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

Thursday, 14 February 2008

What you see is not what you get

Last week I wrote about Net a Porter's decision to sell two dresses from the previous day's Halston show on its site.

Cathy Horyn, the New York Times' fashion writer decided to order a dress having actually seen the show. And here's what happened:

The dress arrived Wednesday afternoon at the office. The delay didn’t really bother me. What’s one day compared to waiting five or six months, as you normally would for a fall 2008 dress. But I was disappointed with the dress. Although Net-a-Porter had clearly described the dress as wool jersey, I had seen the style in the show—and it was in sleek silk satin and a warmer tone. Further, the dress didn’t seem to be worth $1,495. Unlike the thousands of women who logged into Net-a-Porter, I had had the advantage of seeing the collection in the studio and on the runway, and the clothes had seemed more substantial to me. I was also having trouble seeing what distinguished this wool jersey dress from another designer make, and, frankly, I had been seduced by the silk version on the runway. It looked cooler. Also, the dress didn’t fit—that was my fault. I should have gone for the 42—or, anyway, something smaller. I looked a little schlumpfy, if you know what I mean.

wool Halston dressThe Halston’s wool jersey dress that Ms. Horyn ordered, size 44, from Net-a-porter. (Evan Sung for The New York Times)

Was this a case of bait and switch? Was the wool jersey shirt dress part of the runway collection or was it a so-called commercial look done specially for Net-a-Porter’s Halston sale?

A day or so later, I learned that the wool jersey dress was supposed to be on the runway—it’s listed, in fact, on the run-of-show—but at the last minute Marco Zanini, the Halston designer, had pulled it and substituted the satin shirt-dress. Zanini told me yesterday that he had switched dresses because there was already a lot of wool jersey on the runway—one of the long, draw-string evening dresses is in the same fabric, as is a teal gown.

what was on the runway

I also telephoned Bonnie Takhar, the chief executive of Halston, and shared my consumerist misgivings about the dress. She was concerned. She said the dress came from the same factory that had made the samples, so the quality should be identical. (Neither Takhar nor Massenet will say how large the initial Net-a-Porter was, but production and delivery of the garments from the factory took about 30 days, which Takhar said was normal.)

Anyway, I said to Takhar that, apart from the size, maybe the problem was the dress didn’t seem in the same stylish company as the other runway pieces, and not as flattering (to my eye) as the satin shirt dress. Obviously it would have helped if BOTH styles, the low-back draped shift and the jersey shirt dress, had been on the runway, given all the ballyhoo about the runway-to-consumer concept. Takhar agreed. She then offered to have my dress styled as it would have appeared on the runway.

Which Zanini did yesterday, using a size-44 model and pairing the dress with a sleeveless cashmere turtleneck and high suede boots. In Halston’s defense, it looked great—and better, I think, without the sash belt that comes with each dress. Net-a-Porter has sold out of the brown shirt dress, though it still has a size left in the teal, and Massenet told me last Friday that she had not heard any displeasure from customers.

Giles Deacon: London Fashion Week experiments with sharia law

Thank You, Anya Hindmarch

This is mine in caramel (above)

This is it in cream

A courier has just arrived at my door with the currently waiting-list only Anya Hindmarch Cooper in caramel. I didn't even spot one at London Fashion Week, amongst the dozens of AH bags carried on the arms of the ingathered fashionistas.

Check it out here, or on Net a Porter or Saks.

Also delivered, in the nick of time for my Australia trip was an AH upright trolley just the right size to be an airline carry-on, as sold here, but in beige and gold.

Tribute to Saul Bellow

(pictured below contradicting the Thought for the Day)

On his death in 2005, I wrote:

Even if he was not writing, it was enough to know that Saul Bellow was alive and thinking. When I heard the news of his death on the radio on Wednesday morning, I screamed aloud in rage and sorrow because what Bellow had to tell us in his fiction was that it was worth it, being alive.

