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

Friday, 31 October 2008

Harry Wonders Whether Barack Is Cool

Well, actually, as any fool know, he is.
I don’t know where he gets his suits and shirts. And ties and shoes. It isn’t really relevant. They are not that interesting.
He’s playing the game of looking corporately solid.
( And , pragmatically, I’m glad he is). It appears that somewhere along the line we have colluded with an idea of what we want our father figures to look like. Because that’s what they are. They are the ones who tell us , metaphorically speaking, that everything is ok because they are reassuringly in control ( oh yeah?). And, not quite so fancifully, when we should go to war.
The fact is that female politicians don’t have the same universally acceptable corporate style to find refuge in. Thatcher did it by reflecting back a frightening combination of post war austerity and joylessness (dull clothes) combined with a folk memory of a fearful headmistress.
No-one else can now do that without looking like a pale imitation.
Palin is ghastly. ( As was Thatcher.) But that’s got nothing to do with her wardrobe. And I still don’t know what is the problem people have with Hillary. But please don’t tell me it’s her clothes.

Yes, in the public spotlight you can expect to be de-constructed. And derided. Particularly if you are female.
The fact is that there is an inhibition about ripping apart your average male politician about the way he presents himself. Why are we so deferential?
Perhaps we don’t want to incur daddy’s wrath by being so trivial. Or , even more worrying, provoke him into storming out and leaving us bereft of his oh so re-assuring masculinity.
But perhaps we are simply acknowledging the fact that men ,incompetent in so many ways , are particularly lacking in how they present themselves. Poor bunnies. We just accept that they don’t know how to do anything other than conform.
This time round, ( just like T Blair in the UK ten years ago) I don’t care if playing the conformity game means Barrack will win .
But I am still mildly curious why nobody has revealed where he gets his ties .

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Cometh the hour cometh the suit

everyone crazy bout a sharp-dressed man
I suspect that there is a rift in America between those who like their aspiring candidates to look just like them, and those who prefer the candidates to look as if they are actually aspiring. There's a good discussion of all this in the Telegraph.

"Fashion has always been political since the days when sumptuary laws prohibited people of lower rank from wearing certain fabrics," says Caroline Evans, professor of fashion history at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

"But there are new, unwritten laws as to what kind of clothes political figures choose to wear. Like it or not, in a media age they will be judged by their appearance as much as by their convictions."

But politicians need to play the game carefully, insists Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys. "Image is vital, but people need to feel gravitas from their politicians - and you don't feel gravitas from a politician who's wearing Dolce & Gabbana."


Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Sarah Palin and the Needless Mark-up

Sarah Palin and I do not exactly see eye to eye on a number of policy issues, but personally, I don't begrudge her or any woman who had dressed her entire life from a consignment store (or so she says) a $150,000 shopping trip to Neiman Marcus, or Needless Mark-up, as it's known. As we know, women in the public eye are scutinised in ways that men are not, and Hillary Clinton's attempts to look presentable for the hostile attention of a merciless media shows what happens when you get it wrong. Not being a hockey Mom, I don't feel betrayed by the shopping. I never thought she was anything like me. I'm sorry she doesn't get to keep the outfits when she returns home to Anchorage next Wednesday, as consolation prize for not becoming vice president. Inshallah.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

What the guru wears

The woman who taught McQueen

And while Wilson is undoubtedly a daunting presence, it's not because of the chic glossiness you might expect from someone so revered in the fashion world. Dressed in her uniform of plain black top and skirt (she refuses to mention designer names), she is matter-of-fact and decidedly unshowy: 'I wear black, because I'm a large lady, and I have many exact replicas of the same black outfit. I'm normally so dismissive and bitchy about my students' work, so if I always wear the same thing I kind of dissolve. I'm not putting myself in the firing line,' she booms, her comments loud, quick and fiery with expletives.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

To Canada

I'm off on a book tour of Canada later today. See here for details.

Some liked it

Last night Harry and I accepted a couple of complimentary tickets to hear Tony Curtis talk about his new autobiography with Joan Bakewell at the Criterion Theatre.

Curtis, who once looked like this

Now looks like this
(and is bald as a boiled egg under the hat.)

Still, what a moving an memorable evening! Joan Bakwell was continuously prompting the quite deaf Curtis to talk about Marilyn, and eventually he did recounting the brief affair they had when both had just arrived in Hollywood after the war. He was 20, she was 18; both were unknowns who had not yet made a movie.

But Harry and I agreed that of far greater resonance were his recollections of his childhood in the Bronx, of extreme poverty and anti-semitism, of speaking Hungarian at home until he learned English at the age of five, of the tragic death of his brother in a street accident when he was nine just after they were released from a month in an orphanage because their parents were too poor to buy food.

