. The time when they dressed up for Saturday nights, and strutted their stuff on the dance floor.
He invited his listeners to dispense with any preconceptions about what older people currently looked like, or ought to look like, and prepare for marketing to pensioners in denim jackets and Rolling Stones t -shirts. If marketers don't understand that people identify most strongly with their youthful selves they will end up making wrong assumptions and being clumsily patronising.
I think he was remarkably prescient.
Now I am of a certain age I wonder if I have become set in my ways. And in contemplating this I wonder if I have a choice of what ways to be set in.
It's true , I do seem to hark back to earlier periods in my life. I am currently growing my hair ( yes, I know I am lucky). This references student/ hippy days ( but I will forego the crushed velvet trousers and cheesecloth shirts). I am also drawn to the slightly earlier mod ethos. A bit of tailoring with a slightly fitted jacket , or a casual Harrington. Sharp shoes . A well pressed shirt. And then the career era. Suits and shirts of distinction. This isn't a big deal. But at least I am avoiding nostalgic rock and roll merchandise. Or fake vintage / post modern garb.
It means that I look for stuff when I am shopping, not really knowing what I am looking for, but having to think whether it resonates in the way I want.
And of course there doesn't seem to be a single shop that caters for me.
Where is Lord John when you need him?



Readers' corner


I have just discovered an excellent new site, The Book Depository which will ship books worldwide for free. While its discounts aren't always quite as good as Amazon, because there are no shipping costs the price often works out the same (and they give you a price comparison). It's extremely useful for books not available in the US.

You'll find The Clothes On Their Backs there, though they don't seem yet to have a pre-order facility for The Thoughtful Dresser - and my limited posting at the moment is down to my rushing to meet the end of the month deadline for delivery of the MS of that book.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Ethics in the boardroom

This Guardian piece pinpoints the problem with the with ethical fashion labels, that they still favour the young, ethnic look of the people who run them and have little to offer anyone who needs to go to work in an office every day. Do they have anything to offer someone who needs to to work in an office every day? Apparently not. A reader writes that she'd like an ethically made suit with pencil skirt, and they fail to find one:

The ethical fashion industry is still, despite huge growth in recent years, such a small part of the gigantic fashion behemoth that more specialised requirements can sometimes be tricky – and in ethical clothing, smart workwear definitely counts as specialised. A good suit requires sharp tailoring. Companies working in a genuinely fair trade way will not simply outsource to skilled workers but work to support local weavers and tailors and develop their skills over a long period of time. This is one of the many reasons why setting up an ethical fashion company is a long-term investment and not a route to a quick buck. And it means that while it is perfectly possible to find sharply cut ethical clothes, it does sometimes require a little patience and a lot of hunting.
. . .
Finally we must tackle shoes. Ethical shoes are always tricky – is leather always the least ethical option when plastic is often the alternative? It's a question I'd like to come back to in the future but suffice to say that the jury is still out. At any rate, most ethical shoes tend towards the casual – trainers, flip-flops and the like

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Fashion v Sport


The Thoughtful Dresser thoughtfully invited me to accompany her to the V&A last night. For the launch party of the new exhibition Fashion v Sport.

We had both agreed, over a civilised drink beforehand, that sport was not our forte, and hence not an area of the highest  interest when it comes to clothing. But the catalogue to the exhibition maintains that
'sports styles are adapted to make fashion statements , both on the high street and through high fashion'. 
To be honest the clothes on display didn't engage me. But then I am of a certain age. Some examples of what I would call art school experimentation seemed  designed to provoke a John Macenroesque response (' you cannot be serious'). Then there was the opportunity to exclaim ' Oh look, some more retro Nike high-tops'. And , to be honest, I find it difficult to believe that people are still trotting out Keith Haring as being a stylish or contemporary design motif.
They did have Paul Smith's bicycle, but strangely not the range of cycle clothes that he brought out last year.
Of course the venue was captivating as ever ( as someone once said, 'the best place to lose yourself in London' ). The fizz was in plentiful supply, and the attendant throng were well decked out ( with not much sports influence in evidence I am pleased to say).
Truth to tell, I do actually own some sportswear. Because that's the appropriate thing to wear to the gym ( not for me the faded old t-shirt and distressed baggy shorts look). I was in Lanzarote earlier this year and made the mistake of taking one of my gym shirts, dark blue micro-fibre. The one day I chose to wear it my dapper host Bill looked at me somewhat askance and enquired ' Harry, is that synthetic by any chance?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Guest post: On Beauty


