Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.
Pure Collection Ltd.
Net-a-porter UK

Friday 30 November 2007

Root causes and other tuberous matters

I am not a vegetarian, or a Buddhist or a pacifist, but the sight of thousands of people marching through the streets of Khartoum today, carrying knives, axes and clubs demanding that 54-year-old Liverpool primary school teacher Gillian Gibbons be executed by firing squad for allowing her class to name a teddy-bear Mohammed, is leading me to consider applying for membership in the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. There is nothing you can do about these fired-up hot-heads, except drown out their cries for vengeance by music made from asparagus.

Citing Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power, George Szirtes once remarked to me that crowds are not really human. The lynch mob certainly is not.

How we dress in London, and LA

Emma Forrest, writing in the Guardian observes, of her return to London after a year in LA:

Riding the tube again, I feel intimidated by your outfits. You British ladies wear high heels with knee socks, pencil skirts and complicated makeup. During the day! After a year as an Angeleno I've figured out where Posh is going wrong. She looks out of place because you just don't wear fancy outfits during the day in LA, especially if you're as ambitious as she is. Dressing down implies that dressing up is a facet of your job, at which you are incredibly successful. So much so that come the awards season you are up to your ears in Valentino sheaths and are therefore relieved - no, delighted - to wear nothing but terry towel the rest of the year. Dressing up outside the context of a party/ceremony/gala suggests you need to invent your own reason to dress up because people aren't rewarding you.
It is my observation that we dress better in London than in the US, where clothes are both more casual and more conservative.

But Emma goes on to quote . . .
. . . LA actress Rose McGowan [who] thinks "that tired old cliche, 'Everyone in Los Angeles dresses down', is just that. A cliche. What people who aren't in the public eye don't understand is that you need armour, and clothing, hair and makeup can protect you against the world."
A crucial observation. In London, this vast, complicated, chaotic city, clothes are also your armour. Two fashion editors told me recently that they loved Alexander McQueen because his clothes felt like armour; they were a carapace. They felt they could do battle with their bosses in them. The rich and powerful don't need armour. Look at how Bill Gates dresses.

The puritan and the handbag

My friend Norman Geras, Emeritus Professor of Government at Manchester University and sole proprietor of Normblog, essential daily reading for those grappling with the moral complexity of the post 9/11 world, emails me to say:

Your sort of thing, Linda...
I follow the link to an article which is a nine-rule guide to buying a handbag. The author writes:
If one thinks anthropologically, handbags may be a vestigial expression of women's biological desire to nest. We need to feel that all the necessities of life are immediately within reach -- and these necessities have increased in number as civilization has grown more complex. By the same token, the handbag may only be a shrewd invention on the part of patriarchy to keep women enslaved. The dead white male who invented it knew that it was an accessory that we wouldn't be able to resist.

She follows with some some mundane observations about size (not too big, not too small), price (not to expensive, not too cheap), containing pockets for phone and reading glasses, and truly my eyes glazed over and I was skimming the rest until I came to the comments:

I know, progressives are dull and we never have any fun because we're always worrying about poverty and melting ice caps--the people who clear the room at a party. And let me say we usually don't give a f**k about handbags and the Cosmo wisdom that goes with purchasing them. The real progressive angle on handbags is how many people run their credit cards up trying to afford these $5,000 poor excuses for status symbols. Or the physical strain they're putting on women's shoulders and backs. Honestly, let's leave glorification of capitalism to Vogue. Notice, I don't need any help buying the perfect hemp backpack!
What kind of moron Susie Q is worrying about handbags at a time like this? Some trust fund, clueless, child of liberal money. This is worthy of a Christian Republican knitting circle news letter! This is pathetic. If alternet keeps posting this crap I'm ditiching [sic] them.
The fact that the richest country in the world has homeless women living on the streets ---this is funny?

You know what-we deserve Bush.

Get a bag from the Surplus store-those green Army bags last forever. Stuff it with energy bars to hand out to those homeless women you make fun of. Give the money you don't spend on a fancy bag to a homeless women's shelter.

Here is something we can all do. Don't carry a politically unaware bag. They could be the new bumper stickers.
Everything these messages contain, this site is designed to combat: the notion that only frivolous individuals care about what they wear. It is a frequent self-delusion indulged in by the self-righteous that they believe they are judged solely on the quality of their argument. They are not. They are judged also by their appearance. Regarding their physical selves as a fleshy envelope holding in their important thoughts, they roam around the world hectoring others, unaware that their listeners' minds are only half-attending to what they saying, while the other half wonders why someone with so little aesthetic sensibility, so limited an understanding of their own bodies, -its proportions, colouring etc - could be so profoundly convinced of their own correctess.

This is a picture of Mrs Jellyby in Dickens' Bleak House, a lady neglectful of her own dress and her own children, in the pursuit of causes:

Thought for the day

Clothes make a statement. Costumes tell a story. Mason Cooley.

Thursday 29 November 2007

The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra

The abiding belief of this site is: The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and his right to these peculiarities.' (Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate.)

You can view a video of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra's preparations for a concert in Huddersfield, here

I am certain that the world would be a better place if we spent our time working out how to turn vegetables into music instead of taking offence and threatening people.