What Curtis really wanted to talk about was the Navy, the great institution which he described as his mother and his father, which gave him equality and an escape from poverty and racism. And under the GI Bill sent him to acting school. You felt that he loved the Nany more than all his years in Hollywood.

Though rather deaf and unable now to walk, his wit was as fast as ever. A male member of the audience asked him: 'What was it like to be as handsome as Elvis and as charismatic as Steve McQueen?' Quick as a flash he answered, 'You'd love it.'

Curtis is only really famous for one film, Some Like It Hot, his career had nothing like the highs of Jack Lemmon's - but what a film that was. Like having a starring role in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

In which I am bankrupted by Mary Greenwell

But I just do what she tells me do.

Lock stock and two silk barrels

It has been almost a week since Madonna wore these - how did I miss it? They're Chanel by the way and cost £900.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

British style genius: the rebels

I have just spent an hour without moving a muscle watching a riveting programme about British style focusing on Westwood, Galliaono and McQueen. If you didn't catch it, you can see it again from tomorrow, I think on BBC iplayer

Men sit around talking about each others' clothes

From the Times, like eating sweets, reading this:

Jason Nicholas: I try to wear a suit as rarely as possible; I’m most comfortable in jeans and T-shirts. As an Australian, that’s kind of what I’m used to.

MW: Yeah, you look like you’re dressing out of a backpack.

JN: Well, you have to trust your instincts. We’ve been around long enough to see some trends come and go, so you know what works for you. You can’t pull off trying to dress too young, especially when you’re having to shave your head as we are.

MW: I do sometimes worry that I dress too young. Because I’m from Altrincham, you either have to go for the Land-Rovers-and-green-wellies county look, or a more urban, Manchester style, which I do like.

DK: Urban? He normally wears sandals with white socks…

MW: Have you tried it? It’s very comfortable. But look at John’s shoes, they’re far too pointy – where do your toes go?

John Askew: I really like them! I think you know, deep down, if you’re wearing something that you’re not totally confident in.

AB: I won’t spend money on designer casual clothes any more, though. I’ll buy jeans and T-shirts I like the look of, not because I’m seduced by the label.

DK: What about that awful yellow and brown Armani shirt you were going to wear on that first date with your missus? I made him not wear it. When I showed it to her, she said she wouldn’t have married him if he’d worn it.

MW: The reason we don’t go for labels now is because we have mortgages, wives, cars, children, insurance, holidays… You can’t spend £150 on one shirt. But sometimes you’ll still spend so much money on something that you have to keep quiet about it, and sneak it through the back door when your wife’s asleep. I’ve found a good independent shop for tall blokes that’ll order everything in for me...

DK: Asda’s great, isn’t it?

MW: You like Harvey Nicks, don’t you Dave?

DK: Well, they’ve got everything you need under one roof.

MW: Yeah. For a girl.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Still banging on about Jaeger

It was Hilary Alexander who first persuaded me to go and take a look, 18 months ago, and now half my wardrobe is full of the stuff (in the group portrait in the V&A Library, I'm wearing their snake skin print fringed top)

Jaeger has established itself as one of Mrs Brown's favourite brands, and in wearing it she has placed herself in fashion-savvy company. Alexa Chung, Fearne Cotton and Erin O'Connor all have pieces from Jaeger London's current collection.There is a delicious irony in the fact that this once-moribund brand can simultaneously transmit to the fashion antennae of a rock star's teenage daughters, the Prime Minister's wife and a septuagenarian diva. It is proof that when a brand gets it right, it can bestride the generation gap as if it were a supermodel in spike-heeled, seven-league boots.

There was a waiting list for the long-hair shearling coat, which anticipates next spring's passion for fringing, and which Meg Mathews has bagged, as well as for the gilt-buttoned coat-dress snapped up by Lisa Snowdon.

At the Jaeger London catwalk show earlier that week, Shirley Bassey sat front row in a black lace dress by the label. Perched a few seats down were Lizzie Jagger and her sister, Georgia May - both perfect contenders for its clubby, stretch snake-print leggings.

It has done this by pinpointing different attitudes to dressing and creating attuned collections. Jaeger London is the fashion-forward collection. Jaeger Black has semi-couture hand-finished pieces, with quality trims such as mother-of-pearl buttons. Jaeger Collection falls between the two, with contemporary looks that update the brand's classic DNA.

Large woman + Puccini

Hilary Alexander at the Telegraph has a piece and video about Marina Rinaldi, the larger size label of MaxMara. They have a shop on Bond Street and go from UK size 12 - 26, but as this shoot demonstrates, and as I have noted whenever I have tried anything on, they tend to design for the tall and voluptuous rather than the narrow shouldered, and big-hipped.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Where are the photos?

