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

Wednesday 30 April 2008

Jaeger Autumn Winter press show

Early in February I saw Jaeger's first catwalk show in their 125 year history, and wondered if it was too edgy for the audience it was supposed to serve. This morning I saw the collection at their press view. A magazine editor I had shared a car with in February told me that it would be toned down to make a 'selling collection', and so it was.

Seeing the pieces separately, on hangers, and not on six feet eight size 0 models was a completely different kettle of fish. Some items, like the trailing fringes, had been considerably shorted and some of the catwalk pieces will go into the stores in only small numbers.

The core of what I saw was really high standard wool tailoring: a funnel-neck coat dress with gold buttons which I will definitely buy, a double-breasted coat with the same buttons and even a cape. Very strong, very wearable pieces which don't look as though they will date. There were also beautiful bias cut maxi dresses, with sleeves and a stunning velvet dress.

You can see the gold button detailing here, on a black wool skirt, and the fringing. Now imagine those buttons on wearable coats and the fringing cut back 50 per cent.

Trousers, what shape?

Harvey Nicks buyer says:

"If someone asks 'what's on trend?' I don't know what to say. There are no rules. You have to learn your own style. You can wear short, midi or maxi now. Trousers can be wide, skinny, cropped, flared, high-waisted or hipster. They're all 'right'. That's the exciting thing."

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest. . .

Selfridges press release

Selfridges shoe department is experiencing a big increase in sales of vertiginous heels following the striking pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow strutting down the red carpet wearing the highest of heels in the past few weeks. Gwyneth’s new look has seen her teetering round in an array of show stopping shoes with gravity defying heels resulting in a real surge in customer interest.

Heel heights have reached a staggering 7 inches at Selfridges this season with brands such as Balenciaga, Pierre Hardy, Nina Ricci, Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent delivering the most show stopping styles.

This season we are selling the highest and most incredible shoes I’ve ever seen. Not for the faint hearted, fetish heels offer the wearer an extreme, attention grabbing look, these are definitely taxi shoes! Alexander Mc Queen’s Languid court shoes with a cigarette heel have been particularly popular due to their elegant timeless silhouette which contrasts beautifully with the very modern square toe.”

Sebastian Manes: Selfridges’ Director of Accessories

Selfridges has seen a massive increase in sales of ‘fetish’ super-high heels over the past week alone with 35 % more pairs being sold. Customers are over looking how challenging 7 inch heels are to manoeuvre about easily in and rather are focusing on the incredible effect they have on lengthening and slimming one’s legs. The extreme appearance of fetish heels means that the foot becomes a real focus of your look, particularly in very adorned styles which have been de rigueur this season.

Monday 28 April 2008


How do you get rid of these?


The situation with the moths is as follows. I have had various moth repelling sachets etc inside my wardrobe for years. When I got back from Australia in mid-March and went into the bedroom I found a dozen or so moths circling round the bedside lamp. Since then they have proliferated. They are on the ceiling, on the walls and crawling around occasionally on the duvet. Several hundred were lounging around on the carpet at the top of the stairs, and I hoovered them up, which seemed to do the trick. Several times a day I go at the moths on the walls and ceiling with the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner, but more always come to take their place. So far they don't seem to have eaten anything I can find in the wardrobe, but the cashmere is in sealed bags and all my good clothes are in protective covers. I feel that the sachets and whatnot are keeping them out of the wardrobe but in the room itself. Last night I found them inside a pair of Uggs. Another black mark for that footwear.

I just had a long conversation with a very nice man from here, who told me to buy one of these, which I have done.

I have just carefully gone through my wardrobe. So far, no holes. I wonder if I have ever really needed seven little black dresses.

I realise that the moths are emanating not from the wardrobe but from the carpet on the hall stairs outside. As one commenter said, what you need is a crevice tool attached to the vacuum cleaner to carefully go along the edges of the carpet and the area where each stair meets. I have now vacuumed and with my new moth genocide kit which arrived this morning, put down insecticide. The advantage of going through my wardrobe was that I realised what pieces I had too many of and what was missing and bought a top at COS this morning. And a long necklace which it obviously needed. So there's always a silver lining, eh, girls?