When cutting edge fashion backfires

A group of Danish t-shirt manufacturers are facing trial on charges of sponsoring terrorism, a crime under post-9/11 Danish anti-terror laws that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

The offending t-shirts carry slogans supportive of two groups classed by the EU as terrorist organisations: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). According to the Guardian's report

F+L describes itself as "a private enterprise dedicated to the cause of freedom and hard-rocking street gear". Pictures on the company's website show the gear modelled by beautiful people with even suntans and moody expressions doing rebellious things. One shot shows a young Adonis in sunglasses scaling a fence wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with a pink Farc insignia and a picture of a gun.

However as one of the defendants, Katrine Willumsen, a 24-year-old student, notes.

". . as the person who put together the hundreds of T-shirt orders we received from around the world before we got arrested, I can tell you that the majority of our customers were fat, old men," she said. She knows the buyers were not hip young things because almost everyone asked for XXL size, and they had "old-fashioned names".

Guest post: On cutting one's hair

My cousin Marlene, who lives in France, updated her Facebook photo earlier in the week. Quelle revelation!

At my request, she has written the following guest post:

In 1975 I walked into the hairdressing salon in Harrods and had my hair cut. It was such a success that I kept that cut until last week. During this time there have been two hiccups: a pregnancy in 1986 which rendered my scalp so hot that I felt I was wearing a mink hat and then in 2001, my daughter became a weekly boarder at her lycée. On both of these occasions I had what I can only describe as a compromise cut – much shorter, but not short.

The original shape was what they call a lion cut. Short on top and miraculously layered to shoulder length. The maintenance involved was regular cuts which became progressively more challenging as the overall length grew, and regular professional conditioning treatments. This look was hugely popular with rock stars, some of whom sensibly wore wigs.

During the last 32 years two strange and inexplicable things have happened, I am no longer size 12, and most of the visible lines on my face are vertical.:

Long hair doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years and the physical habit of having this matter caressing your neck and shoulders is strong and comforting. There have been signs during the years which would have lead any impartial observer to yell “CUT IT OFF”. The fact that every time I put my hair up in the last 20 years, everyone applauded – especially my mother – made me even more defiant.

When clothes stopped fitting beautifully and my jaw-line became more rounded, I said to myself, “my hair still looks great” I have shoulders on which you could land aircraft. I also have a smallish head. This combination yelled “BIG HAIR”. A year ago, I had chocolaty streaks put in my almost black hair. Everyone loved the colour and were silent about the shape.

When many things both practical and physical start going seriously pear-shaped in your life, how wonderfully comforting to have something which has stood the test of time – something unchangeable. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, everything changes – if you don’t accommodate those changes you’re living in a permanent battlefield of ineffectual and tiring compromise.

Getting my hair cut short is nothing to do with wanting to look younger – it’s more to do with invisibility and visibility. My hair was huge and very long – it is now pixiish and very short. Instead of disappearing, I have appeared.

Recently, I looked in the mirror and said two things to myself: If this was the hair of a good friend, I would take her to one side and with great love and firmness, tell her what she must already know: “It’s OVER. Get it cut off. Marlène, you never were, nor will be a member of a successful 1980’s rock band.”

There was neither hesitation nor agonising; just the knowledge that the time had come to move on. This is not unlike the feeling when you end a long-term relationship which has not been working for many years. You had a dilemma, you agonised, you wallowed in guilt, you bored your friends rigid and then finally, you float out into the calm waters of indifference, free of all hesitation and fear.

Thirty-two years go, wearing tight jeans, no bra, a black t-shirt and black pearls, I let Nick McLean in Harrods salon work his magic on my hair. Last week, Thierry at the Jacques Dessange salon in Divonne-les-Bains in France, did likewise, leaving ten inches of my mane and my useless baggage on the floor.

The acid test of a radical change in hairstyle is your first sighting of yourself in the morning mirror. Hair crushed out of shape, face plump with repose and eyes like two peeled prawns. So far my reaction has been identical every morning – “why didn’t I do this years ago?”


Sins of omission

Stephen Moss in the Guardian has an amusing piece about books one has never read, after A.A. Gill confessed that he had not read Cranford, currently the BBC's Sunday tea-time serial (I've read it, nya nyah.)

Stephen's erudite list of books he has either not read or not completed is:

The Bible (I've dipped, no more)
The Koran (ditto)
Saint Augustine's City of God
Dante's Divine Comedy (more blind, braindead dipping)
Boccacio's The Decameron
Vasari's Lives of the Painters
Thomas More's Utopia
Proust (several failed attempts)
The Brothers Karamazov (several failed attempts, including one three weeks ago that ended in me almost shooting myself on about page 212).

And here is mine:
Couldn't finish
War and Peace (can't get past all the nattering in the opening chapters)
Dance to The Music of Time
Proust (about two thirds through, but I'm still alive, and I will finish one day, the problem is that as a writer if you are reading Proust you start to think like him)
London Fields
Moby Dick
Tristram Shandy

Never read
The Naked and the Dead
Finnegan's Wake
Almost all of Henry James
Cormac McCarthy

Do add your own embarrassing failures.

