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

Thursday, 22 October 2009

On the return of the clumpy shoes

My piece from today's Guardian

As I walked down Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, my eyes slid to the left and I noticed a window full of sensible shoes, and they were quite nice in a modest sort of way. But in despair I saw the sign above the entrance: Clarks, the home of regulation school sandals, the shop where I was taken by my mother to have my feet measured and x-rayed with an exciting machine that could see through to the bones.

Alexa Chung in loafers Fashion disobedience … Alexa Chung wears Russell & Bromley loafers. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Yet peering further, I noticed that the shop was crammed with fashionable young people trying on footwear with low heels and rounded toes. Venturing inside, this startling vision was confirmed. All around were rows and rows of shoes that looked comfortable. My feet sighed with pleasure at the sight of them. They had nice straps to hold them on and the soles were airy cushions of padded leather. There was not a single pair of what the magazines call "fierce heels", shoes inspired by Chinese footbinding, designed to cruelly entrap the toes in sharp points and elevate the heels to such heights that walking becomes a hobble. There were no bondage shoes at all. Nor were there many ballet flats, those flimsy little numbers with papery soles, sending shock waves up your spine every time your foot hits the pavement, making your calves scream.

The shoes in Clarks had low, stumpy heels. They were visitors from a strange world. But were they in fashion again now? Not a single magazine article had proclaimed the death of the uncomfortable shoe. At London fashion week, models continued to wobble along the catwalk in vertiginous platforms and there had been no reports in the financial pages of the decline of Manolo Blahnik (who refuses even to make wedges) or Christian Louboutin. Yet the shop seemed to be minting money. I sat down next to an exquisite Italian woman in the kind of skinny jeans that are artfully folded around the ankle, requiring the centuries of visual acuity only granted to a country of people who can wear beige without looking like a geography teacher. She carried a Prada bag, and dozens of shoes lay all around her as she kept trying on more and more pairs. Every time she cast one off, I moved them towards me.

read on

Friday, 16 October 2009

Mimi Weddel and I shared a birthday. I'm always fascinated by the lives of those born on February 15. She was a New York model who breezed into Manhattan from North Dakota in 1941. According to her obituary, (she just died at the age of 94,) 'What she had wanted since the age of 16 was to put her foot on the bar of the Hotel Astor, to drink Brandy Alexanders on the St Regis hotel roof garden, to admire hats in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria.'

She was still going our on calls for modelling and acting jobs at the time of her death. She had a small part in an episode of Sex and the City. She went to the gym to stay fit, despite curvature of the spine but decreed that hats maketh the woman:

She shared an Upper East Side apartment, which she had bought cheaply in 1970, with her daughter Sarah, son-in-law, grandson and 150 or so hats, boxed and not, from the 1930s to the couture present. The film director Jyll Johnstone decided to follow Mimi around with a camera intermittently over 12 years, and called the resulting documentary, released in 2008, Hats Off. Hats On would have been more accurate. "Rise above it" was Mimi's motto, and she could rise to any headgear, however unlikely. There's a sequence in the film, in between Mimi's punishing gymnastics, tapdancing, singing and casting calls, when she takes a ride on the back of a motorbike, cool in jodhpurs, huntsman's jacket and boots. She's as elegant as Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and almost as youthful, and she wears her visored helmet with elan. "Hats give you a frame," she said. "However dreary you feel, if you put on a hat, by golly, you've changed everything. I keep telling my daughter, my granddaughter, everybody, if you don't wear a hat, you're missing it. "

The full obituary is here

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Letter from America

Apologies to all of you who have been missing this blog. The fact is, I've been in another world, the world of writing a new novel, and clothes have been less on my mind. 'Harry Fenton' aka Nigel is battling various institutions of the state to get compensation for his son (we hope there will be some good news very soon).

Meanwhile, I have permission to share with you an email I recently received from Georgia, USA from a reader of the book, The Thoughtful Dresser:

Dear Linda,

I'm in the process of packing for a move to a retirement home (I'm 83) and came across your "The Thoughtful Dresser" as I was packing books. I read it not so long ago, but glancing through it I became engrossed again - a most unusual thing for me.

Being in the throes of decisions on what I can take, your writings have endorsed my desire to have with me so many of my clothes, whether practical to my new environment or not. Having my clothes, pants, jackets, shirts, shoes, boots, bags, dresses, hats, even evening wear, will make me happier, and you confirm the wisdom of what others see as imprudent.

Some of my favorite things are 40 years old, but I'm a size 6, and can still wear them should I wish to. (Actually,I was a size 8, but the fashion industry has reduced the size structures to flatter all women, so my newer clothes are 6.) But ability to wear them is not really necessary. I have shawls and scarves, belts and baubles which I never wear now, but like to admire and try on, and they give me pleasure.

A friend says, "Carol, all you need is four pairs of shoes" I told her I've packed forty pairs, and mourn those I must leave behind. I need sandals, straps, slides and boots, all in varying colors and heel heights to go with chosen dresses, skirts and pants of varying lengths. How could I possibly be content with four pairs of footwear, though they might be the ones I;d wear most of the time? I have gvien away all high heels, not because I think they're imappropriate at 83, but because they are no longer comfortable.

I think I was born to love clothes, just as I was born to love literature and learnng. At age 6 I was trying to choose my own clothes. I was a tomboy, and loved to dress in my brother's pants and shirts, but I also loved girl's things, always stressing my poor mother by choosing the most expensive classic designs that she hadn't the money to buy for me. I didn't realize I had a "fashion sense" until I met an employer who recognzed my potential and insisted upon hiring me to teach a New York department store teen "Beauty Workshop" which led to a career in fashion promotion and commentary. Later i got serious and went into health agency administration, but my love of clothes never failed.

There were periods when I couldn't afford many clothes, and other times when I could but didn't like anything in the stores. What I own now is the aggregate of many years of acquisition and carefull culling. I've gotten rid of mistakes and whims and hope now to be able to hang onto what's left. I think shopping opportunity will not be so near at my new abode; all the more reason to bring as much of what I like with me.

Please accept my plaudits for your book; it's informative, wise, amusing,well-written, and even when I disagreed, plausible. Congratulations!


Carol Fox

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Check out the old dames and old geezers on Advanced Style which the Manolo kindly just sent me a link to

Friday, 19 June 2009

The right to bare arms in Iran

In 1979 I went to a meeting Vancouver and heard thrilling accounts from Iranian socialist feminists about how they donned the chador to organise the revolution and depose the Shah. One cynic asked if they would be able to take the chador off again and was quickly shushed. I wonder where those Iranian feminists are today.