Speaking truth to power

Corinne Grant (definitely no relation) writes:

A truly ready-to-wear outfit would assemble itself, slink out of the wardrobe and leap on to your body the moment you stepped out of the shower. A ready-to-wear outfit would never crease, never stain, never need washing or dry-cleaning or ironing. It would have the good grace to expand and contract according to your size so that you would never know that you'd put on weight. I would happily pay good money for that.

I haven't attended a fashion festival this year. For a start, I don't own anything clean and, secondly, I always get the uniform wrong. The last time I endured one I wore a lovely broderie anglaise frock in black with ruffles all through the skirt. Everyone else was wearing jeans tucked into their boots and pashminas. I thought standing out was what I was supposed to do but apparently I had completely missed the point. This is the fashion rule I've never really grasped: to truly capture that individual look you are supposed to look like everybody else.

Maybe it's just me, but fashion festivals seem to be high school all over again, just with a $1000 price tag.

(What's a 'fashion festival'?)

courtesy of Norm

Tagged - five random things about me

I have been tagged by George Szirtes and am supposed to write six random things about myself. So here they are:

1. I have never seen an episode of the Simpsons

2. My father knew Houdini

3. I always thought I would grow out of being untidy, but I haven't. I don't understand the principle of putting things away. If I can't see them, they might as well not be there.

4. The oldest item currently in my wardrobe is a sweater dating from 1978. One day I will be thin enough to wear it again. One day.

5. I am a Canadian citizen (as well as a British citizen)

6. I will not, under any circumstances, eat a fried or poached egg. I might eat a cold boiled egg in a Salad Noicoise, or an omelette but only as long as the filling overwhelms the taste of the egg, and there is no runiness.

I will now tag Deja Pseu, Phyllis at The Sewing Divas, Lisa Goldman Miss Cavendish Charles Lambert Baroque in Hackney

There is no waiting list for Hermes Birkins

Example of rich Hermes customer

It's all a scam:

In his book, Tonello, 49, an Osterville native, reveals how he cracked the code for jumping the waiting list to purchase Birkins whenever he pleased. Naturally, this code has something to do with large amounts of cash. When Tonello first attempted to purchase a Birkin at Hermès, he was told that the store had none available. But when he later visited a store and spent thousands on Hermès merchandise such as scarves and jewelry, he found that stores would suddenly have the coveted Birkins in stock.
. . .
A spokeswoman for Hermès said there is no system or trick for purchasing a Birkin. She said it's simply a matter of forming a relationship with the store and working with an associate to track down one of the bags when they become available. Because the bags are handmade, she said there are limited numbers available. A single Birkin - depending on the material - can take up to a week to complete.

"There was a waiting list at one time," says Bernice Kwok-Gabel. "But we realized the whole concept of a waiting list may be off-putting for some customers."

(thanks, sewing divas)

Sew it yourself

courtesy of the Sewing Divas

I know some readers will be delighted to hear that there has been a huge jump in home dressmaking, according to the Guardian.

I speak as one who who has both two left feet when it comes to dancing, and and two left hands when it comes to sewing, and who thinks that shop-bought is always better than home-made (when it's my home it's being made in) but I'm nonetheless quite pleased to see any revival of creativity:

So it comes as no surprise to me that more and more people are taking up sewing. Last week, Argos reported that sales of selected sewing machines have rocketed by 50% in their stores in the past 12 months. Explaining this phenomenon, they cite increasing concern for the environment, awareness of social issues and a backlash against the "throwaway society". They need only add the words "credit crunch" to give a complete picture of why sewing has suddenly become popular again. Woolworths has also just reported a similar trend, with sewing-machine sales growing by 258% in the same period. Their explanation? "We think it's down to more home economics classes being taught in school, the increasing popularity of fancy-dress parties and the death of the high-street tailor."