My (real life) friend the poet George Szirtes, has responded to my post on Misogyny:

I wrote three posts at my own place in response to the misogyny blog by Linda, that ended with a comment by a certain Stephanie who suggested men die first because they're stupid. My contribution was: fine, I am quite happy to die first.

I am not altogether stupid. I am a writer and that gives me certain advantages. But I want to discard the advantages here. I'd like to speak, if such a thing is possible, for Mr Normal, Mr Nothing Special. I want leave the gender wars out of this for now, as far as that is possible.

Beauty is something most people seek, and most men seek it, first and foremost, in women. There are many other qualities they seek but beauty is there somewhere at the core of it. And beauty is far from simple: it is not merely the ruddy glow of health or voluptuousness (what Eliot called 'pneumatic bliss'). It is not merely fleshly, though it is that too. Nor is it proportions drawn up according to a secret formula. What I said in my post was that it was "not to be owned by either the beholder or the object. And partly, because it cannot be owned like property, because it remains an elsewhere and, notionally, eternal, it is something that has always to be sought." It is in that way a spiritual yearning. We are not elsewhere and eternal. We are here and fugitive. That sense of life as something fugitive may go a little way to explaining why women's fashions change so frequently, why last year's fashion is ridiculous and no longer beautiful. Clothes are part of the beautiful, as are changes in clothes.

Next to the essential though, the momentary always looks a bit ridiculous, particularly when it is actually a product of labour. It takes considerable time. Humour is incongruity. And while, no doubt, the attitude Linda's blog refers to is part of the package, it is neither entirely a patriarchal plot nor gross stupidity. It is part of the tragic ludicrousness of life. Men and women often appear slightly ludicrous to each other. And women are far from reticent or decorous about what is ludicrous in men. In fact they are furiously critical – which is something I have never experienced among men regarding women. But we can be adult about this, can't we? Shall we, we thoughtful ones, try?

The £200 plastic shoes


But they are not Crocs, they are designed by architect Zaha Hadid and are ecological and only available from Dover Street Market in Mayfair and will be launched at Fashion Week. They come in eight colours including silver.

Too many questions arise, such as how the sweaty-feet question is dealt with (and will your tights slip around inside them?) Or am I being a philistine? At least they have a good heel for walking.

Hommes en Jupe

working this summer's florals

I often daydream about time travelling into the future, just to see what people are wearing, and if there is anything new to come in fashion.

A small revolution in France might give a clue:

Dominique Moreau is a trailblazing freedom fighter, a man battling for equality and recognition in a world of prejudice and gender-based stereotypes. At least, that is what his supporters say. To others who may be less aware of the socio-political implications of his sartorial habits, however, Moreau's heroism is less apparent. To them, he is just a bloke in a skirt.

"Today, millions of men around the world wear skirts, like the sarong in Asia or the djellaba in Africa, without being bothered," he insists. "Why not us?"

Moreau is the president of Hommes en Jupe (Men in Skirts), an association of about 30 men in Poitiers, western France, who don skirts to go about their everyday lives. For them, getting dressed in the morning is less about style and more about political substance: they are fighting to reclaim an item of clothing last worn by Frenchmen more than 500 years ago.

"We're fighting against prejudice and cliches," says Moreau, a 39-year-old civil servant who quotes Virginia Woolf as a gender-bending inspiration. "Women fought for trousers; we're doing the same with the skirt."

And yet trousers are more functional. If you're a man and don't have does-my-bum-like-big-in-this issues, which on the whole men do not. What with their lean legs, an' all.