Thought for the day

There is nothing touches our imagination so much as a beautiful woman in a plain dress. Joseph Addison 1672-1719

Wednesday 28 November 2007

The three-shoe man issue revisited

Following an earlier debate on this site, Off tha cuff, concerned with matters male and footwear writes:

Those that manifest a bond with their footwear seem to fall into two groups. There are those that truly collect, always on a mission to find the next rare edition kicks to tick off their list of personal desire, trawling through piles of deadstock, and who are willing to pay almost any price. Then there are those that recognize the importance of having a fresh pair of shoes in near constant rotation. This second type generally select their styles based on the movements of the industry, always ready to splash the cash on the latest re-issue or new colour way. There is a divide between these two groups, where passion and dedication is often replaced by the fickle nature of trends. Personally, I'm not sure I fall into either of the above categories. I feel I've been around long enough to know which models I like best, and more over, suit my style. I don't care how rare those lo Dunks are, only the hi's make it onto my footwear floor space
This is a picture of his complete shoe collection.

I count 22 pairs

I felt his pulsating manhood within me

There were two big parties in London last night, the British Fashion Awards, won by Stella McCartney, and the Literary Review Bad Sex Award, won, posthumously, by Norman Mailer, beating off Jeanette Winterson, a strong contender. The prize is for the most redundant and badly-written sex scene in a work of literary fiction. There was a very funny speech by the Literary Review's editor, Alexander Waugh, son of its founder Auberon Waugh and grandson of Evelyn Waugh, but I had drunk too much champagne to remember much of it this morning.

The shortlist is nominated by readers of the magazine and a large number of entries were for Ian McEwan's Chesil Beach, though as Alexander pointed out, without the sex scene there would be no novel so it could hardly be called redundant.

The eight shortlisted authors' words of purple prose were read aloud, under a full-length portrait of the young Queen Victoria with her mouth slightly open in a moue of shock. Then the prize was presented by former supermodel Marie Helvin who confessed that until she was thirteen, she had never worn a pair of shoes. The prize is a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s and a bottle of champagne, if the winner turns up, which Mailer was unable to do, for obvious reasons, so it was given to the youngest ever shortlisted author, Richard Milward.

And here is an extract from that winning entry:

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.

I've got nothing to wear for the revolution

Times fashion editor Lisa Armstrong gives tips for what to wear on the barricades, whether it's celebs supporting the screenwriters' strike or students protesting David Irving and Nick Griffin at the Oxford Union:

All the really successful anti-Establishment movements have had what fash-ionistas like to call A Look, whether it’s Boadicea’s striking face paint, the Roundheads’ distinctive hairdos, Eva Perón’s descamisados(shirtless ones) or those cute Bolshevik caps. Some of the lesser antiEstablishment groups – Mods, skins, Teddies – were so busy working their look that they forgot to think up a manifesto.

Then there’s the French, who, whether it’s 1968 or almost 2008, always put on a stylish performance out on the streets – a dash of black poloneck, an all-weather trench, a slim-line leather jacket like the one Cate Blanchett wore at the weekend to cheer in Australia’s new PM (and Che Guevara might have worn had he had a contract with Armani). Oh, and loads of black eyeliner for flirting one’s way out of a police cell.

Donna e mobile

How our faces changed.

(with thanks to George Szirtes, whom I pinched it from)

Thought for the day

Three-tenths of a good appearance are due to nature; seven-tenths to dress. Chinese saying

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Some site changes

This site has been running for coming up to a month. I am going to make some small changes.

If you would like your site to be linked to this one in the blogroll, please either put the URL in the comments below or email it to me at lindagrantblog[at]googlemail[dot]com (I'm sure you can work out that the bits in [] are to deter spam and know how to do it properly) with Blog add in the subject line

If you would like to be emailed a weekly digest of Thoughtful Dresser posts, send your email address to the same address as above, with Digest in the subject line. Nothing further will be done with these email addresses, they won't be sold or given to anyone else or seen by anyone but me.

Finally, I will shortly be making a cautious experiment with Google Adsense. We'll see how it goes.

Some London sample sales

Nicole Farhi sale

Massive reductions on all of the Farhi collections for men and women. Plus shoes by Scorah Patullo.

This is a great chance to stock up on Farhi basics. 28 November (10am to 6pm), 29 November (10am to 7pm), 30 November (10am to 6pm) and 1 December (10am to 4pm); Barbican Exhibition Centre, Hall 2, Golden Lane, London, EC2.

Ghost Warehouse Sale – 28 November to 2 December

Massive reductions on the Ghost range. Current season and past season’s stock available.

28 November to 2 December (11am to 7pm every day except Sunday 11am to 5pm) 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, London, W11.

Lulu Guinness Sample Sale - 28 to 29 November

Pick up Lulu Guinness handbags and accessories at sample prices...

Plus accessories and home wears at up to 75% off. 28 and 29 November (10am to 7pm); Ground Floor, 87-91, Newman Street, London, W1T 3EY.

Four Marketing Sample Sale - 29 and 30 November

Stone Island, CP Company, Evisu, Superfine to name a few...

Womenswear from McQ Alexander McQueen, Superfine, Evisu, True Religion and C.P. Company. Menswear from Evisu, Stone Island, C.P. Company, True Religion, RAF by Raf Simons, McQ, Fake London and Oki-Ni. Underwear by Dolce & Gabbana and D&G. With 50 to 70% off the retail price. 29 November (8am to 6pm), 30 November (8am to 4pm). 20 Garrett Street, London, EC1Y 0TW.