And those figures show that a trend that has been bubbling under for a decade has finally hit the mainstream. The crafting revival began in earnest in 2000, when Debbie Stoller, editor of popular US feminist magazine Bust, took a fresh approach to the traditional skills of knitting and crochet, reinventing them for contemporary crafters. She wrote the knitting book, Stitch and Bitch, and soon groups of the same name were gathering in clubs, bars and cafes across the world to make stuff together. In the UK, other groups started, too, including Knitchiks (, the Cast Off knitting club ( and IknitLondon (

Sunday 27 April 2008

The Thoughtful Dresser: The blog, the book . . .

Oh, look!

So last year

It seems that the term vintage is now out. Replacing it is CCC - credit crunch chic, i.e. wearing clothes you already have instead of buying new ones.

It'll be tough but I plan to be in style, In fact I'm planning to wear, once again, a Zara dress I bought in the summer of 05.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Swing swing swing

Oh, and the pashmina is back, but tied a different way, apparently

Not to be confused with pashminas of yore, which were pretty and pastel and draped across shoulders, mark II is wound round the neck and dangles down the front, school-of-Burberry style, as a deliberate counterpoint to summer’s ultra-feminine ruffles fest. If you’re aiming for androgynous tailoring, the kinda-depressed pashmina will ensure you don’t look too severe. If you’re a celebrity, you could wear one with an evening dress to show you’re cool. Think of it as a new kind of necklace, but only if it helps.

Spurred on by the success of my personal pashmina odyssey these past few months, I’ve been tempted to progress onto other scarves, successful scarf-wearing being the PhD of clothes. Unless you’re Chloë Sevigny, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire, Inès de la Fressange or Marilyn Monroe prancing around nude behind a transparent scarf on a Bert Stern shoot, it’s hard to avoid looking like BA cabin crew. Still, Hermès didn’t get this far with four customers, so there must be a knack. Unfortunately, none of us in the fashion department can identify it. It would appear that on the whole, successful scarf-wearing is an innate talent, like having the ability to bite your toe nails or be French.

I was wearing my Etro scarf to tea with Joan Burstein on Tuesday in exactly this way, and she took it off me and re-tied it. I think it helps to have a long neck

The place Lisa is telling you to buy your pashmina isn't, that doesn't work because it's wrong, but the link at the top of my very page! I'm going there straight away. So should you.

The pendulum swings . . .

Jess in the New Look

I think it was about three years ago that, during a phone conversation with Ian Katz, then the Guardian's features editor, he said to me: 'Black trousers are over.'

Now Mr Katz, since elevated to overall editor of the Saturday edition, while a truly great newspaper editor and the man who rang me up one day and asked me if I'd like to go over to Paris to 'bring back some brainy ruminations on the collections', with his Camper shoes and party shirt, is not the first person I'd turn to to fashion advice. And not the person from whom I'd welcome hearing the news that black trousers were over.

But no, he said, we have a piece from Jess going in. Jess Cartner-Morley is the Guardian's fashion editor and duly, a couple of days later, there it was. Black trousers are finished. How, dear readers, I scoffed. Because the absolute staple of every girl's wardrobe was a pair of perfectly fitting (ha!) black trousers. And one had no idea what one was going to wear instead.

Yet six months later, I realised I hadn't worn a pair of black trousers in months. Something in fashion had shifted and I was going along with it. So for that reason I tend to believe what Jess says. Volume (which she at first called 'poufy') - she announced the arrival of that. And so it went.

But now Jess tells us that black trousers are back.

Pay very careful attention:

This year, the dress is finally losing its hold over fashion. Next season's must-have is not a cocktail dress, but an evening blouse. And now is the time to find the trousers to wear it with.

The new-look trouser sits proudly high on the waist. The slightly slouchy, flat-fronted trouser of five years ago - which British women adored for its its ability to make even pear-shaped hips look boyishly slim - is nowhere to be seen. The new style is more determinedly feminine, with a waistband that is in nodding distance of your actual waist. Think 1977 rather than 1997.

If you haven't gone in for fashion-trousers for a while, the first trying-on session can be a little alarming. The style is lengthening to the leg and rather elegant, but decidedly unforgiving on the waist, hips and tummy. Comrades, do not panic. Wear a blouse or bold T-shirt that draws attention to your top half, rather than a plain vest or knit, so you won't feel quite so self-conscious. And cast your mind back to the first time you wore a pair of skinny jeans - if you managed to reconcile yourself to those in the end, these are going to be a breeze.