In 1996 I visited Iran on assignment for the Guardian. One small detail of life there I observed was that it was women in their forties and older , women who had been in their twenties and up before the revolution, who had managed to tweak and subvert the dress codes and were the most fashionably dressed. Invited to attend a wedding in Isfahan, where there were two, segregated receptions, the women without their black cloaks were dressed in a riot of colour, spangles and low bosoms.

A doctoral student at the University of Tehran who was working with the team that was bringing the internet in Iran told me that the internet would be the undoing of the regime.

The Guardian has been doing a fine job of providing live rolling coverage of what is going on which you can read here

In the same paper, Azadeh Moaveni writes of the Ahmadinejad era:

Late that summer, authorities launched a full-scale campaign of intimidation against young people they accused of un-Islamic appearance. Within a few short weeks, police detained 150,000 people, and all the women in my life went out to buy the shapeless, long coats that we had worn back in the late 1990s. Though the campaign targeted young men as well, authorities singled out women with particular brutality. The government's disdain for women increased by the day. Though Iranians fretted about the impact of western sanctions, the government turned its attention to a bill that would facilitate polygamy. Soon after, it announced a plan that would supposedly solve Iran's marriage crisis. It called the scheme "semi-independent marriage", and it amounted to a hollow version of the institution that would secure men legal and piously sanctioned sex, while denying women the security and social respectability of conventional marriage. On internet news sites and newspapers, women reacted scathingly. A girlfriend of mine, whose English classes had recently been segregated by gender, complained the government was imposing seventh-century rules on modern women

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Man in suit talks about ties

Amongst the recent frenetic media coverage of the juvenile behaviour of some of Gordon Brown’s former cabinet members The New Statesman has recently given us a first rate interview with the new Home Secretary , Alan Johnson.
I was aware of Mr Johnson’s working class West London roots, and his rise through the union ranks following his career choice as a postman.
But I wasn’t aware that he had been in not just one, but two, rock and roll bands.

“Within the space of three years, I left school, played in two bands, cut a record, got married, had two kids. That’s a lot to do in a short time. It was just a buzz, a real buzz, a really exciting time. I’ve never [recaptured] the excitement of playing in a band. Nothing has re-created that for me ……“it’s been kind of downhill all the way from there”.

He has an articulate take on the current political scene, and given the shenanigans that the media are so obsessed by his words and opinions are refreshingly to the point.
And how often, I wonder, does a man in a suit, let alone the Home Secretary, answer a question about his tie.
Not for him the embarrassed response of ‘oh, I don’t know where I got it / the wife gave it to me / clothes aren’t important to me. But,…..
‘Today, he wears a patterned Kenzo tie, although he insists it is “just a cheapo one. The Vivienne Westwood’s my favourite.”

Monday, 8 June 2009

Thoughts on the European elections

A new MEP (elected)

and what we might do about

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Harry Misses a Party

Because life has been unstructured of late, what with hospital visits and live televison appearances ( a slight exaggeration) I missed another social event the other week.
It was Mick Kidd’s birthday. I met Mick last year. He is one half of the incomparable cartoon duo ‘Biff’, who have been going for a long while , and never cease to entertain me.

Their cartoons often suggest that they have been eavesdropping on conversations and dinner parties that I might well have been at ( or pleased not to have been at).
If you are not familiar with their oeuvre then there is a treat in store.
I was especially delighted to find on their website that they appear in a rather recherché magazine called The Chap ,and reveal a rather astute awareness of the finer points of menswear which I never before suspected. As it has strong literary associations I feel compelled to share it with the discriminating readers of this blog.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

What's not to like?

My Greek Cypriot hairdresser warned me yesterday that if I even thought of not voting for Stavros Flatley in the final of Britain's Got Talent, I could look forward to green highlights on my next visit. But why would anyone not vote for them? They reduce me to helpless giggles.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


It was raining heavily on Tuesday morning and I was going to the gym. And the umbrella stand in the hall was empty. And there was no umbrella in the boot of the car.
And I didn’t know where they had got to. And I couldn’t remember when they had last been used, or when I had last seen them, or who might have borrowed them. And I couldn’t remember, for that matter, when it had last rained.

On Tuesday it was the six month anniversary of the fateful night in Mumbai when Will and Kelly were threatened with their lives. And said their goodbyes to one another. And I was intermittently on the end of a phone in London and at one stage did not know if my lovely son was alive.

It has been a long time. It has, in a sense, been one long extended event. And Christmas and New Year have been and long gone. And snow has happened and spring has arrived and public holidays have occurred and friends have gone away and come back and Rosie is coming to the end of her second year at university. And Will is still in hospital undergoing rehabilitation.
He is a star . Kelly is a star.
It does sometimes happen in life. A disruption to the normal flow. Of events . Of habits . Of time. When something prises you into a parallel world that runs alongside the familiar one. When what used to be important preoccupations are now barely recognised irrelevancies. You look across to the old familiar life and wonder when the tracks will intersect. ( I’m talking for myself here)

Three weeks ago Will and Kelly decided to go public with their story. They had absolutely no desire to , but they acknowledged that they needed to as they get no compensation from the UK government. And now the real world has been engaged, but in a kind of ultra way. Interactions with journalists and politicians,. Seeing images and stories in print and on TV. And messages coming in from the ether. From complete strangers and from long lost friends. Offers of help. Expressions of support . And many heartfelt greetings.

And they have been very gratified by the support that has been forthcoming.
And now that they have engaged the outside world it is sort of time for me to. And I hope I will have the kind of energy that allows me to get back to doing some of the things I enjoy. Like writing occasionally for this blog. About less important things like the disappearance of tab collars and , now that the warmer weather is here, the ghastly re-appearance of cargo pants. Or buying an umbrella.

Thank you one and all for all your kind thoughts.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Mumbai: The government concedes there's a problem

Yesterday, there was a half hour interview with Will, Kelly and Nigel on Radio Five Live, which you can listen to here, and which gives a graphic account of what happened in Mumbai that night. Later that morning Tess Jowell, the minister responsible, came on and under tough questioning from the news presenter, conceded that there was an anomaly in the law and that the government was looking into changing it. Will's website will be campaigning to hold her to hger promise.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Mumbai: The aftermath

For several months this site benefited from the insightful analysis of 'Harry Fenton' in real life, my friend Nigel Pike. Last November Nigel's son Will was caught up in the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai. Attempting to escape with his girlfriend Kelly Doyle from their third-floor hotel room, Will fell, sustaining serious injuries. He is facing the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

At every stage in in this cruel calamity I have been shocked by the incompetence and indifference of the Foreign Office, parts of the National Health Service and the British government which has abandoned Will, offering him a one-off payment from a Red Cross fund of a meagre £15,000. Had he been injured in a terrorist attack on British soil he would have been compensated. Had he been in a car crash, he would have been compensated. Had his injury taken place at work, he would have been compensated. But because he was the victim of a terrorist attack abroad, the government says it will give him nothing. Not a penny.

