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

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The world is all that is the case

The dire record of mainstream British publishers (not to mention the US, but that's a separate story) in publishing foreign fiction is exposed by this piece by Joan Smith in the Guardian today on the funding cuts to small presses like Arcadia which go out of their way to find foreign fiction which has been rejected by everyone else, as being uncommercial. I have been on the receiving end of this philistinism from the English-speaking world by American publishers whose rejection letters rave about my work but then say, in sorrow, it is 'too British.'

So with alacrity I co-signed the letter together with 500 other writers, including Doris Lessing, Alan Hollinghurst, James Kelman, Graham Swift and Lady Antonia Fraser, complaining about Arcadia's 25 per cent cut in Arts Council funding. Joan writes:

Believe me, there is no other way for such writers to get published in this country. The dreadful state of mainstream publishing is an open secret; profit and celebrity are what drives the industry, and marketing departments don't see either in a promising young Polish or Croatian novelist. Earlier this week, one of the country's most distinguished publishers told me he had snapped up a Swedish crime novel, which has been a runaway best-seller in Scandinavia, after it was turned down by just about every mainstream house in London.

This kind of risk-taking is almost unknown in commercial publishing these days. Mainstream houses are more interested in publishing Russell Brand and Jeremy Clarkson than confirming Britain's role at the heart of an expanded Europe by bringing the best European fiction to British readers.

It's precisely that narrow, philistine view of culture that's been confirmed by the Arts Council's drastic cuts to small publishers. That's why so many of us are up in arms, trying to save the government from a catastrophe that is entirely of its own making.

The Anglo-American relationship

Over at the Bag Snobs, they are talking up a pair of Louboutins available at Net a Porter for $730. Checking Net a Porter UK, I note that exactly the same shoes sell for £400, that's $800. Why the difference? There are issues about exchange rates, of course, ansd the strength of the pound against the weak dollar, but the rule that clothes and pretty much everything else are cheaper in America than Britain has held whatever the exchange rate. Why? One explanation is the sheer size of the US market. Stores like Saks and Neiman Marcus can negotiate aggressive discounts for their customers on the grounds that they will simply sell more of any product.

The American market is an exceptionally insular one. Neither Gap nor Banana Republic will ship outside the US and Canada and nor will the giant shoe sites like Zappos. The sheer size of the American market makes it impervious to the outside world. It sets its own rules. Zappos simply has no UK equivalent though increasingly high street stores like Marks and Spencer and upper end ones like Jaeger are making their stuff available on-line. But the difference is this: in America it is entirely possible to live hundreds of miles from any major shopping centre while in Britain, unless you dwell in the North of Scotland, you're never likely to be more than an hour's drive from a a concentration of: M&S, Jigsaw, Reiss, Hobbs, etc. And a swathe of the Midlands and North have Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.

So we have in Britain excellent access to high quality fashion, but we must pay often a third as much again as in America. This is why New York shopping trips have become the new vacation.

Gentlemen's corner

According to Charlie Porter in the Guardian today, the new trend in menswear is the jumpsuit. Let's revisit that sentence againsand see what is the matter with it. Spot the problem? The new trend in menswear. Men change the style of their clothes with the speed of glaciers. In my lifetime all I can remember altering is width of the amount of fabric on the lower leg and the with of the amount of fabric on the chest. But brave Charlie ploughs on:

Men's jumpsuits are now arriving in stores from the likes of Prada, Calvin Klein and Mulberry, and I think they're a challenge we should accept. Yes, there are hints of Guantánamo Bay, and the jumpsuit is decidedly old blue-collar, but that's why I find it so delicious. Much of the trusted male wardrobe is derived from functionality, such as the military trench coat, or denim jeans. Jumpsuits traditionally work for hard labour because you can forget you've got the thing on and focus on the job. When I'm in a suit, I'm distracted by paranoia: Is it all straight? Is everything tucked in? Is it making me look like a fraud? With the jumpsuit, you can just get on with living.

But apparently there are ways and ways of wearing a jumpsuit, as Charlie explains:

Last October, I borrowed a slate-grey tight nylon jumpsuit with electric blue trim from Alexander McQueen to wear to the Fashion Rocks event at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a black-tie affair, so I put a tux jacket over the top. Between acts, Tom Ford came over and said he didn't approve of how I was wearing it. His comment: lose the underwear. It's not advice I have taken.

Many man and some innocent women would go into a swoon if Tom Ford told them to remove their delicates, and perhaps Charlie was misreading the signals but there again he has more practical tips on how to wear a jumpsuit:

Prada's jumpsuit is for those who are lucky enough to be lanky, as are most of the designer jumpsuit offerings [and the author]. If you try one on, and I do hope that you will, make sure you look at yourself from all angles, particularly the side. Paunches are what prevent most men from engaging in designer clothing, and jumpsuits have a nasty habit of riding a touch too tight over that humiliating area. Also make sure the jumpsuit fastens low enough to allow yourself quick access at the urinal. And, finally, you need to ask yourself the all-important romper-suit question: do I look like a grown-up baby? After all, I'm jealous of the ease with which my friend Ruth dresses her newborn son Arthur, but nobody wants to look as if they swap fashion tips with under-fives.

Thought for the day

Fashion is a branch of the visual and performing arts. Camille Paglia