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

Friday, 30 January 2009

The endless moment

I sometimes think that fashion only has two moments, endlessly copied: court of Marie Antoinette and Thirties film star:

Here are both in Lacroix's couture show this week.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Men prepare to grab that all-important bargain at the sales

On the catwalk

Ines de la Fressange, aged 51, on the catwalk for Jean-Paul Gaultier at the Paris Couture collections.

Fashion models “are not just 14-year-olds,” Mr. Gaultier said later. “There are no [age] barriers to beauty.” The French designer explained that the curvy Ms. de la Fressange embodied the sexuality demanded his raunchy Spanish themed show, which also featured high-waisted pinstripe pants for women, suspenders and elbow-length gloves.

Ines' curves and mine are slightly different in scale.

Several things

NPR's All Things Considered had a rather good review of The Clothes on Their Backs, yesterday afternoon. It's only a couple of minutes, you can listen online

In the US Scribner will be publishing The Thoughtful Dresser, (the book) but not until next year, so if you are in the US and can't wait, you can order from UK amazon (see link at the side) or The Book Depository which offers free shipping but for some reason does not allow pre-orders (the £ by the way is pitifully low against the $ at the moment, around 1.42, so I'd doubt if you would save anything by waiting).

I will be doing an event at Jewish Book Week on The Thoughtful Dresser (the book, see side panel) in the company of the book's main interviewee, Catherine Hill, who survived Auschwitz to become the doyenne of Toronto fashion. She is coming over to London specially for this event, which will be chaired by Linda Kelsey, former editor of Cosmpolitan. You don't have to be Jewish to attend and it would be very nice to meet some of the regular readers in person. The event is at 7pm on Thursday 26 February. Tickets are £8 and you can book here

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The self-making jeans

Balmain has produced a pair of jeans which cost £1059 - there they are, above. Here's Sarah Mower offering Balmain's explanation of the art of making distressed jeans.

Take two: Monday morning and I find myself at Alexis Mabille's show in Paris, sitting next to a woman in a Balmain tennis-ball shouldered jacket and faded black skinny jeans. She is the beautiful, cool, 30-something Emmanuelle Alt, a French Vogue stylist who is the muse-consultant to Christophe Decarnin, Balmain's man of the moment.

I ask her about the recession-defying price of the hit house denim. "Oh, yes, they are so expensive," she agrees, but goes on to explain that they're all hand-made and every last rip is finished in the atelier. "There are so many processes, the dyeing, the washing, the fraying." All this could be done at a fraction of the cost in China. "But, you know, it is all made in France." (Note to the outraged: can keeping skilled workers in Europe in employment be a bad thing?)

Then the big question jumped out of my mouth: what jeans was she wearing? I'm sure Alt has plenty of Balmain denim at her disposal, but that wasn't what she had on the other morning. " Oh, Topshop," she shrugged. "Really old."

I looked over and noticed they were developing a little hole above the knee.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

How to play a Hollywood Nazi

Not like this (above)

Like this

And utterly irrelevant

Tuesday lunchtime: post of no consequence

Hussein Chalayan at the Design Museum

I went to the Hussein Chalayan show at the Design Museum last week, as part of a repetore of five arts related openings for the BBC's saturday review show. It helped ameliorate the rage of watching Tom Cruise cast as a Nazi in Valkyrie (great story, shame about the casting, script and direction) . My fellow panellists agreed that the Chalayan show was a blast of fresh air from the future. Indeed it was a futuristic show.

Chalayan says his influences are migration, that sort of thing, not making beautiful frocks for averagely endowed women. He's really an installation/performance artist. Yet once you have gawped at the dress with lasers, you can't help but notice that he also produces lovely wearable clothes.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The American church hat

Vicki Woods ponders the church hat. On Sundays in London we see many elderly black women on their way to church in hats, making a pleasant contrast with the ubiquitous weekend leisurewear all around

I'd forgotten there is a demographic of hatty people in America – millions strong. The matriarchs who pack out the gospel churches always wear the full fig (hats, gloves, best coats). And, of course, it was a church hat Franklin wore, out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for a pretty churchy occasion.