Will was a target because he was British. The terrorists went from room to room looking for British and American guests to execute. Since he returned to London from Mumbai five months ago, the British government has preferred to pretend he does not exist.

In today's Observer the full story of what happened after Mumbai is told. You can read my account here, and a report by the chief political correspondent here, and a leader here.

This morning Will and Kelly launched a website, a public appeal for a change in government policy and for funds to help them though the years ahead. You can read that here. Please do.

You can also listen to a radio interview with Will which went out this morning on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Queen remodelled

Back in the day, there was an amazing magazine called Nova, the intelligent woman's guide to life, fashion, politics and the rest. I adored it when I was a teenager.

A former journalist on the magazine, Brigid Keenan, has just emailed me with this gem, apropos the piece I wrote last week about the Queen as fashion icon:

It was in the days before you could change images on the computer, so what could have been done in a few minutes now, was an incredibly expensive and complicated affair. Basically, we had to find out the Queen's measurements and exact height (we did this at Madame Tussaud's) and then find a model of those proportions. I asked Andre Courreges to design a suit for the Queen - he made a very snappy navy and white outfit, then I got Alexandre, who was the world's top hairdresser then, to design her a hairstyle, and someone else to design the makeup. The Queen-sized model was photographed in the suit, and the hair and makeup superimposed on the image and it all ended up with the Queen looking like herself but some sort of continental, soignee version! (Apparantly she herself thought we'd made her look like Queen Fara Diba!) There was an awful hiccup at one stage because Courreges had insisted on making the skirt above-the-knee length, and when the finished pictures, which seemed to show the Queen in a mini skirt, arrived from the US (where the retouching was done) the Customs siezed them and we only got them back by negotiating with the Palace. The skirt was lengthened to an appropriate length and that was it.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

I dreamed a dream: on the limitations of appearance

I'm sure that there are many readers of this site who are better dressed than Susan Boyle, better looking, with better figures and more lively romantic histories. And perhaps you too (I know I do) long to step in front of Simon Cowell and belt out a number that would cause his jaw to drop. But in my case that will never happen. It will not happen because however much I dream that dream, however much I spend on the right dress, however much botox I had, I can't sing, and Susan Boyle can.

I now read that Piers Morgan is now planning to take her on her first ever date. Can no gallant man offer himself, in Morgan's place? George Clooney, please step up.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Not the West Wing

scene from In the Loop released Friday which I saw at a press screening today.

Trying on Marilyn's clothes

What size was Marilyn Monroe? A Times journalist tries on her clothes.

As I tentatively tried to coerce my way into the Some Like It Hot dress, Valerie Nelson, the woman charged with caring for the pieces in the Jersey exhibition, talked me through Monroe’s body shape. Monroe was 5ft 5in (I’m an inch shorter); just over eight stone (I’m ¾ of a stone heavier); she had a respectable BMI of 21 (don’t ask). She had an incredibly narrow back and rib cage but big boobs, so if she were to pop into Rigby & Peller for a bra fitting today she would probably be a 30E.

She didn’t have a long body, and although her legs were a lovely shape (beautiful bony ankles and knees) they weren’t particularly long. She had a very short rise (the distance from waist to crotch), but what made her body so extraordinary was the 13-inch difference between her breast and hip measurements and her waist. In her younger years her vital statistics would have come in at 36 23 35, and although her weight fluctuated throughout her career, she always maintained that out-of-this-world body ratio. A real life Jessica Rabbit.

Nelson tells me that they had to get a special mould made for the corset and swimwear dummies in the exhibition because Monroe was such an extreme hourglass shape that no off-the-peg dummies existed in those measurements. The Some Like It Hot dress just about zips up on me – which is pretty mortifying, considering I had always thought of her Sugar phase as a gloriously plump one.

1001 reasons not to buy cheap clothes

(if you can afford better)

The Guardian reports that clothes from Primark don't sell in charity shops:

' . . . I'm surprised that so many clean items in almost pristine condition aren't sellable - anything from Primark, for instance, or one of the supermarkets, and especially children's clothes. "They're so cheap to begin with that we can't sell them," says Sue. They would take up valuable space in the small shop. Instead these clothes go in the "rag" pile - they are bought by "the rag man", who comes every week to collect the bags and pays around £100 for a load: the good clothes are sent to developing countries, the unusable ones are recycled'

Considering some of these clothes were only worn once or twice in the first place they only good thing that may ever happen in their short lives is that they're recycled to make something a bit better

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Lilibet is hot

A short piece of mine in today's Guardian on the new style icon, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II:

Decades of viewing Her Majesty in canary-coloured sacks, matching handbags and two-inch heels, with her hair unchanged since her youthful profile on the stamps, we forget that once she was, if not a trendsetter, nonetheless wearing the newest styles by the hottest, albeit British, designers. In the 60s even she wore a miniskirt, demonstrating the more iron strictures of style 40 years ago, when designers dictated hemlines.

But Elizabeth II, unlike her predecessor, Elizabeth I, who appears in her portraits immolated behind ruffs and pearl-encrusted bodices, has had to wait until old age to be declared a fashion icon.

It was Vogue who started it, when, two years ago, it declared her one of Britain's most glamorous women. She was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, who only does true celebrity. Now the launch issue of Katie Grand's long-awaited style magazine Love, focusing on the fashion icons of our generation, has a naked Beth Ditto on the cover and inside, model Agyness Deyn in ice blue satin Lanvin gown, white lace gloves and tiara, dressed as the Queen. And, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth, an exhibition of six decades of royal couture goes on display at Buckingham Palace in July so we can glimpse how her taste has altered, or not, throughout and even before her reign.

Love magazine's Deyn photo is a weird combination of HRH and Marilyn Monroe. Spookily, Monroe, had she lived, would be the same age as the Queen: the two women were born only two months apart and both came into their own in an age of postwar glamour. Even their figures - the large bust and small waist - are similar.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

In which Alber Elbaz and I think the same thoughts

From Lisa Armstrong in the Times, today

Elbaz isn't sure: “But they say in a recession that the one thing that doesn't go down is red lipstick.” Not that baldly commercial imperatives sway him. He used red because there have been many mornings, since the sunny, colourful collection that he designed more than a year ago (the one in all the magazines now, coveted by every woman conversant with modern clothes), when he woke up, switched on the news about Gaza or another failing bank and thought, Who Needs Fashion? “But, you know, it's almost like that moment when someone is told they have a disease. Either you say, OK, let me die now, or you say, I'm going to buy a beautiful dress, I'm going to go forward and I'm going to go back to lipstick. And do you know what? A good shoe or a good dress does something to you. It's not just about fashion victims. It really does do something for all women.”