Frost French Festive Frolics – 29 November

Expert shopping advisors, champers and 15% off any purchases…

The FrostFrench team of uber-stylists will be there to offer top class advice and recommendations for getting the perfect party look. Customers that quote ‘FrostFrench Festive Frolics’ will receive a special 15% discount. Sadie and Jemima may even make an appearance, if you fancy asking them for some shopping tips. 29 November (10am to at least 8pm); 22-26 Camden Passage, Islington, London N1, 70 Burlington Arcade, London, W1, 20 Foubert’s Place, London, W1

Religion Christmas Sample Sale - 29 November to 2 December 2007

Religion, Buddhist Punk, Bolongaro Trevor and House of the Gods.

29 November (2pm to 9pm), 30 December (11am to 8pm), 1 December (11am to 8pm) and 2 December (11am to 5pm). Unit 4-5, Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery, London, E1.

Amanda Wakeley Sample Sale - 30 November to 1 December

Samples from A/W 07 at 70% off...

Stock up on Amanda Wakeley classics from past season's and A/W 07 at massive reductions. There will be previous season's stock available at up to 85% off! Sizes range from 8 to 16 so there's something for everyone. 30 November (10am to 9pm) and 1 December (10am to 5pm); The Music Rooms, 26 South Molton Lane, Mayfair, London, W1K 5AB.

Designer Sale UK - 30 November to 2 December

Over 70 designers from big names to up-and-coming starts of the future with up to 90% off...

30 November (11am to 9pm), 1 December (11am to 8pm) and 2 December (11am to 5pm); The Bridge, Atlantis Building, Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU.


Click here for a voucher which gives you 20% off everything at Selfridge's from Friday to Sunday, except cosmetics which is 10% off

The Neiman Marcus designer sale has started with free shipping use the code WINTER

Poll: Can you dress well at any size?

This week's poll asks whether it is possible to dress stylishly, with chic and elegance at any size?

Some would argue that true style comes from within, others would say that the range of clothing offered by the fashion industry is so limited as to restrict larger women's freedom to dress well. Notice, I say larger women, since size 0 women are well-catered for.

I will be returning to this subject at greater length, but for now, just go vote, on the right.

And go and look at the Manolo for the Big Girl

The good stuff wins

This week's Thoughtful Dresser poll asked whether Olay was just as good as Creme de la Mer, and the race ran neck and neck until I started to worry about a Bush-Gore recount, in the end the good stuff pulled ahead to win.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter. Until I was thirty I never wore a moisturiser. Every pot of what I called gunk broke me out in spots. Huge, volcano-like three dimensional objects rose on the right cheek, pulsating with pus. Everything I tried from L'Oreal to Body Shop came to the same end: bad skin.

One day, when I was living in Vancouver, I was wandering through a department store when I saw a Shiseido counter with a gizmo which took some kind of in-depth photo of your skin and what its future would be. Despite the putative spots, my cheekbones were dry. So I bought a lotion thing, put it on, and a couple of days later could no longer stand the feeling of unmoisturised skin. My face felt, somehow, more supple, younger.

When I moved back to London, Shiseido had not yet launched so I went back to Body Shop - spots! - then to Clarins. And from Clarins to Estee Lauder, to Lancome, back to Shiseido and probably every brand in the beauty counter. Periodically I went cheap and cheerful, and each time the same thing happened. I broke out.

My conclusion was that it was not so much the ingredients of expensive skincare that worked for me but the forumulation. Cheap skin creams don't seem to be absorbed properly by my face; they lie there like a greasy layer.

I'd just love to tell you about the reasonably priced, organic skincare secret every British woman in the know only shares with her best friend. If I knew that secret I'd tell you. The truth is awful. Here it is:

My skin has never tried a Creme de la Mer product it doesn't like.

I know. It is hideously expensive, even more in Britain than the US, so I get it brought over for me, twice a year. I use the tinted moisturiser in the morning if I'm not going out and wearing make-up, and the full whack cream in the evening, which you warm between your fingers until it resembles a serum, than pat it on the skin. When you wake up in the morning there's a baby's bottom on your face.

What can I say? Truth hurts.

Thought for the day

It is amusing to observe in every age the ingenuity of dress in changing the human figure. Hannah Farnham Lee 1780-1865

Monday 26 November 2007

Nature of freedom

I mentioned in a post at the weekend that in the unlikely event of me attending a demonstration I would advise on appropriate clothing. Watching the hundreds of students, Jewish and Muslim organisations demonstrating outside the Oxford Union on this bitterly cold November night, I can say that appropriate dress is a warm coat, jeans, and sturdy boots. Good for them.

Tonight, at the Oxford Union, the guest speakers will be David Irving, the discredited historian, liar, anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, and Nick Griffin, leader of the fringe British National Party (Britain's rough equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.) There has been considerable debate about whether such a debate itself should be allowed to take place, with fundamental questions raised by others about freedom of speech.

As a writer,I assert that freedom of expression is the most basic principle of literature, without which there is nothing but propaganda. Nonetheless, as I have pointed out to creative writing students, publishers are not under a legal or commercial obligation to print their work. Norman Geras, as usual, sums up the issues forensically.