No, I didn't manage to . . .

And the time in my life for tucking-in, is over.

Friday 25 April 2008

Heels, the end is nigh

it says here

In recent seasons, high heels have been growing at a staggering rate, with celebrities seemingly daring each other to go higher and higher. Towards the end of 2006, Christian Louboutin and his trademark red soles were regularly name-checked not just in Vogue, but in the tabloid press too. Heel heights became a story in their own right. From Nigella Lawson in her 6in fetish shoes back in 2004, to exacting descriptions of the towering heels Victoria Beckham wore to the Cruise/Holmes "Welcome to LA" party last year, stories are now regularly and spuriously spun around shoes and heel heights. The result being that any two-bit celebrity who wants to be papped now knows that she need only strap on some platform spikes with nosebleed potential and coverage is pretty much guaranteed.

But there are signs that a quiet backlash is beginning. Celebrities who don't want to be associated with a limo lifestyle have turned their back on heels. Indie poster girl Alexa Chung favours Chanel two-tone pumps, and has been seen recently sporting Russell & Bromley schoolgirl loafers. It is a shoe that demands a gamine leg and a well-turned ankle, and as Chung no doubt knows, it is far harder to pull off than no-brainer 7in heels.

Russell & Bromley are quietly chuffed with the success of their Chester loafer, as it is known. "We've had that style for 25 years and it used to be a bit of a mum's shoe, but recently it has become one of our best sellers, and younger customers are buying it," explains a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Lily Allen has freshened up her look with blonde hair and flat pumps, and although Carla-mania was draining, Mme Sarkozy did reawaken our consciousness to the sartorial excellence of flat pumps.

On the high street, which is gearing up for the annual battle of the surprising summer must-have, several flat shoe styles are already in the running. Moccasin shoes are in contention again; this time not boots but slip-ons that are not too dissimilar to Chung's loafers. Gap has already scored a hit with its selection of gladiator sandals designed by French shoe genius Pierre Hardy. Yes, we've seen the shape before, but it is the first time that a designer/high street collaboration has fixated on a simultaneously affordable and flat shoe.

So what of the future for high heels? On the catwalks for next autumn, heels still prevailed, but there were subtle signs that the mood is changing. Alexander McQueen, once a devotee of the super-sized killer stiletto, chose to style the entire second half of his autumn collection with heavily jewelled and perfectly flat slippers. They looked beautiful and if the high street takes his lead, there may well be even more options for those wishing to swerve the heel wars come autumn.

But in the meantime, let's sit back in our new flatties and watch Eva Longoria and the Beso crew, Sarah Harding, Alex Curran et al totter their 7in super-sized heels right over the tipping point into style

What did you wear in the war, Mummy?

Handbag from the V&A's collection, circa 1945

Thursday 24 April 2008

Keef on like . . .

it says here

I wore whatever my mother put me in when I was little. Boring shorts and wee T-shirts. I wore school uniforms. I hated brown shoes. I started dressing up when I had to find what fitted. Fashion thinks more about me than what I think about it. I just wore what I wore and people noticed. The sexiest thing a woman could wear? Being stark f***ing naked.

Show me a woman who is faithful, and I won't believe you.

I don't do underwear. I never do the washing. How would I know whether my clothes stink? I throw them away.

(and so on and so forth)

Wednesday 23 April 2008

A Handbag?

Two views of the bag.



High resolution photography available on request. In studio visit April 25 to 28th can be scheduled early morning or evening by arrangement only please. Onsite interviews and photo opportunity are available at the Expo. Please call for more information.

Contact: Ken Kobrick 888-618-8619 Email:

The best in fashion is now being made with recycled products

New High Fashion Bags Made from Used Truck and Tractor Tire Inner Tubes Unveiled at the Go Green Expo

Richmond, VA (April 22, 2008) – Passchal is making new in-roads to the fashion industry next week with the unveiling of the latest in truly unique, one of a kind new bag specially designed for Dad – they are custom made from recycled tractor tire inner tubes.