Eccentric as this might seem to those not embalmed in fashion fluid, he is on to something. In The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant's new book about clothes, she recounts the almost life-saving effects on female inmates of a consignment of red lipstick mysteriously delivered the to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly after the British Red Cross arrived in 1945.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A change of perspective

Here in Cornwall it is almost impossible to understand or remember why anyone would ever wear high heels. I think a counter-reaction has started, courtesy of Hadley Freeman:

Oh yes, this is the 21st century. Previously considered insurmountable barriers for women have been broken, glass ceilings shattered and exciting medical advances made daily. Yet when it comes to footwear, women seem to be voluntarily choosing to return to the days of footbinding, crippling themselves in the pursuit of neat little feet. You can't help remembering the times when women broke their ribs to narrow their waists. Plus ça change.

As you might have discerned by now, I am not a fan of high heels, never have been. In fact I've lost friends through wearing them, and I'm sure I'm not alone. The very few times I've reluctantly hoisted myself up into a pair for some social occasion, I've spent the entire evening grumpy, immobile and longing to leave. I hadn't even left the room at one such party when I heard an old acquaintance mutter - one who I haven't seen since, incidentally - "Christ, what's up with her?"

"Up" was the operative word in that question because I was up, all right - up about four-and-a-half inches in a pair of designer shoes I'd bought after having been promised that this label was the most comfortable around. Here's a hint: magazines and heel devotees often say things like, "Oh, you just haven't worn good heels. When you wear Manolo Blahnik / Jimmy Choo / Christian Louboutin shoes, you don't feel like you're wearing heels at all." They're lying. The only way you might not know you were wearing heels is if someone slipped them on your feet while you were sleeping, and even then they'd probably pinch you into wakefulness.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Another book

Tomorrow I am going here for a week or maybe two to get on with writing another novel. As I no longer have clothes at the forefront of my attention, posts to the Thoughtful Dresser will become less frequent, I'm afraid, though I have managed to talk Harry into making a reappearance, and he says he has several ideas for posts lined up, including a Christmas purchase of a handbag, though not for himself (or me.)

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


William Dalrymple, writing in the Guardian today:

Few had very high expectations of Zardari, the notorious playboy widower of Benazir Bhutto. Nevertheless, the speed of the collapse that has taken place on his watch has amazed almost all observers. Across much of the North-West Frontier Province - around a fifth of Pakistan - women have now been forced to wear the burka, music has been silenced, barbershops are forbidden to shave beards and more than 140 girls' schools have been blown up or burned down. From the provincial capital of Peshawar, a significant proportion of the city's elite, along with its musicians, have decamped to what had, until yesterday's attack, been regarded as the relatively safe and tolerant confines of Lahore and Karachi.

Very expensive shoes

Balmain, £975

I was looking at a pair of very beautiful £1000 Ferragamo shoes in Grazia yesterday and wondering who buys £1000 shoes? Who are these for? Is this the new price of a shoe which the rest will, as it were, inch up to?

But I remembered a phone call I had the other day from someone with high placed retail contacts who told me that fashion no longer caters for London women, even rich London women. The crazy shoe and crazier bag are for our guests from Russia and the oil states. If they are holding up our retail economy with their slender manicured fingers, perhaps we should be grateful. Otherwise I would have to buy three and a third pairs of £300 shoes.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Bewigged, bothered and bewildered

Independent columnist and literary man-about-town John Walsh, having read The Thoughtful Dresser
(book) asks in the Independent today why and in what ways men care about what they wear:

Men can be quivering violets about clothes and what they say about them. Recently, I met a judge at a party (it's so weird when the High Court judges start looking younger) who told me how uncomfortable judges are with their new judicial garb. A year ago, the judiciary agreed to abolish horsehair wigs and black robes (except in criminal cases) and kit out judges in groovy blue gowns, designed by Betty Jackson. How, I asked, did the judges like their new look?

"They hate it," said my friend. "They think they lack all dignity and gravitas – especially if they're thinning a bit on top. They say they feel half-dressed without a wig." They're reduced, in other words, from stern embodiments of the super-ego to mere, humble, fallible-looking men.

Elsewhere, there are signs that chaps have gone a tad precious about chaps' clothing. The Daily Mail, always reliably dirigiste on garments, ticked off Alexander Lebedev and Andrew Marr for appearing in the latter's TV show in less than full canonicals. The paper called Lebedev "casually attired," but fairly smacked Marr around the head for wearing denims. "A disquieting sight," it shuddered. "No jeans, Andrew, please."

For some chaps, civilisation itself is threatened by the packaging of powerful men in working men's garb. In America, President Obama is under fire for his attempts to be casual in bright blue jeans and white trainers. "Get back into your sensible skinny suits pronto," is the message from the Democratic faithful: "Who do you think you are, George Bush?"

The semiotics of clothing is everywhere. Note how readily Sir Fred Goodwin got himself photographed by the media wearing his country-gentleman-at-a-shoot attire rather than anything that smacked of a) banking, or b) the City. Notice how Tony Blair, even in the boiling heat of Gaza, wears a tightly buttoned club tie to emphasise the unearthly gravity of his role as Middle East envoy; when he was PM, he'd have jettisoned the tie at the airport.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Released from shame

I received this email from tv producer Angela Wallis who has given her permission for me to reproduce it:

I am a TV producer and while researching a programme about recession chic I came across your article in this Saturdays Guardian Magazine and from there I found an extract of your book The Thoughtful Dresser.

I was struck by the description of shopping with your mother, and how while shopping her true self reappeared. I too was raised by a Jewish mother in Manchester and the similarities to my experiences of shopping with her were uncanny. My mother always planned her shopping expeditions as a day out, a thing you did even when you did not need to buy a thing, often involving an elegant lunch stop at Kendal’s or the Kardoma Cafe. To this day I still see shopping in a similar way and have indulged in its delights for all my adult life. Having read the extract of your book I feel like an addict who has been released from her shame, a feeling experienced all the more when my more intellectual friends who would never dream of coming shopping with me had no problem encouraging me to visit art galleries, museums and even worse, films with subtitles. They would treat my at oneness with department stores with a wry smile that would make me feel like the shallow nueveax rich Gucci socialists persona I tended to adopt in their company. Now I can claim that a joy of shopping and of spending time among beautiful things is in itself a higher activity than simple consumerism.