Where indeed? No press photographers were allowed at the ceremony at the Guildhall, that's why you had the frankly terrifying photo call that lunchtime, with 50 snappers shouting at you, 'over 'ere, no, 'ere.'

Responsibility for recording the event fell then to my nephew who had been given his girlfriend's camera. Unfortunately she had forgotten to charge the battery.

Champagne reception from 7 pm. Best dressed woman beyond a doubt was the wife of fellow shortlisted author Steve Toltz who looked as though she should be pacing the catwalk in Sydney. Slightly, to say the least, younger, taller and thinner than me, she looked sensational. What a dress! Long-sleeved, bias cut, and an Oz designer too, she told me. But best dressed person was Hardip Singh Koli, the Glaswegian Sikh Booker judge who wore a pink turban with a kilt.

The food was fantastic, though I couldn't eat much, and the table two along was the one I really wanted to be at, former winners and shortlisted authors, who hasd all the fun and none of the tension. Congratulations to Aravind Adiga who did won. I have read his novel The White Tiger, and I can strongly recommend it as a shocking portrait of contemporary India done with both wit and rage.

Then we all scrambled into cars and hit the Groucho Club for the after parties.

Some thank yous: to Avsh Alom Gur at Ossie Clark for the dress, Mary Greenwell for the make-up, Anya Hindmarch (personally, for the emails of support,) and her staff for the evening bag, Susie Boyt for the diamond bracelet (!) George Szirtes and Clarissa Upchurch for the flowers and Yan and Rosita also for the flowers.

And to my fellow shortlisted authors, particularly Sebastian Barry who knows it was a close thing.

And to my readers here for cheering me on.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A Swell Party

Harry would once again like to congratulate The Thoughtful Dresser . Getting to the shortlist was fantastic. Getting the USA publishing deal is obviously a great outcome.
And the party was pretty good too ( English understatement). So I’d like to say a big thankyou for that.
Of course the star of the party was elsewhere until the awards ceremony was over. But when Linda finally arrived there was spontaneous applause. Although I suppose it could have been for the frock.

During the party I took the air on Dean Street and I chanced upon a short chap with a leggy young woman on each arm ambling along the pavement. I thought for a brief moment that it might be Wayne Rooney ( extremely gifted , but not the most handsome footballer on the planet), but as he got closer I realised it was Alexander McQueen. Harry didn’t think he was particularly well turned out. I think your average footballer would have made more effort.

The high point of the evening for me was being asked by someone if I was Antony Beevor. Shortly after that I was asked by someone else if I was Harry Fenton.
I was , of course, entirely delighted to meet her, and several other charming readers of this blog.

Apologies are due for me not posting this earlier.
Last night I was MC for an evening of words and music celebrating the wit, wisdom, and sheer genius of Robert Zimmerman. And , as one of the co-organisers of the show, had my work cut out during the day . But the polka dot shirt made all the difference on the night. Not worn by me you understand.
I was trying to look like Tyler Brulee.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Clothes On Their Backs US publication update

Published 26 November. Amazon pre-order here

How it all panned out

Still no party dress shot

Thanks to all of you who offered your best wishes for last night. I didn't win, it was always a one in six chance, but on one index, I was the outright winner. I was the only shortlisted author to have walked away with a free Ossie Clark dress. Oh, and we all got a cheque for £2500 just for being shortlisted

In the afternoon Mary Greenwell did my make-up, and obviously I now understand that there's a bit more to it than I'd thought. Do you want red carpet makeup she asked me? No, I said. Yes, you do, she replied firmly.

She emails me to say that she would like to recommend to readers some products which she used on me:
Radiant Immediate Lift by Sisley. The foundation was Suqqu cream foundation in colour 02 available from Selfridges .This is my new fave product of ALL TIME Under eye lift by Dior skinflash in colour 1 .
Powder Armarni pressed powder in transperant

At the after party, Harry was very amused to find several people accosting him and asking him if he was Harry Fenton. Though one regular reader said she had imagined him more like Tyer Brulee.

UPDATE It now turns out Harry thinks he does look like Tyler Brulee. He does in the same way that I bear a close resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow (see picture above)

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Tonight I will be wearing

The shortlisted authors, yesterday at the V&A Library

This dress, (thank you, Avsh Alom), with a gold, labradorite and jade necklace, a gold python clutch from SS09 loaned by Anya Hindmarch, and jewelled Christian Louboutin shoes.

