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

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.