A Marxist writes

Emeritus professor of Government at Manchester University, Norman Geras, author of Marx and Human Nature and 'The Controversy about Marx and Justice' refutes in a new post on his blog the notion alluded to in The Thoughtful Dresser that shopping is often dismissed byt critics from the left as a form of false consciousness. Refutes, that is, their accusation.

He writes:

So, the first step in my defence is just to say that, in the way that the world is now organized, shopping is a straightforward means towards taking care of one's appearance; it's the instrumentality of a basic human good. But, it might be said, this is just shopping of the kind anyone can do - even me, even people who take no special joy from the activity but treat it in a matter of fact way, as the mere means to a necessary end. A deep interest in shopping such as Linda describes and commends is not necessarily part of taking care of one's appearance. We can shop instrumentally without developing any deep interest in shopping, shop without passion.

However - the second step in the defence - one can do anything without developing a deep interest in that particular thing, without its becoming a passion. All the same, people do - they develop passions of one kind and another. They become passionate collectors of this or that - books, stamps, art - passionate about literature or music or movies or sport (or just about their team), become bird-watchers, train-spotters, students of many different kinds of subject. Each of us has a life to dole out as we see fit, subject to meeting our various obligations to others. An interest in shopping is as legitimate a pursuit within the range of human interests as any other. Save for those who urge upon us an ethic of devoting all our disposable time and resources to helping people in need, no one is well placed to condemn the interest someone else may have in shopping. And the ethic of comprehensive self-sacrifice may be good for saints, but applied to the generality of humankind it is mean and unbearable.

But what about shopping as an obsession? What when it becomes pathological? The problem, then, is with the obsession, the pathology, not with the shopping. Any pursuit can be taken too far. And what about the fact that not everyone is in a position to enjoy shopping, because some don't have the means for it? This is a critique of systemic inequality and poverty and their effects and it is a valid one. But deployed by anyone who has disposable income which they use for (non-shopping) enjoyments of their own rather than directing it towards people living closer to the margins, it is a hypocrisy. Unless you believe that those living above the level of the bare necessities - whatever these are taken to be - should part with all their surplus income, you allow that each of us has a right to some enjoyments. It is not then for you to say what mine should be or vice versa. I won't be going round with Linda spending time looking at scarves. I doubt she'd want to join me in following all five days of a Test match. You plays it as you feels it. But there is a right to that for everyone.

Man goes shopping

I received this interesting email from a male friend over the weekend, describing his shopping strategy:

If I want to buy a £75 external hard drive for my computer for example, I will go and look at them in at least four shops, asking each sales assistant for an opinion. Then I will read up on the model I finally decide upon in Which or other reports. If I could find someone who uses one of these I would ask them if they made the right decision and where they bought theirs. As a final act to convince myself I will go online to see if I can buy the model cheaper and if this doesn't bring a result, after about two weeks have gone by, I will go back to the shop and make my purchase. I think the word people use to describe this method of purchasing is called 'agonising.' On the other hand, I have been with [my wife] who has seen completely by chance an item of clothing on the rack for £150 and 90 seconds later the credit card is being swiped. But I really do have a lot of fun using my method and am reminded of that fun every time I use the item

Friday, 27 February 2009

Bearing gifts

What words are there to describe a friend who brings to your publication dinner, as a celebratory gift, a pair of Prada shoes? Which fit.

Fit to wear Judy Garland's ruby slippers is what I would say about that friend

To the shops

The Guardian today has an extract from the imminently about to be published The Thoughtful Dresser - book:

My mother, who died at the age of 81 from a condition called vascular dementia, could not remember the beginning of a short sentence by the time she was approaching its conclusion, which more or less eliminated from her diminishing world the pleasures of conversation. In the last weeks of her life, the part of her brain that controlled language began to malfunction and she started to speak in weird phrases which, if you listened to them carefully enough, were made up of words and syllables from both English and Yiddish, her first language, which during the long years of her illness she appeared to have completely forgotten.

Her last full, coherent, grammatically intact message to the world was uttered to my sister: "I like your earrings." Her last words to me as mother to daughter, the person she knew to be her daughter and not merely someone she knew she knew, had been stated a few months earlier: "I don't like your hair."

But before she became immobilised by incontinence and other terrible afflictions, the one activity in which my mother was still capable of participating, heart and soul, with a fully functioning mind, was shopping for clothes. She would wander along the street crying and moaning, with me gripping her arm for fear she would fall into the traffic. Her own fate was terrible to her, and she knew it. Then we would get to the small clothing section of the Upper Street [Islington] branch of Marks & Spencer and her identity re-formed; she was a human being once again, capable of assessing the quality of knits and whether this season's hemlines were flattering on her small frame. The shopper's soul-shout, "I want!", raced through her bloodstream. Once, I pointed out that M&S had introduced a delivery service for certain postcodes. "Oh, yeah?" she said. "And you'll pay through the nose for it." But a second or two later she was grasping my arm and asking had I seen the sign that announced that M&S now delivered to certain postcodes.

I took her to buy an outfit for my sister's wedding. As soon as she had ascended the escalator she seized on a Ralph Lauren skirt and Jaeger blouse. She scurried around the store holding fabrics together, "because I've got to match the navy". She cried and stamped her foot when the blouse was too big in the collar, revealing her ruined neck. I understood for the first time that she always wore a little scarf not because her old bones were cold, but because she understood the feminine arts of concealment, how to cover and flatter. She had no intention of being mutton dressed as lamb.

The outfit, which I paid for, cost a bomb. In the taxi back to the home where my sister and I had incarcerated her against her will when she was considered no longer able to function alone, she held her shopping bags with a radiant face, looked at me, eyes milky with innocence and bewilderment. "How are we related?" she asked.

My mother shopped because shopping was what she did and what she was good at. She had an unerring capacity to enter any store and pick out the most expensive item in it; she had a fantastic eye. Even though she almost never had the money to buy the best thing in the shop, she knew what the best thing was, and following on from that, the calculations you needed to make in order to get as close to it as possible: such as when the sales started, or where you could get really good copies, or which secondhand shops had the kind of stock she was looking for.

She had, in other words, taste. And she learned her taste from a variety of sources, such as reading magazines and listening to friends' recommendations, but above all, she spent a great deal of time actually in the shops, looking at things and learning how to discern the good, the bad and the very best. Friends queued up to go shopping with her, for they knew she would take them to the right places and make them try on the things that she knew would suit them.

Poor her, running headlong into the 1960s and a daughter who deliberately frayed the hems of her jeans and wore a handbag made out of a bit of old carpet, instead of Young Jaeger. But, of course, all daughters eventually turn into their mothers, and she had encoded herself inside me already.