I'd love to show you pics of all the accessories but I can't find the cable that connects the camera to the computer

All the shortlisted authors spent quite a bit of time together yesterday and I shall be happy if any of them take the prize (Man PLC which sponsors it and coughs up the £50k is a hedge fund, so we might want it in gold bullion, to be on the safe side.) But all things being equal, based on the readings we did last night at the South Bank, I'd give it to Steve Toltz for one of the best descriptions of Jewish hypochondria I've ever heard.

And to all of you who have sent good wishes and good luck for tonight, thank you. We'll be partying until the small hours at the Groucho Club afterwards, so don't expect reports on the event too early tomorrow.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Man in a grey suit says don't panic!



Oct 10 08, 12:08pm (48 minutes ago)
Staff Staff writer

Freepoland's suggestion that we forget money and think about poetry was, presumably, a joke, so it's wonderfully synchronous that, in the UBS clip posted above, the bank's basso profundo economics spokesman Paul Donovan does exactly that – with the UBS global economics department's own version of Rudyard Kipling's "If".

Shares in Kipling have soared following the UBS podcast, reaching $12 a simile in Far Eastern markets. Rupert Brooke is looking strong in the light of many likely casualties in foreign fields. Philip Larkin is selling well in the belief that we will all be utterly depressed and living in Mr Bleaney-style bedsits in a month or two. A lot of investors are putting their faith in poetic gold – Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Marvell – whose values are unlikely to be shaken in these testing times. But Victorian derivatives are doing badly, and stock in Tennyson is now reckoned to be almost worthless. Henry Paulson is expected to make a statement on iambic pentameters later in the day.

Woman in a pink suit gets a few things off her chest

Judgement call

Inevitably, I am drawn to study this interview with one of the Man Booker Prize judges about her fashion life:

If you could steal the wardrobe of anyone - past or present, fictional or real - whose would it be?
Would it be boring to say Audrey Hepburn? But I would also have to steal her cheekbones.

If you could change one part of your body, which would it be?
My legs. I can't wear knee-length skirts unless I'm wearing knee-high boots.

What are your five desert island staples?
Apart from wrap dresses; knee-high boots, lipsticks, body scrub, a sense of humour and my hairdresser.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

A Fragrance For Our Times?

(perhaps not this one)

Harry ponders perfumery.
Some years ago I used to visit a client with headquarters just outside Geneva. They shared their location with a sister company who were , and still are, in the business of flavours and fragrances.
In the reception area were a number of glass display cases. And in some of these were giant flagons of perfume. With names even I recognised. Over lunch one day in the director’s dining room ( very fresh and healthy Swiss cuisine and only Swiss wines) I enquired about this side of the business. I was fascinated to learn that in this huge plant fine perfumes were indeed created in large volumes.
I have scanned their current annual report and have found the following list of new products: L’Oreal: Ralph Wild by Ralph Lauren
LVMH: Vivara by Pucci• My Insolence by Guerlain
P&G: Rock’n Rose by Valentino
Puig: Infusion d’Iris by Prada
Men’s Fragrances
Coty: Pure Energy by Adidas
Estee Lauder: Unforgivable Multi Platinum by Sean John
LVMH: Fahrenheit 32 by Christian Dior
Liz Claiborne: Juicy Couture

But I was also told that the majority of the company’s fragrance business was in a far less glamorous sector. All those pine –fresh and alpine and lemony and citrussy and whatever smells that go into so many domestic products. Each one would be separately commissioned and sourced for any number of global companies.
But I was then told , much to my amusement ,that one fragrance the company was particularly proud of was ‘new car smell’. That unmistakeable (and actually quite exciting ) aroma you get from a pristine vehicle had in fact been synthesised and was now marketed successfully to used car dealers around the world.
Who says business lacks imagination and creativity?
Anyhow, I think this product of theirs will be going from strength to strength in the foreseeable future.

( The Citroen DS. When the future looked stylish. And fragrant. )

Fashion: The end (for the moment)

Sarah Mower in the Telegraph

Amazingly, the one thing almost no one in Paris and Milan had applied themselves to is how to make pragmatic, smart, uplifting daywear for someone who goes about her business in a city. Dries van Noten, with his accessible, silky, graphically rational system of dressing, was the only designer in Paris to win universal applause from both press and buyers on that score - and he's a Belgian.

And now I've limped home and reviewed the 148 shows I've seen for next spring/summer, it strikes me that I want nothing to do with anything that's going to be touted as a mainstream fashion trend. In that sense, yep, fashion's over.

If I'm going to spend, it will be on things whose value I calculate in terms of love+price+longevity; stuff I know will still be valid two or three years hence. I would much rather spend money on something that is not an obvious part of a big-brand operation. Oh, and I won't be bothering with passing novelties that turn out to be one-wear disasters: jumpsuits, that means you.