Norm says:

Fascists are entitled to free speech if we consider this to be a basic human right. Of course, that right is not absolute; there is a limit that prohibits incitement to violence. But within that limit fascists are - and they should be - free to say what they please. The question why they should be when they would deny the same right to others isn't to the point. You don't have to qualify to enjoy rights of free speech. That's the point of treating them as rights.
He then quotes Peter Tatchell:
'Support for free speech does not oblige the Oxford Union to reward these men with a prestigious public platform, which will give them an air of respectability, raise their public profile and allow them to espouse their intolerant views. It is helping them propagate their bigotry. Not offering hate-mongers a platform is not the same as banning them.'
Precisely so [Norm continues]. The same reasons that told against Columbia University's invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in September apply in this case.

And that is my view on the matter. You can watch a video discussion on the issue here.

Brian Klug in the Guardian adds:
Either it is the case that Griffin and Irving do not have a right to speak at the Oxford Union, or the fact that I have not been invited constitutes an abrogation of my right to speak.

Unless, of course, a person's right to speak is in direct proportion to the obnoxiousness of their views. No one would consciously subscribe to such a principle, but sometimes it seems as if it has been smuggled in under cover of a noble line from the Enlightenment, usually attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It is almost as if the more I disapprove of what you say, the greater your right to say it. Which we can all see is nonsense. Still, let's spell it out: despite their noxious views, neither Irving nor Griffin has a greater right to be invited to speak at the Oxford Union than countless people whose opinions are decent and humane.
(I could have illustrated this post with a picture of David Irving, I choose not to. That is my freedom.)


Because I work from home, and like to wear fairly simple comfortable clothes while I write, my basic, everyday uniform in winter is jeans and a cashmere sweater. The best quality and best priced cashmere sweaters I have found are from Pure, who do a very wide range of styles from classics to dresses and in exceptionally good colours, because they dye the yarn, not the garment, so you get true, intense pigment.

They have a 25 per cent off special at the moment and the code for that, which you enter at checkout would be PFH204 (at least I hope that is not just for returning customers).

Hadley is coming

British readers will of course will know Hadley Freeman's eccentrically original Monday style column in the Guardian, Ask Hadley. Here she is today:

Women love shoes: we all know and - for the purposes of making a highly generalised argument in a relatively truncated space - accept that. Having realised that they were on to a highway to wealth here, designers have been making increasingly crazy shoes for some time, with prices going up accordingly. For example, I know a young woman - a charming, delightful, sparkling, witty and, frankly, brilliant young woman - who has been so brainwashed by this whole shoe mania that she has found herself in possession of three pairs of ankle boots with all manner of ridiculous buckles and chunky heels and different-coloured piping details, and when I say "three", I obviously mean "four" and when I say "young woman", I quite possibly mean "me".
Visiting my publisher's last week I was pressed back against the wall by an a black-suited figure sweeping along the corridors with her considerable entourage behind her: it was none other than Cherie Blair, for whose autobiography Little,Brown has just signed the usual six figure sum. Bringing up the rear was her agent, who managed to shout out as she passed, 'Linda! Can I send you a proof of Hadley's new book?'

So it was that I spent the weekend enjoying such gems as:
. . .one should never look for style guidance from a French woman: it would be liking hoping to pick up some mental arithmetic tips from Stephen Hawking. . .

I can't begin to tell how many pleasures are contained in the pages of The Meaning of Sunglasses: A Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable and the only way you're going to find out is to wait patiently until February when it comes out, though obviously ordering your copy on Amazon right now, to avoid disappointment. Though I notice that her book and my book come out on the same day so you'll want to order mine first. You can do that right now, just by clicking here

Thought for the day

To wash one's hair, make one's toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure. Sei Shonagon c. 966-c1013

Sunday 25 November 2007

The It-Bag Parade

The Telegraph also has an informative piece by Judy Rumbold tracking the development of the It bag, from the Fendi Baguette to the present (the YSL Downtown). As she points out:

They transcend tricky divisions to do with weight, age and social status. In short, bags are not just for skinny bitches. There is no such thing as a size-zero bag.
I have two of the bags she mentions, the Baguette (actually, I have two of these, one in red and one in purple suede) and a Leulla Giselle. When I bought the latter, a couple of years ago at a Vogue sample sale in aid of Turkish disaster relief, I was dithering between the Giselle and a Marni, until Alexandra Shulman, editor of UK Vogue, and my oracle at all times of hesitation, came over and told me what to do. 'That bag's a classic,' she said, pointing to the Giselle,'I've got the Marni, the clasp broke.'

I don't use the Giselle all that often but I agree, if you buy a classic bag, even if it once was an It bag, it will come round again. I am not too proud to carry my little suede Baguettes at parties, they are the perfect evening bag, sitting snugly under the shoulder. I just cannot see the point of the bloody clutch. I already need two hands, one for the glass of champagne, the other for the canape. I know you can wedge them under the arm clamping the thing against your rib cage, but that's just more Chinese foot-binding, as far as I'm concerned.