Most hostile responses to shopping see it as an act of acquisition, of avarice and greed for things that we do not need but advertising and marketing have made us think we want, a condition that Marx called "false consciousness". We are dupes, and only the strong individualist can hold out against mass consumption. And there are others, of course, who truthfully say that they have no political objection to shopping but they just can't stand it as an activity and regard it as a waste of time.

Against whom I would set those of us who regard it as a pleasure. What does this pleasure consist of, and why do others not experience it; why do they feel, instead, a sense of panic, overwhelmed by what they describe as "too much choice"? Why do I like looking at other people's gardens, while content to allow my own to degenerate into a badly designed, overgrown jungle of strangled plants and rapacious weeds? Because I can't be bothered going out there to do the work of making it bloom. I watch the flowers wither and die from lack of water, and mourn them. But if I wake up and know, at the moment of the mind streaming back from dark into light and consciousness, that what a new navy linen jacket needs is a scarf with a bit of red in it, then I will have ants in my pants until I can get to the shops to find that scarf.

Shopping. A gerund that did not exist before the middle of the 18th century because it did not exist in the way we understand it now. It involved the single revolutionary and emancipatory act of middle-class women with disposable income being able to leave the house. Before this, the goods, or the people who made them, came to the house, either the tailors and seamstresses or the pedlars who sold door-to-door to the poor.

read on

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Catherine Hill: The clothes on her back

BBC Radio Four Woman's Hour today ran an interview with Catherine Hill, the chief interviewee in The Thoughtful Dresser (the book). You can listen to it online here

Catherine W. Hill is the doyenne of Canadian style. She set up and ran the influential boutique Chez Catherine in Toronto where she championed many Italian designers like Armani, Versace and Ferre at the beginning of their careers in the 70’s. Having survived Auschwitz and been amongst thousands of naked shivering women, Catherine has a deep understanding of our need to be clothed and our need for beauty. She believes her own desire to look pretty helped her survive the Holocaust. Jenni talks to her about the connections between her love of fashion and the concentration camp, and the therapeutic value of clothes in her life and the lives of women everywhere.
Linda Grant’s “The Thoughtful Dresser” which features Catherine’s story, is published by Virago on March 5th price £11.99, ISBN 9781844085569.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

42 dresses with sleeves

At the Ossie Clark show yesterday morning. Sleeves. Sleeves. Yet more sleeves. Thank you.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Last night's Jaeger show

I managed to have quite a long talk with Karen Boyd, the Jaeger London designer, at the after-party last night, but such were the strength of the lychee and vodka cocktails, I can't really remember anything about it.

I imagine in the Autumn I'll be wearing this

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The week ahead

We're coming up to publication of The Thoughtful Dresser which you can order from Amazon (see side panel) or if you're abroad, with free delivery worldwide from The Book Depository.

There will be an extract in the Guardian to which I'll give you the heads up once they've confirmed the day. On Wednesday, the book's chief interview will be appearing on Woman's Hour. Catherine Hill was seventeen when she was transported to Auschwitz with her parents who did not survive. She arrived in Canada as a refugee after the war and from the sixties built a career as the fashion maven of Toronto, famous for her Yorkville shop, Chez Catherine. She'll be appearing with me at an event in London at Jewish Book Week chaired by Linda Kelsley, a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, (everyone welcome, even practising Wiccans). On Saturday I'll be at the Bath Festival taking about The Clothes On Their Backs. And there will be a second extract in the Guardian magazine.

The following Monday, March 2, I'll be on Start the Week and later that evening, Nightwaves. And sometime in the next few days you should actually be able to get the book.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Viral video of the week

Portfolio: an update

Yesterday I went in to Marks and Spencer's at their invitation to take a look at the Portfolio range for over 45s in the flesh, so to speak. At the Marble Arch store, there were some fabulous things: a Limited Edition tunic dress which looks as if it has missed its way en route to Net a Porter and several Autograph silk dresses and tops I loved.

But Portfolio. No. Not for me.

I looked around for the calf-length denim skirt but could not see it. And do you know why, ladies? Because it has sold out. Yes, the Portfolio range is massively popular and the denim skirt has flown off the rails. What does this tell us? It tells us that M&S is serving its customers. The one's who want affordable Marni look-alikes, and the ones who want to look like early 1980s geography teachers.

Across Britain there are tens of thousands of women who want to dress like frumps. Is this a crime? Personally, I think it should be, but I am an adamant supporter of freedom of expression, even when that freedom is the joy of beige.

I was taken upstairs to the press showroom and shown some of the next batch of stock and there were some big improvements, quite a few things I liked.

But I made the point as comprehensively as I could, that M&S like much of the rest of the high street is making far too many sleeveless dresses that rise above the knee. This will be passed on. We live in hope.

PS M&S also say that they now ship overseas.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The new curve

I notice that whereas fat women were once called fat (and many other things, as if being fat were something the Nuremberg laws should have dealt with) they are now referred to as women with curves. 'I am proud of my curves,' I read recently, of a woman with a big bum and bosom. I wonder if the hanging part of the upper arm can now be referred to as a curve?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Giorgio Armani has a blog!

Yes, it actually is him.

This morning, I was dressed in navy and ready to go at 7:40 a.m. I went straight to the store to check the L.E.D. lights that they had installed the night before over the entire exterior of the store. The lights are tiny dots that oscillate to create moving images on the surface, and I’m very pleased with the results. At 9 a.m., I headed up to 166th Street with Caroline Kennedy. It was the first time I’ve ever met her, and I found her to be very refined, with impeccable manners.

Riveting interview with Sonia Rykiel

Dotty and very, very smart.

Throughout our interview Rykiel refers to herself in the third person as “the creator”, alongside “the author”, “the poet” and “the painter,” Often incorporating words into her designs, she once told the International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes: “I feel more like a novelist than a fashion designer.”

Is there such a thing as intelligent fashion, I ask? “I don’t know,” she admits, touchingly. “All I can say is that it’s what I try to do. It doesn’t matter one damn bit whether fashion is art or not. You don’t question whether an incredible chef is an artist or not – his cakes are delicious and that’s all that matters. Fashion is there to serve a purpose.”

Just when you presume to think what Rykiel’s take on a certain subject is, she proves you wrong. When I ask whether celebrity came as an unwelcome partner to success, she shakes her head. “No, no. I wanted to be recognised – that really interested me. And as I’ve got older it means more and more to me, because celebrity is recognition of what I have achieved.

"This is an unbelievably difficult job and one I drain myself doing. They recently had a retrospective of my work here in Paris and I walked around it thinking that had it not been by me I would have been thinking: 'My God this woman is wonderful’.

Michelle Obama at New York Fashion Week

Michelle Obama's social secretary, Desiree Glapion Rogers, has been attending all the shows at fashion week, acording to Hillary Alexander.