I'm convinced that's the mentality most women will be applying to fashion next year, if not already. I'm only likely to be tempted now by fantastically well-thought-out elements of urban elegance, or things that deliver surprise and delight in a delicious package of usefulness. And when I check back over the season, I find that it's London's designers - usually marginalised as infant crazies or unrealistic fantasists - who have had the clarity to come up with all that.

In the confusion that's reigned over the season, our British-based community of designers (and I include people who show in New York and Paris) pitched things so excellently that their collections stand up incredibly well against much bigger international labels whose shows lurched all over the place.

Chocolate: a short announcement

One of my regular readers sells chocolate for a living. A hard, hard life. And in a recession do you want to see this poor working woman lose her livelihood? No!

Well go and sign up to her newsletter and buy some mail order chocolate. We've all got to do our bit to keep the economy going.

And here is a short educational film on the subject of choconomics.

Support the economy during British Chocolate Week

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Male model

Vuitton's new 78-year-old male model

An up-side to the banking crisis?

Harry poses a question.
Like many others the world over I have been mesmerised by the news over the last few weeks. News that keeps telling me , amongst other things, that the nest egg I amassed from all my years at the coal –face has been reducing on a daily basis.
This isn’t the forum to lament one’s personal lot.
But perhaps it is a forum in which I can admit to my detestation of bankers and financiers. And to the sway they have held over our consciousness for the last few years.
Deregulation of financial services in the eighties resulted in all those things we have become familiar with: obscenely high salaries and bonuses, sharp practice, and an end to probity and a celebration of avarice.
‘The City’ ( which is London shorthand but I refer globally) achieved such a critical mass in terms of its influence on the way we live ( the economy , stupid) that the axis of aspiration seemed to shift. And the cars and the houses and the restaurants and the resorts all seemed to be chasing the city dollar. Designed for them and priced for them. Macho, tasteless, and soulless. ( Dubai anyone?)
And so did fashion. Certainly for men.
There has been conformity in their avaricious behaviour and conformity in the way they dress.
I know this because every smart , formal shirt seems to be designed for a financier. Because you can’t get a tab collar shirt anywhere. Why not? Perhaps because a tab collar is just a bit too fancy/ racy/ retro/ non-conformist.
But back in the day you could choose a shirt by the fabric, the cut ( short or long tail included in the list of options) and the collar. But for the last twenty years the collars have all been city style. Just walk down Jermyn Street, (the street of shirts): T M Lewin, Hiditch and Key, Turnbull and Asser; and the upstarts Hackett and Tyrwhitt. Not a tab collar in sight.
Maybe now, collectively , we will get over our fixation with the money men and people will stop assuming that us blokes want to look like them. From this day on they are no longer the icons that they were.
Those ghastly cut-away collars and silly silk knots as cuff-links will now be seen as the uniform of the shyster.

Short selling finally explained

Short selling is like borrowing a pound of tea while the price is say, $5 per pound and selling it at that price. Then when the price drops to $3, you pay the current price to the person you "borrowed" it from, netting $2.

Thank you deja pseu.

And here I will add the football 'offside rule', explained:

You're in a shoe shop, second in the queue for the till. Behind the shop assistant on the till is a pair of shoes which you have seen and which you must have.

The 'opposing' female shopper in front of you has seen them also and is eyeing them with desire.

Both of you have forgotten your purses.

It would be totally rude to push in front of the first woman if you had no money to pay for the shoes.

The shop assistant remains at the till waiting.

Your friend is trying on another pair of shoes at the back of the shop and sees your dilemma.

She prepares to throw her purse to you.

If she does so, you can catch the purse, then walk round the other shopper and buy the shoes.

At a pinch she could throw the purse ahead of the other shopper and, *whilst it is in flight* you could nip around the other shopper,
catch the purse and buy the shoes.

Always remembering that until the purse had *actually been thrown* it would be plain wrong to be forward of the other shopper.


My friend Eamonn over at his blog makes the following interesting point:

We went the Korean national day do at the embassy on Friday night. It was my first time at such an event and something that struck me was the huge difference between what was being worn by males like me; black shoes, nondescript dark jacket, shirt and tie, or a dull suit, and what the numerous military attaches present were wearing; yards of gold cord, racks of multicolured medal badges, rows of shining military speciality pins, loads of trousers with brightly coloured stripes down the sides etc etc.

Could it be that they, having proven their invincible heterosexuality by being in the military, can feel relaxed in gear like this, while the rest of us want to prove how hard we are by rejecting foppish display?


Shares in my bank fell by 40 per cent on the markets yesterday, so I could lose everything - my whole overdraft. God only knows what the hell is going on with the economy, someone sent me an easy-to-understand summary of short selling: I gave up after the second sentence. However, something seems to be up with capitalism and where's it all going to end?