“Designed with the environment in mind”, these highly remark-able bags for Dad and baby are exquisitely designed with style and function in mind. To date Passchal has re-used approximately 19 tons of inner tubes that would otherwise be discarded in landfills.

Dimensions are 15" x 20" x 3.5".

“Each bag is original with the markings that come from the factory where the tube was manufactured. Every single one of them is different," said Ken Kobrick co- owner of Passchal.

These bags are the latest in an ever expanding series of designer products Passchal has created using used truck and tractor tire inner tubes.

You can see Passchal at booth 517 at the Go Green Expo April 26-27, 2008 at the Hilton New York, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York City. The Go Green Expo is an open to the public consumer fair that will feature the latest in eco-friendly services and products. The Go Green Expo is the largest eco-friendly conference held to date in New York.

For more information on Passchal handbags visit


Passchal is a Richmond, Virginia based company. All bags and other products are made from recycled truck & tractor tire inner tubes. Passchal fashion bags have appeared in the 2004 Billboard Awards goody bag, 2005 Fashion Week Retreat in New York City, 2006 Extra TV Awards Lounge gift bag for Oscar’s, Rolling Stone magazine to name a few.

Or there is this lengthy debate amongst young mothers about an Anya Hindmarch which, as it happens, I have myself

'Only the rich can afford cheap shoes'

I just wanted you, dear readers, to know that yesterday afternoon I had tea at Claridge's with Joan Burstein, the 81-year-old* founder of the clothes shop Browns (and who gave the teenage Manolo Blahnik his first job). The purpose of this glorious occasion (it's not the first time we've met) was a project which, in the fullness of time, I'll inform you of more fully.

But after finger sandwiches, teeny scones and an I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven little chocolate mousse cake, which we shared (sugar rush!!) she took me back to the shop to see the Autumn press show. Not only so I could see how much tailoring and muted colours we can expect, but also so I could try on, just for my own pleasure, you understand, a pair of £1100 (that's ($2200) pair of Balenciaga shoes, gladiator sandals, apparently.

Except when we got to the shop they had sold out. All gone. For as she explained to me, it didn't matter how expensive the garment, if it was beautiful it WOULD sell. And would sell quicker than things half the price. So now we know.

I did see this stunners from Azzedine Alaia, for 'only' £705, so hurry hurry hurry and get your pair.

* She was wearing blue and black Marni, and carrying a black Fendi python(?) bag, which was five years old.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

The dress not dead after all


Contrary to laws passed two weeks ago by the Grand Fashion Caliph, the dress is to be spared execution before a baying mob of Parisian designers and magazine editors:

Fashion propaganda would have us believe that the dress is dead. As we affirmed last week, full skirts are certainly storming ahead. But as long as there are sunny days (and summer weddings) the chance of a sartorial coup is negligible. The shape that does seem to be slinking away is the smock. There were still permutations of it to be seen on the catwalk, which intimates that it isn't quite dead and buried yet, but for those who prefer a visible waistline this season, there are plenty of fresher alternatives around. Plus, commuters won't feel obliged to give up their seats on the bus for "pregnant" women.

Monday 21 April 2008

Lia does Passover

Top Baby Lia examines matzah

Darling, to die for

A journalist once said to me, apropos of a certain features editor on a paper that shall remain nalmeess, 'X's idea of a perfect story is, Elizabeth Hurley - has she had too much media attention?'

But with interviews like this, what can you do, what can you do?

Hurley herself is apparently looking forward to the moment she never has to pose in a bikini again (although one fashion editor reports, “She is very confident in her body – I turned around and suddenly she was naked”). “Shooting bikinis is now my life, which, as you can imagine, is unmitigated hell,” she says, in her golly-gosh diction, which is peppered with words like “unpleasant-making” and “jolly”. “I can’t think of anything worse in the world than another bikini shoot – and I’ve got two next month. It’s unbearable, and I bring it all on myself. I’ve got nobody else to blame. It’s literallah torture. If you get a photographer you don’t know, of course, you think, ‘Oh God.’ But if you signed on for the gig, sadly, you have to go and be jolly in a skimpy white bikini. So I now rely on nice photographers, and a bit of retouching.”