So, I was wrong about the absence of milliners. The Queen of Soul is from Detroit; and so is her hatter Luke Song, who runs the business (started by his Korean-immigrant mother) for a clientele of "90 per cent churchgoing African-American women". He made Aretha's grey felt cloche with the hugely oversized bow for about $400 (£290); I thought she looked fabulous in it and I wasn't alone. Almost as soon as My Country 'Tis of Thee died away, Song was hit by a Diana wedding-dress-style tsunami and he's rushing out lookalikes (for $179) and buying up all the felt he can find. He told the Detroit Free Press that, "people are calling from England, asking for the hat, I'm shocked".

I'm mildly shocked, myself. We have the world's most fashionable hatters (Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy.) There's no call to start Googling "detroit hat aretha" in search of gala headgear, when people can pick up hats influenced by these brilliant milliners in any high street. (The Princess Royal bought her Queen Mother funeral hat in Debenhams.)

Alas, Aretha Franklin, at nearly 70, is not of an age to start a trend among young London fashionables for splashy over-sized church hats (more's the pity). Young women in this country don't wear hats any more, unless forced to by protocol. Even then, they prefer "fascinators", which are basically exaggerated hairslides with feathers, worn tipped over one ear. But Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy make those, too.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

125 years of Jaeger

Here's my piece in the Telegraph on Jaeger's 125th anniversary

Jaeger was for women who wanted sophisticated, quality clothes – the tweed suit and little black dress – but who could not afford to go to Paris. Its flagship store on Regent Street, opened in the 1930s, was a cathedral of plate glass and chrome modernism. Like Viyella and Windsmoor, it occupied a middle-class niche. The ideal customer was the wife of a home-counties stockbroker. Self-made men and their spouses (like my parents) aspired to Jaeger, the next best thing to a Savile Row suit. From 1956, when Jean Muir joined the company, the label started to attract a younger clientele. Muir was one of several British contemporaries, including Mary Quant, who were beginning to move away from Parisian couture towards what would become the archetypal British fashions of the 1960s, more casual and more geared to what was then called 'sportswear’.

As a teenager in the 1960s I was caught between Carnaby Street and Jaeger’s innovative label, Young Jaeger. My mother was always guiding me into its Liverpool branch offering to pay for separates modelled in the advertisements by Jean Shrimpton and photographed by David Bailey. They were urban and chic, more Yves Saint Laurent than Granny Takes a Trip, an antidote in her mind to the hippie excesses of the velvet bell-bottoms and Afghan coats I was wearing. Young Jaeger, she believed, would put me on the path to adult smartness. And it was difficult not to covet Jaeger in the 1960s because it gave provincial young women (and men) a scent of sophistication.

Some women

The Guardian has a slideshow of Obama's women. Above is Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor. There's nothing I like more than seeing a woman who looks like she's been round the block a few times, giving powerful men a piece of her mind.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Change from top to bottom

I was impressed by Hillary's first appearance as Secretary of State and particularly with the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East. Drinking in every word of his speech, particularly this:

"Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings - they can be ended by human beings. I saw it happen in Northern Ireland," he said.

"I believe deeply that with committed and persevering, patient diplomacy it can happen in the Middle East."

While listening attentively to the briefing on CNN, which also appointed Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I noticed two things - the number of times all parties used the word diplomacy, and um, Hillary's very very good hair colour.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

In the hand

At both the Booker and the South Bank Show awards, I carried a loaned sample Anya Hindmarch Pipkin from the SS09 range. It come in gold, silver, black and white and I have the gold on order.

I'm not normally a fan of the clutch but with evening wear, there's something about a tote or a shoulder bag that looks wrong. You need to learn to clamp under the arm.