Yesterday I was on the way to Rigby and Peller to be fitted for the bra to go with my my Booker dress and walking through Mayfair, down Conduit Street and past Vivienne Westwood, Donna Karan could not help but wonder if this was it, the end of the life we've known, and in a year's time would I walk that same street and see boarded up shops, beggars, soup kitchens?

By disposition I prefer pleasure to self-sacrifice, hope to pessimism and despair. I took comfort in the fact that I have a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes to see me through the Great Slump. I had a bit of time to kill before my bra fitting appointment and I stepped into the Mille Harris shop and tearoom. As every fule no, in a recession lipstick sales increase, as women buy a low cost item to cheer themselves up. I spent a delicious half hour in Miller Harris drinking a fragrant cup of her own handblended tea, eating a lemon shortbread biscuit and browsing through the magazines before inhaling a divine sniff of expensive scent. It cost me a fiver and if I'd had time I would have stayed there for an hour.

And this is how to get through the times that lie ahead. Find small pleasures, anything to cheer ourselves up. We are going to need all the pleasure we can get.

And not long after it was explained to me that alhough I am 57 years old, I do not know how to put on a bra.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Credit crunch movies

In the real world

Last night I did the military trend, a tunicky black coat dress with double-breasted gold buttons, so I'm all ready to go and invade somewhere.

Jess Cartner-Morley explains how actual people wear the trends on the catwalk. Here is Paris:

So far as there is a "look" to be derived from this week's shows, it goes something like this. It focuses on the shape of the torso and the shoulders: often a corsetted waist and ribs, contrasted with pointy, vaguely sci-fi shoulders. Sometimes there are straps tracing the lines of the ribs or looped in faintly fetishistic multiples around the shoulders. At Givenchy, the look was less gothic than last season, and more glam rock - that'll be the leather trousers with flame detailing along the thigh - but the intense, angular, skinny, black aesthetic remains essentially unchanged. At Stella, black bands were wrapped bandage-tight, in the style made famous by Azzedine Alaïa.
. . .

Don't panic. We are not actually going to be wearing this. I know, because all week I've been watching what the French fashion editors wear. When they want to do a bit of a strappy thing, they wear a top with loose, draped straps (Vanessa Bruno does a good line in these) under a black jacket with pointy shoulders and maybe even a hem that points down at the front. They wear this with slim trousers and heels, or a short skirt and long boots. Often the finishing touch is a thin scarf wound around the neck, and there you have it: the same elegant-edgy, strappy-black thing without looking like a science-fiction prostitute. Alternatively, if they want to channel a bit of a Victorian dummy silhouette, they go with a tightly belted jacket over a very short, very full skirt, worn with ankle boots - this gives the same abrupt-looking, jagged silhouette.

These straps and silhouettes, however, don't really make a trend by themselves. In Paris, as in the other fashion cities, this season of shows has failed to produce one headline-making, soundbite-friendly major trend: no Boho, no 60s. There was no consensus. But perhaps we don't need one. To allow Karl Lagerfeld, appropriately enough, the last word: "As long as you agree with yourself, that's enough - non?


Monday, 6 October 2008

Don't talk about politics!

One of the most fascinating little gadgets I've seen in ages is this gizmo which allows you to compare the US electoral map over every election going back to 1789 (what happened that year?*)

Particularly interesting is the difference between 1928 and 1932, as Norm points out.

* irony

Sunday, 5 October 2008

More Bill Cunningham

Fashion in the rain

what a fantastic thing - to take such pleasure in your work, after 50 years.

More about him, here

A forgotten maestro of British fashion

Bill Gibb remembered - my piece in today's Telegraph:

In the summer of 1970 a friend and I laboriously made ourselves long coats out of multicoloured patchwork velvet squares. The sleeves were gathered at the armholes because we didn't know how to fit them, and they fell like the tunic of a medieval page-boy, wide at the wrists. We were dedicated followers of fashion who had grown out of Chelsea Girl, the 1960s equivalent of Topshop, but it would be a year or two before we discovered the vintage stalls at Kensington Market. With our hennaed hair, kohl-rimmed eyes and Biba purple lipstick, we wafted about in Afghan dresses, skirts made of Indian bedspreads and loose velvet tops from India with tiny mirrors inset in the embroidery. Nothing matched. The clash of colour and texture was the point. The only rule was that you must not look anything like your mother, who had outrageously started to wear her skirts an inch or two above the knee.