Ah, yes, digital retouching. “I like a certain amount of retouching, like anybody,” she admits cautiously. “We all like to get rid of spots and shadows under our eyes. I’ve always been quite particular – I don’t like my face to be retouched. Often, people will want to correct one’s face, and with me, they always want to change my nose” – she squishes it – “and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, I can’t look like that. I don’t mind if you want to make me a bit thinner and a bit younger, but you can’t give me a different jaw or eyebrows.’ But the vanity retouching – well, who wouldn’t?”

Hilariously, Hurley’s retouching habit extends to her holiday photos. “I don’t have professional Photoshop, just the one that comes with your camera,” she says. “Every time I download my holiday snaps” – she lowers her voice for effect – “I always go over them. Just the red eye and colour enhancement. I don’t do any slimming, because you need a silly programme, but the colour enhancing is heaven.”

Sunday 20 April 2008

Who needs a surgeon to look good?

. . . asks the Observer.

My own observation is that a combination of the best hairdressing you can't afford, adroitly applied make-up and a really good skincare regime, will take you very far. But mainly the hairdressing.

Not made in China

Meanwhile, as the Olympic torch makes its way to Beijing (is it there yet?) the sight of the Tibetan protesters may make some of us think twice about buying Chinese-made clothes. the US has a made in America label, we have no such thing. One journalist set out to kit herself out in British clothes, and discovered it can only be done at the high end:

But how to buy non-Chinese sourced products when labelling regulations have become so lax? The answer is, you can't - not if you're shopping the high street. I set myself the task of researching the radical, hard-to-find alternative: a top-to-toe shopping list of fashion products made in a little country with a democratic political system, a minimum wage and iron employment laws. I speak, of course, of the exotic UK. And as it turns out, pockets of high-end, great quality, brilliantly designed manufacture still exist here.

A shining example is Margaret Howell, whose Wigmore Street shop (a haven of civilised English aesthetics) sells British-made white shirts which are the closest to the ideal that I've discovered. For fine summer sweaters, there's John Smedley, whose Sea Island cotton knits are made in Matlock, Derbyshire. Meanwhile, 65 per cent of Mulberry's bags are handmade in its Somerset factory.

Young British designers are also finding ways to craft at least part of their collections in Britain. Johnston's of Elgin makes all of Christopher Kane's cashmeres, including this summer's smash-hit biker jacket. The original Mackintosh (also Scottish) produces Erdem's raincoats, and Marios Schwab achieves the architecture of his sculptural designs in London factories.

For shoes, there's Georgina Goodman's Made in Mayfair collection. To complete a 100 per cent British-made wardrobe, it's even possible to find underwear. Buttress & Snatch, a vintage-haberdashery-trimmed collection swings a tag that reads "Handmade in Hackney by Honest, Hardworking Girls".

Our sponsor says . . . nothing

The BBC has launched an on-line ethical fashion magazine, called Thread. It's a very interesting enterprise for our national, state-owned broadcaster, which is paid for through direct taxation. The BBC is prohibited from taking advertising, which will make this possibly the only fashion magazine free from commercial interest. It's produced by BBC Learning and aimed at 16-30 year-olds, I assume on the prniciple of get 'em while their still young and don't have ingrained shopping habits. One of my beefs about ethical clothes is that they still haven't evolved into grown-up work-wear and seem either anti-fashion (the lumpy oatmeal linen dress) or young, multi-coloured, hip and ethnic. Perhaps the generation that demands ethical dress now will go on doing so when they hit 40.

Some extracts:

High street names such as Monsoon, Marks and Spencer and Next are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, Members agree to a code of practice that covers basic workers' rights. It looks at hours worked, wages, health and safety and child labour. Members work with the factories they use to achieve improvements each year.

But one of the challenges that fashion companies cite is monitoring working conditions across a complex supply chain – raw cotton from India may be woven in Bangladesh, while buttons and zips may come from China. It can be difficult to ensure working conditions are fair in factories thousands of miles away.


It used to be relatively easy to spot guilt-free garb whether it was fairly traded or organic. It was dull stuff – the designs and colours didn’t exactly leap out at you. While perfectly decent clothing, it wasn’t high fashion and you wouldn’t find it on the catwalks or in glossy magazines.