Now here we have an outfit

I was completely unaware until this morning that amongst Michelle Obama's cousins there is a rabbi

And his everyday workwear takes some beating, let alone what he wore to the inauguration

And so we turn to the junior members of the party

You can't get the coats just yet. The double-breasted blue coat Malia wore, and the light pink one Sasha wore, both accessoried with satin and velvet ribbons tied around the waist, were specially designed for the girls by the American chain J Crew. This company has been a favourite with Michelle Obama - the green leather gloves she wore to keep out the Washington cold were also from the label. In the week it was revealed that Sarah Palin had been given a $150,000 wardrobe budget for campaign outfits, Michelle appeared on Jay Leno's show in an outfit from J Crew, thereby endearing herself to millions of Americans with her choice of safe but stylish - and, crucially, affordable - clothes. The company says that "highlights" from the girls' outfits will be available in its 2009 autumn collection.
Emine Saner

Malia looks like she's ready to set the world on fire already, and she's only ten.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Who needs a crown when you have a hat?

American monarch

(The cloche, decorated with a Swarovski crystal encrusted bow, cost $179 (£129) and came from Mr Song Millinery in Detroit, the Motor City, where Luke Song has been making hats for 25 years.)

Childish but . . .

Rahm Emmanuel gives his personal send off to the Bush presidency

Once upon a time in America

It's all here

Gershwin knew it was coming

Close analysis of the outfit

Personally, I wasn't crazy about it because I thought it was a little matronly but here's what others have to say:

Here is a bolder woman, a serious woman from Chicago and Harvard who is not afraid to express herself with fashion, and it is the kind of confidence that many women will recognize in themselves. Her clothes tell us that she has an adventurous spirit, as well as a sense of humor, and if some of these garments have almost an old-fashioned womanly quality, then they tell us that she is indeed not your average fashionista.

Her inaugural outfit, designed by Isabel Toledo, was made of Swiss wool lace, backed with netting for warmth, and lined in French silk. Mrs. Obama also wore a cardigan over the sleeveless dress, as a buffer to the cold. She had on pale green leather gloves and a flat, latticelike necklace with clear stones.

Long considered a designer’s designer because of her attention to craft and her sensitivity to unusual detail, Ms. Toledo said she made the yellow outfit especially for Mrs. Obama. But until she saw the new first lady on television leaving Blair House for the trip to the Capitol with her husband, she did not know positively whether Mrs. Obama would wear the clothes or something from another designer. There has been a fair amount of secrecy around Mrs. Obama’s inaugural wardrobe, and even the designers who were asked to make clothes for her said they were not told in advance which outfits she would choose.

“I wanted to pick a very optimistic color, that had sunshine,” Ms. Toledo said in a telephone interview from her studio in New York. “I wanted her to feel charmed, and in that way would charm everybody else.”

Interesting that she's now worn two Cuban-American designers (Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren must be spitting tacks) - perhaps signalling an end to the absurd US trade policy with Cuba

What I wanted to hear

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Sir Tom, me and that hat

To the Dorchester for the South Bank Show Awards lunch in which the literature award was won by me, presented by Sir Tom Stoppard. I kissed him. Twice.

Then over to American friends watch the inauguration in which the show was stolen by Aretha Franklin in that hat

Everyone crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man

More later.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Mattel's Nigerian Barbie

As Barbie turns fifty this year, her protean qualities are revealed

Lots more here

Contrary to WASPy appearances, by the way, Barbie is Jewish

Donna Karan Barbie

Friday, 16 January 2009

Dior hats in the 60s

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Before size 0

The V&A is just about to republish a delightful little book called How To Dress For Success by the Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. First published in 1967, Head meant it to be a manual for ordinary American women, both housewives and 'career girls'. It is a riveting period piece but what I noticed was the chapter in which she adviseds women on how to dress according to their size. The smallest sizes she cites are US 6, 8 and 10. There is no 4, 2 or 0. This tallies with my recollection of Britain in the 60s when only teeny, birdlike girls could fit into an 8 and most of were 12 or 14, or 10 if you were small. No-one I knew had an eating disorder (lack of central heating in most homes made eating salad in winter inadvisable). No-one was on a diet. . No-one ate fast food or ready meals. No-one was overweight. We now seem to be striving for mythical sizes. It's all in our heads.