My piece on Lanvin is in the Telegraph today:

When Alber Elbaz took over as the head of Lanvin in 2002, marking a sensational comeback for the half-forgotten house, few people remembered that during her heyday in the 1920s Jeanne Lanvin had rivalled Chanel. The name conjured up for me an expensive, decorative sophistication. I saw her as a designer who clothed women of a certain age. Hers was a label you might aspire to but never quite reach. In fact, I have, unknown to me, been wearing a dress based on Lanvin's landmark shape, the robe de style. My version is by Ghost, but the silhouette is more or less identical. It consists of a dress with a full skirt gathered from a slightly dropped waist, with flat panels at front and back, the hem falling a little above the ankles. Softly feminine, universally flattering, it acknowledges that a woman has hips and a stomach she doesn't want to exaggerate with bunched-up fabric. The robe de style was the look of the 1920s for women who could not wear the tubular lines of Chanel. Move the waist up, and it prefigures, by a quarter of a century, Dior's New Look, launched the year after Jeanne Lanvin died. And, of course, in fashion there is nothing new under the sun. The robe de style was itself based on what had gone before, Infanta frocks, Camargo frocks, picture frocks, portrait frocks - all those bouffant styles are what a woman needs who wishes to conceal the flaws in her figure. . . . Read on

Thought for the day

Paloma Picasso

Fashion can make you ridiculous; style, which is yours to control individually, can make you attractive - a near siren. Marianne Moore

Saturday 24 November 2007

What to wear come the revolution

Back in the 1970s a few people brought back from their trip to the Middle East a keffiyeh, the black and white scarf worn wrapped around his head (reputedly in the shape of Mandate Palestine itself) by Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Arafat wore his as headgear; on the streets of London it was wound somewhat sloppily about the neck and had the same sartorial signification as Doc Martens in that period. Don't mess with me. I am anti-fashion! Fashion is for superficial materialists! I have bigger things on my mind!

In this period, I have to concede, I was wearing a man's jacket, its lapels covered in badges announcing my allegiance to the Ant-Nazi League, CND and various other causes, over a 1930s tea-dress which smelled of mothballs and old stains, bought at a stall on Portobello Road market, Mary Quant green or pink tights, and Converse All Stars. This get-up was to indicate that you wouldn't catch me in Chelsea Girl, oh no. I didn't have a keffiyeh because I wouldn't have known where to get one, and to be honest, I knew next to nothing about international relations. And if I were to wear a keffiyeh, and were my mother to have found out what it meant, she would have poured a pot of boiling chicken soup over my head. Much later I discovered that you could buy a keffiyeh at that time in blue and white, decorated with stars of David, to symbolise . . . something else.

The keffiyeh continued to be worn as an emblem of political defiance and international solidarity with the Palestinian cause until about a decade ago, when they started turning up tied around the necks of motorcycle messengers in London. I was surprised that so many of these knights of the road had such an elevated political consciousness, until I read that they were sold in biker shops as 'desert scarves,' advertised for their warmth, when hurtling through London traffic on a cold wet day.

And then they started to be worn by teenagers. A few weeks ago, at the local farmer's market, I bumped into a woman I know from the gym. We sometimes go to the Designer Warehouse Sale at Kings Cross together. She's South African, Jewish and spent some time in Israel. Her daughter was wearing a keffiyeh. Do you know what that means? I asked her. No, she replied. She bought it in Top Shop, where, I now read, they knock them out as a Tablecloth Scarf.

Over at Faking Good Breeding Meg writes:

. . . last year TopShop and Urban Outfitters began stocking and promoting the scarves, causing a backlash that forced the stores to pull the items. Ironically, considering the item's contentious message, Urban Outfitters titled the product "Anti-War Woven Scarf". . . Interestingly, each color and pattern represents different political sympathies. The black and white pattern is generally worn by members of Arafat's Fateh [sic] party, the checkered red is the signature of the radical Leftist PLO factions and the green is often worn by Hamas,* the Islamic terrorist organization.*

In the Guardian today, Jess Cartner-Morley announces a new development, the Balenciaga £3000 keffiyeh. Such is the long journey between an act of political solidarity with the Palestinian people and the high street that Jess provides us with universally useful advice on this season's way of tying that Balenciaga scarf, or indeed any scarf:
Having got the right scarf, please try not to ruin it by wearing it the wrong way. The doubled-over-and-looped-through technique is no longer an option unless you are a French exchange student. The tucked-under-the-lapels technique suggests that you're concerned about draughts. The authentic catwalk look is triangle-fronted, like a baby in a bib. It looks slightly less ridiculous if you leave a gap at your neck, to avoid the Desperate Dan effect. But, to be honest, if it cost three grand, you probably want to wind it as tight as possible. Oh, and try not to leave it on the bus.
It is the opinion of The Thoughtful Dresser that whenever fashion designers try to enter the political sphere by Making A Statement (cf Katherine Hamnett and her t-shirts) they invariably wind up devaluing whatever it is that they wanted to say in the first place by the muddled thinking and airy conceptualism of those who spend all day designing mini-crinis. Would you want Jamie Oliver designing your little black dress? Or Karl Lagerfeld in charge of upcoming negotiations at Annapolis? No?What you wear on a demo is a separate question, and one I'll deal with in the unlikely event that I go on one, but fashion is a business, a capitalist business and it will absorb any influence and drain it of its original meaning. There is nothing more pathetic than a £3000 keffiyeh, and nothing more dispiriting than designers who think they can cast off their reputations as coke-fuelled bird-brains by throwing them down the catwalk along with the eight-inch platforms. And nothing sadder and more deluded than those who think that the teenager who was forcing her sausage legs into skinny jeans last year, or exposing her slab of goose-pimpled midriff in a crop top and low rise jeans the year before that, has now discovered a political consciousness by wearing a Top Shop keffiyeh.