Asked whether she was keeping an eye out for any designs which might be suitable for the First Lady, she smiled and gave me a big wink.

Ms Rogers, 49, a prominent Chicago businesswoman, is a close friend of the Obama family and was part of the campaign’s fundraising team. She was once married to the Chicago millionaire, John Rogers, and has a daughter studying at Yale.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Between the covers

The book of The Thoughtful Dresser will be published in two weeks. You can order it from Amazon (see side panel). The US edition will not appear for another year, I'm afraid, but if you're keen you can place international orders with The Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide. They have fulfilment centres globally and it's the best way to buy outside the UK. Click the link here to pre-order.

In which I am suddenly of interest

There are only three women in senior management positions on the British High street - Belinda Earl at Jaeger, Kate Bostock at M&S and Jane Shepherdson who joined Whistles from Top Shop. Shepherdson has engineered a buy-out from the Icelandic firm Baugur which hit the iceberg of the Icelandic financial collapse.

The under 25s with jobs and no mortgages, still living at home, continue to shop like it's 2005, but the over 40s are thinking much more carefully about how we spend, and it is to us that fashion is now looking. Shepherdson says:

"It's an exciting time. For years, there hasn't been anything to separate what 18-year-olds and 40-year-olds are wearing. We've all been buying the same things. But now there's a polarisation. There are things now that girls are wearing - like wet-look leggings - I couldn't possibly think of putting on. That's great, I think. Because what it's forced us to say is, what is anyone else going to wear?"
. . .
So what does a grown woman want? "It's the same, in a way," Shepherdson insists. "We want fashion. That isn't going to go away. We want to wake up and feel there's something new we want to wear. We don't want dumbed-down stuff. Classic, basic and understated is not the way through - if you look at something like that, you think 'No, I've already got it'. What you really need is something like a new silhouette to act on."

The day after Shepherdson sealed the new deal, she did what many women do when feeling good - she went shopping, bagging two pairs of Fendi shoes in a lunchtime. In fashion, the emotional and personal is also professional opportunity. "I love this obsession with shoes," she laughs, looking down at the pointy Chloé ankle boots she's wearing under Whistles jeans. "We haven't had a chance to get into it at Whistles, but we are soon. The thing is, you can wear quite plain clothes, but all you've got to do to make it sexy and glam is put on a fierce, aggressive pair of shoes and it completely modernises it. And I think that applies at whatever age."

I think she is right about one thing. If we are going to spend we want it to be special. No duplicates, few safe classics. No half-hearted purchases. You have to feel the love.

Monday, 16 February 2009

In the bleak midwinter

It's possible to go through life in complete ignorance of what others do in the privacy of their own homes, until you pick up a newspaper which alerts you to this

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Patrica Field ad nauseam

Does Patricia Field have to style every fashion film?

Ossie Clark sale preview

Cocosa has a number of Ossie Clark items on sale at really good discounts of 50 per cent and up. Here's the dress I wore to the Booker (mine was in black and blue) reduced from £750 to £299 and the iconic blouse of this past season which the designer Avsh Alom gave me, reduced from £250 to £109.

You can join Cocosa if you haven't done already using this voucher. The sale opens noon, Monday.

Friday, 13 February 2009


The new Jaeger Spring-Summer collection has hit the shops. Yesterday I acquired the above items. I realise I keep banging on about this, but as I put them away, I understood how most of what I actually wear at the moment is Jaeger. The black and colour print top with black jeans. The cuff with an LBD. The broiderie anglais dress with my new Nicole Farhi shoes. But not the tie belt. It's an A line without it.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Glad to be grey

After widespread agreement yesterday that the new Marks and Spencer Portfolio range for women over the age of 45 is dire, I can't help but notice that some of the reviews of the actual clothes on the M&S site glow with approval.

Here is a woman from Lincoln on that denim skirt:

at last a denim skirt that fits. nice fit around the hips attractive plaited belt. comes in two lengths. the hem swings as you walk it made me feel 10 years younger and ready to dance. a must have for every girls wardrobe.

I can't help but notice that the writer signs herself 'frumpymama'. This raises a question. Do middle-aged women wear dreary clothes because they don't know better and the scales would fall from their eyes if you showed them Marc Jacobs, or do they actually like this sort of thing? Do they look in the mirror and think, This is fabulous. I look great.

Or is that they actively wish to buy and wear clothes which make them look anonymous, invisible and so blank they they are a grey mist in the air? And is that a bad thing? If that's want you want? I think it is a bad thing, but feel free to disagree.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Let them wear polyester

I have often thought that if there were a national referendum on whether to scrap either the Royal Family or Marks and Spencer's, it would be the tiaras and state banquet dinner services that the removal men would be wrapping up in tissue paper, not bundles of reasonably priced reinforced gusset knickers.

So much as I hate kicking M&S, (I am currently wearing a pair of their jeans) I cannot help agree with Sarah Mower's account of its new Portfolio range, aimed at the over-50s:

If there's one thing worse than mutton dressed as lamb, it's mutton dressed as mutton. I wanted to approve of M&S's Marie Helvin-promoted Portfolio range, but wild horses wouldn't drag me into that stuff. I just can't see how it's supposed to offer anything different from the rest of the M&S stock, and the attempt at "elegance" for the over-50s is worse than patronising.

What woman (of any age) could possibly want a pair of pull-on jersey bell-bottoms with gold "sailor" buttons? For a start, the shape is not fashionable in any sense. Second, the thought of what they would do to anyone's backside and thighs is enough to make one cry. And third… hang on, aren't these just souped-up versions of the synthetic slacks M&S has sold since time immemorial? I had a Saturday job in Bath's M&S as a schoolgirl, and I know of which I speak. At that age, I hoped someone would shoot me before I got old enough to need flared crimplene bottoms.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

As we all thought

Sceptics of the harem pants point is proved

Up where the air is rare

I wonder if there is any way of democratising the couture collections short of plebs like me actually buying something. I do not wish the couture shows to die for want of customers. They represent the pinnacle of what is possible in that humble object, clothing, as a Picasso transcends pigment and canvas. Observe the above shot from Valentino which resembles a Busby Berkely set.

But if they aren't to dwindle, we're going to need to buy a piece. I would suggest selling in-depth video downloads on the internet, but as any fule no, no-one can make money from the internet. Or is that no longer true?

Dolce & Gabanna tux at the Baftas

Fat, dirty and dishevelled will be coming to a catwalk near us very soon

Monday, 9 February 2009

An architect pays a visit

On Saturday an architect came round. I wanted to discuss with him some building work on my flat. The plans I had turned out not to be viable. The only way I could have what I wanted was a far more extensive and costly renovation. My interest ebbed away, and then he mentioned three words.