His vigour, vitality, humour and passion were always matched by the insistence on thought, not the predigested cliches of the mass media or of those on the left which had began to disgust him by the Sixties. 'I knew that what you need in a big American city was a deep no-affect belt, a critical mass of indifference,' he wrote in Humboldt's Gift. The Bellow character kept insisting on the right to feel that something mattered, it was an entirely personal integrity, the keeping of the terms of a contract, which was to know. And those characters knew a lot - the social conditions of the tenements they grew up in, Aristotle, Tolstoy, Al Capone. How to dress, how to make love.

. . .

Bellow was a writer about conscience and consciousness, forever conflicted by the competing demands of the great cities, the individual's urge to survival against all odds and his equal need for love and some kind of penetrating understanding of what there was of significance beyond all the racket and racketeering.

In the Fifties, he shared a place with Arthur Miller in Nevada while they fulfilled the residency requirements to divorce their wives. Bellow would go out to the desert and practise the therapy of the moment, the primal scream. That was him: I want I want I want. The yearning soul, now, unbelievably, silent.

Further review

From The London Paper

The Clothes on Their Backs
Linda Grant
Virago, £17.99

Award-winning novelist, journalist and creator of the increasingly indispensable fashion blog, Linda Grant returns with the story of the introspective yet passionate Vivien. Born to mild-mannered Hungarian refugees in 1953, she grows up in a red-brick Marylebone apartment wondering what the world might hold for her. While her parents are reluctant to explore either their surroundings or their emotions, Vivien becomes fascinated by the appearance of a flamboyant uncle at the doorstep one day – a curiosity only fuelled when her father refuses to speak of him again. Their inevitable reunion provides Vivien with an education that is as harsh as it is glamorous, as she develops an understanding that it's the clothes we wear as much as the secrets we keep that define us. As a portrait of London in the 20th century, a coming-of-age tale and an explanation of why fashion is more than just frocks, it's a sublimely atmospheric and deeply moving novel.
Alexandra Heminsley

In which I completely disagree with Hadley Freeman

great length!
who writes:

With regard to the former, the slim and straight tunics - essentially long dresses without sleeves - are easily commercial, while the low-slung tuxedo-style trousers were some of the most flattering pieces seen all week. On the downside, the below-the-knee hem lengths, often described euphemistically as "awkward", would make anyone under 5ft 10in look like a squat mushroom, a comparison only consolidated by the muted colour palette. If Virginia Woolf were alive today, and perhaps worked in a publisher's office, her wardrobe would be sorted.

Pants to that

Can anything be more fatuous than this particular enterprise: a pair of orange knickers emblazoned with handcuffs, so when you drop your drawers you automatically think of Guantanamo:

As is the case in the happiest of marriages, this natural combination inevitably produced a most striking offspring: a pair of knickers in what is being described as "Guantánamo Bay orange", mini handcuff dangling from the front and the catchy slogan "Fair trial my arse" emblazoned on the, um, back. Happy Valentine's day, sweetie!

This is not the first time Agent Provocateur has mixed slogans with silk. There were the seductive knickers embroidered with the statement "The only Bush I trust is my own" because every woman secretly loves to wear a political pun on her pants. And it's a style that comes naturally to Corre, whose mother Vivienne Westwood likes to wear a shirt that informs onlookers: "I am not a terrorist."

But is there not a risk that flogging orange pants might diminish the seriousness of the politics behind them? Martha Lane Fox, a trustee of Reprieve, shrugs: "The absurdity of this collaboration reflects the absurdity of Guantánamo Bay, in which people are held indefinitely without fair trials. The pants are no more absurd than that."

No, the pants are absurd, the suspension of habeus corpus is something else again.

I notice when I go to the Agent Provocateur website there's a soft-porn video on the front.

Thought for the day

Saul Bellow

Poets, artists, and men of genius in general are seldom coxcombs, but often slovens; for they find something out of themselves better worth studying than their own persons. William Hazlitt