* This is not a political blog so any discussion of the aims and methodology of Hamas will have to take place elsewhere, and not in my comments box.

Thought for the day

'I like the way old Grover dresses,' Captain Charley said. 'He dresses like he means it.' Joseph Mitchell*

*whose book Joe Gould's Secret, is one of my favourites.

Friday 23 November 2007


Crocs are so fabulous and Uggs are even cooler, so why not just combine the two like this

Then everyone will know that you have absolutely no taste.*

* If you live in North Dakota and you are wading through slush along a . . . no, my vocabulary is giving out, whatever it is you've got there . . . then sure, buy a pair of these, just as long as you know that their sole purpose is to keep your feet dry and warm. But they are not, I repeat not, a fashion statement, and no, they are not cute as scarlet puppies, and yes, people will look at you funny if you wear them in the city, just as you would look at me askance if I tried bringing in the steer to the . . . something . . . in Christian Louboutins.

Fit for purpose, fit for purpose.

Thanks to twollin in the comments, I have just discovered something much, much worse. I just didn't know. I'm going away now, to drink some alcohol and look for drugs that erase bad visual memories.

Things I like

Larry: Bald asshole? That's a hate crime. We consider ourselves to be a group.

Police officer: I'm bald and I'm not offended.

Larry: With all due respect, Officer Berg, you are not bald. You've chosen to shave your hair and that's a look you're cultivating in order to look fashionable, but we don't really consider you part of the bald community... with all due respect.

The end of the book

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has just put on the market an electronic book reader, which will signal the end of the bookshelf, and the book.

The print revolution started by Gutenberg has held for half a millenium, and now it's over. The new device is called the Kindle, it weighs 10 ounces and . . .

. . .boasts electronic ink-screen technology so the words look like they are printed on paper. Better still, they can be made smaller or larger and are no harder to see when viewed outside in bright sunlight.

Aside from being light, it is about the size of a paperback and much thinner. Unlike rival electronic readers, it has built-in wireless capacity, using cellphone technology, so material can be downloaded without cables or other computers.

. . .Downloading a book will take only 30 seconds and 90,000 titles are apparently already available.

I've been hearing about readers for several years, but the impediment has always been weight, and the inability to read it in sunlight. I'm not sceptical. I was an early adopter of the internet, and if kids think that books aren't cool but electronic gadgets are, then fine, it's the content that matters, not the package it comes in. I just want people to read, and to think.

Yet for those of us who are old enough to have spent our time at university using album covers as flat surfaces to roll joints,* it's another nail in the coffin our our lives.

* But that was us, and look how badly we turned out, so kids - just say no.

Thought for the day

This morning came home my fine camlet cloak, with gold buttons, and a silk suit, which cost me much money, and I pray God to make me able to pay for it. Samuel Pepys

Thursday 22 November 2007

Designer lingerie

A male reader of The Thoughtful Dresser emails me to enquire:

. . . when does The Thoughtful Dresser expand into the area of clothing hitherto untraveled: I mean the lingerie department, with detailed analysis and pictures.

And I don't mean the low level common consumer schmattes of Victoria's S. but rather more refined designer stuff.
Happy to oblige with some Donna Karan knickers

Found in translation

The greatest Yiddish-language writer of the 20th century features on a list of 100 books chosen to inaugurate a daring, long-term project to bring landmark foreign works to Arabic-speaking readers.

The Collected Stories Of Isaac Bashevis Singer, by an author who was raised in Poland but for decades dominated Yiddish writing in New York, will join titles ranging from Sophocles and Chaucer to Stephen Hawking and Haruki Murakami among the first selections of the Kalima translation programme.

The Kalima (meaning "word" in Arabic) project aims to revive the art of translation across the Arab world and reverse the long decline in Arabic readers' access to major works of global literature, philosophy, science and history.

"The choices reflect what we consider are the real gaps in the Arab library," said Karim Nagy, the founder and chief executive of the project, which was launched yesterday in Abu Dhabi. "We shy away as far as possible from best-sellers."

Boyd Tonkin in the Independent

More than one coat - I agree

Women aren't just buying one workhorse to go with everything, Bostock has noticed, but a few statement-making pieces. "Our customers are treating themselves to two or three high-quality coats for different occasions," she says. "It's no longer just about practicality; outerwear plays a key role in winter's trends." (notes the Telegraph)

(I have a whole wardrobe full of them: two shearlings - one Nicole Farhi in black, one M&S in brown, an orange duffel coat from JCrew, an evening coat from Barney's, two belted black coats both from M&S, a DKNY purple and silver fleck from the Harvey Nicks sale, a Jean Muir navy, last year's Zara sell-out trapeze coat with the big gold buttons, a Zara grey belted short coat, a suede coat bought in the Neiman's sale, my leather jacket, an Ann-Louise Roswald floral summer coat, my mother's Persian lamb with white mink collar . . . but what I want most of all is the Armani Collezioni coat I saw in Selfridge's and didn't dare try on because it was my size and cost £895.)