You know how drug dealers give their victims a free hit of heroin?

Just three words, and now I have lost interest in this blog because I am immersed in design and and interiors magazines.

In America you take these three words for granted, but not here in Britain and especially not in flats in late Victorian houses.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Simon Doonan dispenses advice

I like Simon Doonan. He used to dress the windows at Barney's and now he's the creative director. He's a rather flamboyant English queen and since Quentin Crisp, New York has always held out its arms to flamboyant English queens. Shame Oscar Wilde had to die in a hotel room in Paris:

What is your one piece of fashion or beauty advice? Wear your fab clothes every day. Keeping your best clothes for parties is the same as leaving the plastic on your lampshades. There are limitations, though; nobody wants an invasive medical procedure performed by a doctor in a Cavalli sequined unitard.

New blog

I've added to the blog role Juliet Warkentin's blog. A former editor of Marie Claire, she is the content director at WSGN, the fashion industry trend forecasting site originally established by Marc Worth and his brother. The WSGN site is subscription only but Juliet has contacted me to let me know about the site's blog, which is full of useful information.

Enter the trophy jacket

Here's a lovely little video of Jess Cartner-Morley, the Guardian's fashion editor, trying on trophy jackets.

The trophy jacket is this year's It bag, you see.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Joan Burstein on the recession

Joan Burstein (Mrs B) owner of Browns boutique on South Molton Street, who saved up her clothing ration coupons in 1947 to buy her first New Look dress, who went bust in the Sixties and built up her business again from scratch, and who discovered John Galliano, has this to say:

"It's important to be positive when times are hard, but to those who are facing having to start again now I would say this: to have got where you did, you must have had talent, so use it again – and be humble, accept advice and work hard. I worked very hard, and now, I think, it's important to be doing my bit for British businesses because this is our economy and we're stuck with it."

This recession, she says, feistiness creeping into her voice, only feels different to the last one "because then we didn't have it blaring at us from everywhere. Yes, we had a bad time in November but we did well in December. The bottom line is that people still want to buy, and if they haven't got the money they'll save to buy the things that they want.

"There's too much doom and gloom, but I promise you this: people still aspire to own things."

New bag

A couple of times a year a man appears at my door with a handbag for me from Anya Hindmarch. This is the Jackson. Ivory glace leather with a patent insert and lock and a leather covered chain shoulder strap. Except that yellow bit is blue on mine.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Retail meltdown

Baugur, the Icelandic company which owns a large number of high street shops in Britain, has gone bust. Its portfolio includes Hamleys, House of Fraser, jewellers Mappin and Webb and Watches of Switzerland. Enter Sir Philip Green with a shopping list.

A Baugur spokesman explained that talks with the Icelandic banks had collapsed last night. He said that the application "to enter into the moratorium process" - the equivalent of America's Chapter 11 protection - would give the company protection from its creditors for three weeks.

The spokesman also insisted that the day-to-day operations of the companies owned by Baugur would not be affected by today's news.

"The last thing we want to do is fuel fear on the high street that jobs will be lost," he said.

One rival retail executive said selling any retail businesses would be a tough task: "Most of these businesses are doing okay and their managements have been trying to organise buyouts for some time. But it is just impossible to get any financing. The banks just aren't doing any lending. The private equity people have got money but they are still dependent on being able to put debt in as well."

Shares in French Connection slumped by 10% this morning. More than 20% of its shares are owned by a group of Icelandic investors including Baugur. Debenhams shares slipped by 3% this morning.

They own or have stakes in:
French Connection

Mosaic Fashions


Karen Millen




Shoe Studio Group



Jane Norman

All Saints

Day Birger et Mikkelsen

Matthew Williamson




Department stores:


House of Fraser


Magasin Du Nord









Mappin & Webb

Watches of Switzerland

Wyevale Garden Centres


Frosty by Frost French

Jess Cartner-Morley has an absolutely delightful piece in the Guardian today about snow person chic:

Eighteen years is a long time in fashion. The last time there were this many snowmen, John Major was in Downing Street and MC Hammer was on Top of the Pops. Grunge hadn't even happened, let alone been revived. Hemlines were on their way down, along with the stockmarket.

As befits the over-sharing Facebook generation, this year's snowpeople are an exhibitionist bunch. An abundance of bikini wearing suggests that the modern snowlady has been much influenced by Lady Gaga, pop singer of the moment, who garnered a blizzard of media attention last month for undertaking a promotional blitz of London dressed in knickers, sunglasses and little else.

Among the male snow population, the Raymond Briggs look has undergone a similar update. Skinny scarves of the type favoured by Russell Brand and Johnny Borrell of Razorlight have gained ground over chunky knitwear. And the influences of Pete Doherty and Justin Timberlake can perhaps be sensed in a certain dastardly slant of the hat.

For a snowperson, fashion is all in the accessories. One enterprising character picked up on the trend for oversized buttons by replacing the traditional lumps of coal with cucumber slices.

But snowmen remain aloof from some of the vagaries of fashion. The trend for size zero models and celebrities seems to have had mercifully little impact on the BMI of the great British snowman. Anyone concerned that the younger generation's distorted body image would express itself in snowmen with hewn clavicles and wearing Spanx can relax: a full face and a well-rounded tummy are still desirable attributes in snowpeople of both genders.

Do read the whole thing

Let them eat shoes

I have a feeling that we are going to be knitting tunic dresses and dhoti pants at the guillotine when we come to cut off the heads of couturiers.

Roger Vivier showed a pair of £30,000 shoes this week:

They feature an assortment of life's little luxuries such as 24 ct gold-coated mesh, semi-precious stones, jet, satin ribbons, silk chiffon, diamanté and crocodile skin fashioned into dainty rosettes.

The "Dovima", an 11cm, spike-heeled confection of gilded silk mesh and jewels, is embellished with a pair of rose pink-dyed, taxidermy birds with gold and crystal heads.

Another style called "Daphne", in honour of the best-dressed socialite and millionairess, Daphne Guinness, the ex-wife of Greek shipping heir, Spyros Niarchos.

They are a midnight lace creation of jet, silk, crocodile and satin bows.

The collection of six hand-made creations, starting at £9,500 a pair and rising up to a stratospheric £30,000.

They were unveiled during the Paris Haute Couture season this week.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The best thing since chocolate

If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch then your life is about to be transformed by this little girls' gadget

You take photographs of all your clothes, upload them to the app, and then put together outfits. (I now know I have twenty bags, after a major clear-out last year.) You even click on when you wore an item last so you can scroll down and see if you've got value for money for that sale dress