Groomed within an inch of his life

Mickey Rourke shows the girls how to do it*

*For further explication, see here

and by special request (see comments)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

What shall I wear to the party?

Lacroix sketch

Not me, my invitation to one of the many inaugural balls has unaccountably been lost in the post, though I do know someone who is going. Her husband appointed Obama to the position of president of the Harvard Law Review.

But what about the soon to be First Lady? Not an Oscar dress will have more attention this one, heavy with meanings, as Lisa Armstrong points out in the Times:

Bottom line, she's a good-looking woman who knows her way around upmarket labels (in the past year she has worn, among more predictable names, Thakoon and Rodarte, both up and coming darlings of New York Fashion Week). Fashionable, in a user-friendly way, she even made it onto Vanity Fair's 2008 Best Dressed list. She can wear just about any colour and she's the first First Lady since Jackie Kennedy who can anoint trends and sell out a dress (viz, the black and white sundress she wore to guest host ABC's The View). As Peter Som, another New York talent, says: “What she wears has a huge impact on fashion. From day one she has shown her own modern style that many women can identify with or aspire to.” For an industry reeling from the recession, what's not to like?

They'll find something. Because ultimately these outfits are sartorial landmines waiting to happen. They must transcend class, colour and financial barriers. Ideally they should impress, endear and unite. Really it's like asking a blanket to bring world peace, and be fascinating at the same time. On a slightly more attainable level, Letitia Baldridge, a former social secretary to Jackie Kennedy recently noted of Mrs Obama: “It would be wrong for today's First Lady to go around like a princess all the time. But I think it would be very wrong when she's on an official job to be dressed too casually. She's always got to be a bit above.” In short, if her husband is President, “she always has to watch everything ”. And you thought it was just a dress


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Mary Quant

Mary Quant, now in her seventies, is interviewed about her mini skirt being commemorated on a Royal Mail stamp as an example of 60s design.

There is one way to age gracefully, retaining your style without the facelifts. Love too the upper class accent from an earlier era

I do not like pockets

We are supposed to replace bags with the newly fashionable pockets, ruining the line of your clothes . And what's with those pockets set directly inside the side seam so you look like a chicken trying to get your elbows into them, and bulging out your hips?

"I'm obsessed with pockets," says Anita Borzyszkowska, of Gap, a store that has been at the forefront of the pocket revival on the high street, from hoodie-style pouches on sweater dresses to Chanel-style patches on cardigans and invisible slips sewn into the side seams of dresses. Borzyszkowska - whose personal pocket tally for the day is seven (jeans plus a boyfriend-style cardigan) - cites Gap's collaboration two years ago with the designer Roland Mouret as the turning point. His collection of 10 dresses, much lauded at launch for its jolliness of colour and blousy styling, was in fact conceived with something else in mind. "One of the goals," says Borzyszkowska, "was for everything to have a pocket."

I tried on those Roalnd Mouret dresses and the pockets was the reason I didn't buy one.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Happy fiftieth birthday Motown

The sweetest most innocent popular music ever recorded, the sound of my early teens

Propping up the dollar

Despite the pound's dismal performance against the dollar, the sight of racks of clothes at 70 per cent off before Christmas at the Chevy Chase branch of Saks defeated my no shopping resolution.

Before and after the Mexico trip I bought two sweaters by a a brand unknown to me, Magaschoni, who make amazing, interesting knitwear. I got a grey and silver flecked zip up cardigan and a black one with fringed collar and cuffs. I feel as if I'm fiddling while Rome burns but the echoing, empty floors of Saks made me also feel rather guilty. No-one was buying anything and the bargains were so great.

A closed down shop is a depressing sight, and that Chevy Chase Saks always makes me feel as if I have returened to the womb.