Twiggy’s outfit for the Los Angeles premiere of The Boy Friend, 1971

Because we were only teenagers, what we knew about clothes came not from the fashion press (Vogue was scarily grown-up), but from copying everyone we knew. So I was completely unaware, until I opened the pages of a new book about his life and work, that for a period of about three years in my late teens and early twenties, I had been a walking advertisement for Bill Gibb. Gibb's early death at the age of 44 in 1988, and his too-brief period in the 1970s as one of the defining designers of his age, has meant that he has been partly forgotten - except by those who wore his clothes. He dressed Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Anjelica Huston, Marie Helvin and Twiggy, who described Gibb as 'my knight in shining armour', after he rescued her car from a snowdrift on a cold London day in 1967.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Bill Cunningham: Who Knew?

I've been reading the US press online this week because of the VP debate and the bailout and discovered the wonderful photo and audio essays on fashion on the street by Bill Cunningham in the New York Times.

I had never heard of this guy, but he is wonderful, here he is talking about the new trend for lace. And he's been doing this for fifty years!

My weekend re-reading

The Clothes On Their Backs US publication update

The US edition of The Clothes On Their Backs is being rushed out by Scribner for publication early November. I have seen the first draft of the cover which I adore. As soon as it appears on Amazon, I'll post a link. Or you can order directly from the Simon and Schuster site. There will be a simultaneous hardback and $14 trade paperback.

British style explained

It's true that there is a lot of vacuous fashion writing out there, but there is some brilliant fashion journalism too, usually by people who've been around the block, like Lisa Armstrong at the Times whom I first met 20 years ago when she was working on Elle. And here she is, explaining the origins of British style (also taking in class, necessarily, this being Britain):

No discussion of Britain’s sartorial tics proceeds very far before it collides with a cloud front, a rainstorm and the occasional heatwave. The weather doesn’t merely affect the way we dress, it defines it. It may be no exaggeration to say that most of the enduring wardrobe components this country has given to the world – the trench coat, the argyle sweater, the cashmere twinset, the wellington, the sprigged tea dress – arose from a need to combat the elements. As for our other great contribution, thank 1,000 years of military doggedness. Savile Row tailoring wouldn’t exist without Army uniforms. Without tailoring there would be no mods, no Vivienne Westwood, no easily definable system for telegraphing one’s class. Punks wouldn’t have looked nearly so sharp.

Pragmatism may be the fundamental principle on which British style is built. A country which for centuries had no equivalent of la passeggiata, that evening parade in Mediterranean and Latin countries in which beautifully turned-out people stroll along the balmy streets, found more idiosyncratic ways to communicate its sense of chic. Layers, that stand-by of the draughty British home, are something at which we excel, and a habit the rest of the world now emulates, thanks to avatars such as Kate Moss and brands such as Burberry, which took the haphazard approach of chucking on any old ropey jumper over a summer dress, over a pair of woolly tights, and made it look chic and luxurious. Lo, modern eclecticism was born.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Harry Revisits Highway 61

The other day I was on a mission to find a polka dot shirt.
Having tried Beyond Retro, a cavernous vintage store south of Oxford Street, I continued on to Carnaby Street. There has recently been a bit of a retro /mod revival and a few stores can be found in its environs. Sherry’s in Ganton Street had a large mod roundel outside so that helped me identify it.
‘I’m looking for a polka dot shirt’ I explained to the pleasant young man ‘for someone a lot smaller than me ( ie thinner) who wants to look like Bob Dylan for the evening.’

He was able to produce one straight away. It had a button down collar, and when I enquired whether they did any with tab collars I got the expected answer: No.
I was just musing as to whether said shirt was authentic and stylish enough when the assistant told me something moderately fascinating. The US magazine Entertainment Today had recently been doing a photo shoot with Bob Dylan, and their stylist had contacted the shop to get them to send over some polka dot shirts, just like the one I was holding. 'How cool is that ?' I thought.
A few moments later he was wrapping the item and then proceeded to tell me that Liam and Noel had both been in recently and bought the identical shirt.
Well, of course, we are all so familiar with the Gallagher brothers from Oasis that I guess first names only are de rigeur.

Later, over a cup of coffee, I interrogated the story that went with the transaction. And on reflection decided that it was extremely unlikely that the esteemed Bob would ever put himself in the hands of a stylist from Entertainment Today.
But as sales patter goes, I thought it was inspired.
And sometimes , maybe, it’s quite enjoyable to be gullible.

There are perhaps a couple of questions prompted by this post .
Why is someone I know wanting to look like Bob Dylan?
And why can’t one get hold of a tab-collar shirt?
I’ll answer the first question in my next post.
And I will ruminate on the second very soon.

Election rally

Fashion is no longer fashion. . .

. . . It's conceptual art

Off piste, off trend

I suppose it must be the economy, but equally I think it's fashion's own desperation and exhaustion: I am truly bored with 'trends.'

