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

Saturday 27 October 2007

Why clothes matter

credit: The Sartorialist

I was at the private view of the V&A's current exhibition, The Golden Age of Couture
a few weeks ago. (No, not the £1000 a plate ball the night before - even if I could have afforded the ticket, it would have cleaned me out for the dress.) I was standing in the V&A's shop with a glass of champagne in one hand, trying on a vintage fur-collared cardigan with diamante clasps and buttons at the sleeves. An envious crowd was standing about, waiting to see if I was going to take it or not. The champagne went to my head. I got out my credit card. With my purchase I wandered past the statuary, tapping along those marble floors, into the exhibition, looking at Dior's Bar suit and some Digby Morton tailoring. Ines de la Fressanges, impossibly tall and thin, in a silver satin bias cut dress gave a charmingly long-winded speech. I drank an unidentifiable cocktail and talked to an old university friend about a bid to build a replica Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in Liverpool. Then back home to a hangover the next morning and aching ankles from my high heels, but who cares? Fashion is the elixir of life.

Look, the day job of the writer is 67 per cent staring out of the window, 28 percent going to make another cup of tea and the remainder is spent actually typing. Then deleting. Fortunately, as Norman Mailer said, you can't beat the hours. Come lunch-time you can knock off and do something else. You might, like, say Martin Amis, write voluminous screeds about the post 9/11 world or you could keep your mouth shut and go shopping.

Brood on this. There are only a few minutes every day when we are not clothed: in the shower, changing from one set of garments to another, having sex - these times of total nakedness are far less significant than the overwhelming hours in which we are dressed. Clothing begins in the first minute or two of our lives and we will be clothed in the grave, whether it is a suit placed on our corpse by an undertaker, or a linen shroud.

Writing about clothes, let alone thinking about them, is considered to be light-weight, trivial, empty-headed. Fashion is for those devoured by greed and consumerism. To be serious is to barely conscious of what you wear.

Enough of the sneering, already. Clothes are important.

As the great Manolo the Shoeblogger writes:

. . .claiming to not care about the clothes, to not be concerned about what one wears, is the paradox, for the clothes worn by one who claims not to care make as much the statement as those worn by one who dresses with purpose. These inescapable facts obtain: that clothes are always necessary, and that others they will always judge us by them.

Words of acute wisdom, no?

About the links

The list of blogs on the right-hand side are the ones I read every day.

Manolo the Shoeblogger - he the Daddy! The greatest fashion and celebrity blog on the web today. Behind the Manolo is an anonymous New Yorker whose witty, brilliant mind takes a passion for shoes into an erudite and incredibly funny take on our modern times. Particularly check him out on Wednesdays for his guessing game Whose Shoes?

The Bag Snobs, Tina and Kelly, write about my favourite accessories, bags. They vigorously review every new handbag of note and are merciless in their condemnation of ugly, badly designed bags, whatever the brand or the price. They go where no fashion magazine dares. And they still allow you to dream that one day you might own a crocodile Hermes Birkin.

The Sartorialist is a series of photographs of ordinary people, or people who work in fashion, taken on the street, often with little or no comment. They invite the viewer to develop an understanding of what makes individual style, which is rarely the slavish following of fashion. His pictures from Sunday mornings in Harlem illustrate that you need be neither young nor slim to have inimitable style.

On matters of world significance, I invariably take my lead from Professor Norman Geras whose Normblog investigates the maddening questions we all need to get our heads round since September 11th. I greatly admire his ability to patiently examine the moral complexity of these difficult times. He also likes cricket and country music and has been known from time to time to link to The Manolo.

Finally, George Szirtes, is the place I go to when I want to think about literature and visual art. George, winner of the T.S. Eliot poetry prize, and his wife the artist Clarissa Upchurch are the people to whom I dedicated my forthcoming novel, The Clothes on Their Backs and whose poem 'Dressing' forms its epigraph.

Please go and read these fantastic blogs.

Thinking about clothes, literature and other matters

In the next few months I will be writing about clothes, about literature, and very occasionally about news and current affairs. I'll also be reporting on parties, exhibitions and private views, in other words life in London in these interesting and rather fabulous days - whether it's the opening of the new Anya Hindmarch flagship store on Sloane Street next month, or what goes on in Brick Lane, where my rapper nephew lives. Finally, this is not a political blog, let's save those weighty concerns for other places. I welcome all comments and will moderate only very sparingly. I will not tolerate abusive posts.