The moral and political philosophy of Harry Potter

I'm busy writing a piece for Vogue today, so I leave you with some thoughts about Harry Potter - a piece I wrote as a guest post for Normblog in the summer:

Finishing the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter series over the weekend, I was struck by the fact that a generation of children has grown up immersed in a morally complex world in which the traditional epic battle between good and evil is clouded by questions. The discussions on the many Harry Potter fan sites bear out this view that J.K. Rowling has exposed her readers to some of the most important and difficult dilemmas of our own age. That these discussions are often awkward and sometimes illiterate does not detract from the real passion and sense of enquiry with which they are entered into.

. . .

In the final volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, released on Friday, the Ministry of Magic has fallen to Voldemort's forces and the totalitarian state is emerging. The plan is that the magic world will take over the Muggle world which is to be a vast slave labour camp. Muggles (ourselves) are the lesser breeds - the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, blacks. Those drawn to Voldemort's cause are obsessed with ideas of racial purity, they pride themselves on being 'pure-blood' (entirely magic) and despise those 'half-bloods', the products of mixed-marriages (though ironically Voldemort himself is a half-blood) or worse, the 'mudbloods', those wizards and witches who are Muggle-born.

In one of the most horrifying sections of the book, Voldemort introduces Nuremberg Laws. Families are investigated for potential half-blood ancestry and the 'mudbloods' are accused of having stolen their magic powers from real magic people. Deprived of their magic wands, the source of their power, they are reduced to pitiful beggars in Diagon Alley, in scenes reminiscent of the Warsaw Ghetto.

But what of the 'good' wizards, those who have heroically fought the takeover? They are not without the taint of evil themselves, for they are slave-owners - of the degraded house-elves who are under an oath of loyalty to the family who owns them, whatever the orders. One scene, towards the end of the book, shows the burial of a house-elf given his freedom, and the simple inscription on his grave: 'Here lies Dobby, a free elf.' In order to defeat evil, dubious alliances must be made: for example, with the goblins, the makers of swords and the guarders of gold, who regard all property as owned by the maker of it, and only 'leased' to others for their own lifetime; at the point of the leaser's death, it must revert to its maker. The wizards' cheating of these rules is, says one character, something on which they should reflect. Many species will not ally with the wizards because of bad relations, old grudges and grievances.

. . .

In America, the Christian right has condemned the Harry Potter books. They regard them as leading their children to Satan. Perhaps they should be more worried that the real danger in these works lies in their sophisticated and empathetic account of the grey areas that exist within both good and evil, and the hard choices we all have to make to find a path through the darkness.
Read the rest

Reader's request - more Paul Poiret

Between the hour-glass figure and the little black dress, for a few years before the First World War, Paul Poiret made some of the most innovative dresses of the 20th century. This forgotten genius, who would die in poverty, almost single-handedly liberated women from the corset, created the world's first designer perfume and was the first couturier to branch out into interior design.

Peggy Guggenheim and the Rosine scent bottle
Poiret dressed Peggy Guggenheim (left), and created the world's first designer perfume

His reign was heartbreakingly brief. At the turn of the last century dresses were rigidly fitted to a woman's form, the bum jutted out, the breast jutted forward. A woman's outfit resembled not so much clothing as upholstery, topped with horsehair wigs.

In photographs women appear buried under their clothes, a small oval of face under dyed, frizzed, artificial fringes, and perhaps an expanse of bosom peering out from the textile immolation. Decoration lay heavily over decoration, and a woman's true shape was unimaginable.

No wonder the rich required maids to help them undress, to unhook bodices, corsets, button boots. Edwardian outfits were completely unsuitable for the decades to come, for world wars, for the emancipation of women that would follow, for the speed of the motor car and the thrill of flight.

. . . .

Influenced by the Orient, Poiret set up his own house in 1903 and two years later married Denise Boulet, a young provincial girl who was said never to have worn a corset or high collar. Her slim figure, like a lance in repose, one observer remarked, became the template for a Poiret garment.

A fragment of film from 1911 shows her looking utterly different from the crowd among which she moves - as well as being married to a designer, she was always her own stylist.

With Boulet as his muse, Poiret created dresses and coats that fell from the shoulders, and instead of being fitted to the body, flowed along its natural lines. In inspiration they were a throwback to the style of the Directoire, the period of the Empire line 100 years earlier, but they were not pallid imitations; they cancelled every rule of clothing to create the foundations for what we think of as modern dress.

Culottes, harem pants, shifts, dresses cut on the lines of a chemise - his imagination stopped nowhere and prefigured almost every design innovation to come, except for what would follow from the House of Chanel - the severe, the uniform, the pared-back black dress.

For Poiret adored sumptuous fabrics and peacock colours; he described throwing into the 'sheepcote' of pastels 'a few rough wolves: reds, greens, violets, royal blues that made all the rest sing aloud'. Boulet would step out in a wig of kingfisher blue and viridian-green stockings.

Everything he touched was revolutionary: he seems to have invented that brief 1960s fad, the baby-doll nightdress; he made dresses with asymmetrical shoulders; he introduced the hobble skirt and, even more startlingly, the lampshade dress - a triangular tent with fringes hanging from the bottom, which, as American Vogue would write, every woman in the country had bought.

Read the rest

Thought for the day

Women fond of dress are hardly ever entirely satisfied not to be seen, except amongst the insane; usually they want witnesses. Simone de Beauvoir