Here's the Guardian with a list of what we're to expect:

Strong-shouldered jackets
Massive shoulders at shows like Balmain mean the style will last way into 2009.

Skin-tight trousers
This silhouette rules for next season - bodysuits at Jil Sander and Balenciaga, and tight pants at Givenchy.

Painful shoes
If your heels are huge, like the YSL Tribute boots, then a scrum will form around you, looking for the sort of killer shoes that saw models tumble at Prada.

No bag
When Carine Roitfeld began arriving at the shows carrying her phone and nothing else, the big-bag trend was over. If you must have a bag, then make it a clutch, like those that were just seen at Balenciaga.

I am going to be following none of these. I was at L.K Bennett yesterday taking back the shoes which Av had deemed not right for my dress and I was only offered an exchange or credit note. It was a real struggle to find any non-stilettos (I don't wear flats) and in the end found a pair of square-toed purple patent pumps with a stacked heel. When I got home there was an email from a fashion editor friend telling me her day-in-day-out shoes are stacked heel platforms by Stewart Weitzman from Russell and Bromley. So even the fashion editors aren't wearing these sky high shoes. Walking through Hanover Square yesterday I saw three young women who were; they were chatting on the windy street before turning and trooping painfully back into Vogue House, headquarters of Conde Nast. Their bosses know better.

I confess I have been on a buying spree lately and this must be the last gasp before the retail economy contracts and we start to see bankruptcies. I bought a scarf and a necklace yesterday. I could still be wearing them at 80 and might have to.

We know there must be fashion even in a slump. That's what fashion is, that's what fashion does, it rises above. One of my favourite films is Preston Sturges Sullivan's Travels, about the necessity of laughter. But fashion needs to remember that in a depression we're all going to need cheering up, and art school clothes that belong in an art installation, self-referential and ultimately quite boring, are literally museum pieces.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The white stuff

white haired old gentleman

Despite being emphatically in the anti-grey hair camp when it comes to my own carefully tended barnet, I draw the line at male dyeing, sorry. And how strange it is that wealthy men like Paul McCartney can't afford a good dye job

George Clooney indeed does have it right, and I'm not even that much of a fan of Gorgeous George:

Friends, mostly women, tell me that George Clooney has perfect hair. A light sprinkling of salt and pepper, looking natural and suited to his age. Well-seasoned, in fact. I've no idea whether Clooney spends a small part of his fortune on his hair or whether it's natural, but it's certainly a model for others to aim for. Instead, even the wealthy come a cropper whenever they unscrew the toner.

I don't mean the Paul McCartney auburn rinse, during the high summer of Heather - having a different hair colour can be fun. I'm talking about the straight black and brown, like boot polish. Some people seem to deploy industrial-strength dye, as though it's a totem of manhood that their locks can stand up to the onslaught.Next time you see an ageing rock star, check out the inevitable goatee. Monochrome. Dark as a 1970s bass line. A case of "Hope I dye before I get old." My friend at the bar had the same problem. He didn't look bad, just weird, as if someone had dropped a wig on him. Bald would have been better.

I know this sounds less than gracious from a man in his fifties blessed with a full head of hair. But I, too, know what the hair police can be like. When things started to turn white, my teenage children used to play a game called "Hunt the Badger" in supermarkets. But I never dreamt of airbrushing out these signs of mortality.

So why do they do it? The most obvious answer is a desire to hang on to their lost youth, to summon some of the virility of the past by returning to the same colour. But that doesn't really work.

To have a lined and aged face under a helmet of black matting is only to draw attention to age, rather than to divert it. It's like putting a granny in a tutu.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

What men want

Best to stay away from very sharp knives

From Giles Coren and others:

Also, I want a woman who is prepared to admit that what she wants from a man is a big c*** and a lot of money. I am fed up with women always claiming that what they find most sexy is a sense of humour. Because it isn’t true. I know this because I am hilarious. Way more funny than most of the slack-arsed, car-obsessed, office wonk baldies you’ll meet in a wine bar on a Friday night, and yet I practically never get laid. If it were true that women are turned on by a man who makes them laugh, Woody Allen wouldn’t have had to marry his own daughter.

As for a woman with a sense of humour, that’s fine, as long as it simply means that she will laugh at my jokes. Most women only laugh at their own jokes. Shut up. If you say something funny, I’ll let you know. And don’t give me “career”. Only women have “careers”. Men have jobs, to get money, and if we could stop and have babies while someone else earned the loot, believe me, we would. We don’t need a “career” to feel validated. We don’t want to feel validated. We just want to feel boobs. As many as possible. And then, at the last minute, quickly have babies and then die.