Meanwhile Pure caashmere (see banner above) is 60 per cent off

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Important advice on how to be in style now

Among other tips the Observer advises:

3 Do nude nails

You know how the old adage goes: when the It bag is bright, the nails must be light-er, pink. (Yes, we totally made that up just now.)

4 Read the Thoughtful Dresser

Hurrah for the extremely clever Linda Grant's latest book on fashion - a collection of essays and notions and fashion-related stories. It's not out till March, but why not pre-order at Amazon?

5 Buy a chunky necklace

The more noise they make - and the harder it is for you to stand fully erect while wearing them - the better.

Yes, why not?

The US edition will be published by Scribner, by the way, no date yet.

Who mkes a £30 cashmere sweater?

Illegal immigrants being paid half the minimum wage, unsurprisingly.

Britain's high street fashion giant Primark was at the centre of a storm last night over allegations that illegal immigrants paid just over half the minimum wage had been employed to make fashionable knitwear for one of the firm's bestselling ranges.

Primark announced yesterday that it had launched an inquiry after an investigation by the Observer and the BBC revealed that Manchester-based garment firm TNS Knitwear may have breached key employment and immigration laws. Breaches of the legislation could lead to fines of up to £10,000 for each illegal worker and potential prosecution for tax evasion and employment law abuses.

Primark also said it had handed material uncovered by the investigation to the UK Border Agency.

The workers, caught by an undercover journalist on a hidden camera, were allegedly being paid £3 an hour - just over half the minimum wage of £5.73 - for 12-hour days, seven days a week. Many of the garments made by the Pakistanis, Afghans and Indians over the past five months had ended up two miles away in one of the retail giant's largest and most profitable stores in Manchester's bustling Market Street.

The allegations were put to Primark this weekend, five months after an undercover investigation began into Primark's British supply chain. The investigation focused on Manchester's textile industry and in particular TNS Knitwear, which supplies 20,000 garments to the firm every week. Fashion Waves, a supplier used by TNS, was also investigated.

So much for buying British.

Friday, 9 January 2009


An Israeli friend, Etgar Keret, author and film director, has this to say in the LA Times and it expresses my own feelings exactly. I have nothing further to add

Is there anything in the proportionality principle that can rationally justify killing of any kind?

The motives of vengeance, which drive us to kill those who have killed people we love, are completely irrational, even if we try to wrap them in rational packaging. We exact vengeance because we hate and are hurting, not because we excel in mathematics and logic. Early in the aerial bombing of Gaza, five young girls from the same family were killed, and many more children have died on both sides of the border in recent years. The attempt to introduce their bodies into an equation that would make their deaths justifiable or comprehensible might be necessary to influence current events, but it is still enraging.

The only equation I can wholeheartedly accept is one whereby zero bodies appear on either side of the equation. And until that time comes, I'll choose outcry and protest that appeal solely to the heart. I shall reserve my appeals to the mind for better times.

How to tie a sarong

In 1963 Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr and John Houston came to Mismaloya to make Night of the Iguana. Then, Mismaloya was a little cove on the Bay of Banderas half an hour's drive from Puerto Vallarta. Today millionaires' mansions climb up the hill and there are various shacks on the public beach where they'll grill you a red snapper but the pueblo of Mismaloya is still a dirt road.

We were in one of those millionaire's mansions, near the top of the hill with vast shimmering views of the bay, lumbering v formations of pelicans, schools of whales spouting, humming birds, butterflies, frigate birds gliding in the thermals. Life consisted of getting up to the sound of the er servants making us breakfast, wandering down to the beach in the company of mainly Mexican families and observing the numerous ways in which it is possible to tie a sarong, for example, making a halter neck dress out of it. We drank the tequila production of Mexico dry. We spent New Year's Eve in the pool, watching the fireworks like a jewelled chain exploding along the line of the bay and then went down to the hot tub for tequila shots.

Now, blearily I confront the bitter cold of this London Arctic winter. Normal service resumes. Sullenly.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Donde es los pelicanos?

How come I am not here any more?

More tomorrow.