All this is changing. Eco fashion is getting bolder and brighter. Gone are the dull, oatmeal-coloured tunics from the 1990s - think luminous red shift dresses from designer Viridis Luxe and clashing bright fabric skirts, stitched together by recycling enthusiasts From Somewhere.

As this summer’s fashion moves to bold, tribal patterns and fluro colours, ethical fashion has much to offer. Use our Style File to kick start your new look – experiment with stripes, branch out into boho or add a hint of tribal.

Saturday 19 April 2008

And the new It bag is . . .

That is correct, born in February 1955, the Chanel 2.55 is the latest It bag, according to Lisa Armstrong, who knows. Though she doesn't call it an It bag, because It bags are just so 2007.

I have been obsessing about the Chanel 2.55 for months, and in this I cannot claim any originality. Every other fashion type is now carrying or lusting after one. It’s just that it’s small, can be slung across the body and no one’s calling it an It bag, because It bags are very 2007.

Friday 18 April 2008

Clarins Beauty Flash Balm - what?

In the comments Anonymous writes:

In response to annonymous's problem of grey olive skin in winter, I have used for many years Clarins Beauty Flash Balm (Eclat de Beaute) every morning over moisturiser. It is a lovely peachy colour in the tube and a very light application gives a dewy glow as if you've just come in from a blowy walk along the seashore. It suits my Anglo Italian complexion perfectly and avoids any need for foundation or powder, thus allowing the scrubbed French look you mention. I'm sure you will not be disappointed.

I find these comments baffling. I have tried Beauty Flash Balm and have never noticed a blind bit of difference, whether under or foundation, or without it. As for it obviating the need for foundation, ha! I am convinced that this must work for some types of skin, but not others, because I have repeatedly had this conversation with the many members of the League of the Beauty Flash Balm Mystified.

Power dressing invented

I was not a fan, to put it mildly, but here is a somewhat interesting piece on Mrs T's clothes, claiming that she pioneered power dressing. It's interesting to speculate on what she would have worn had she been PM in a later or earlier decade

Marianne Abrahams, then design director of Aquascutum, which made most of her clothes, said at the time: "She knows precisely what she wants and she's particular about the fit of the shoulders."

Those "power shoulders" typified her style as much as the omnipresent pearls and round-toed Ferragamo court shoes with stout 3cm heels. The tailored jacket and skirt was often in navy or sapphire - her favourite, "my party's colour". But she liked to vary the diet with forays into fuchsia or cerise.

Her suits were in good, serviceable British cloth, checked tweed or a gleaming brocade; indeed, any fabric was welcome as long as it did not wrinkle, because of the amount she travelled. She once said she found suits more practical than ball-gowns.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Can you be a feminist and like Sex and the City?

. . . asks the Guardian.

I'm a feminist and I already have a date with one of my brainiest female friends to go and see the movie when it opens. Nonetheless, some interesting points:

"It does make for quite uncomfortable viewing," says Professor Imelda Whelehan of De Montfort University, author of The Feminist Bestseller: From Sex and the Single Girl to Sex and the City. "How do we respect her? And Mr Big is such an interesting element. Even his name is masculine. He is like this phallus at the centre of it all."

SATC brought us the Fendi baguette, which I still defiantly use (one in red, one in purple suede) the perfect party bag which sits on the shoulder and under the arm,

but it also brought us these, which though they look fabulous require us to marry Prince Moneybags, because you can't wear them to walk down the street to use public transport.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Compact foundation

The compact foundation to which Mary refers, is Chanel Teint Innocence. She wears it, and now I wear it. I have pale skin and the colour I use is 20 Clair. You can buy refills.

Monday 14 April 2008

Mary replies

Here are Mary's responses to your questions. Check back in a month and we'll do another.

1. How the hell do I apply eye make up now that I need [strong] reading glasses? I've tried all sorts of things, from glasses with one lens that flips from side to side, to a magnifying mirror, but they are all bloody impossible. You either have to keep one eye shut (try it), or the glasses get in the way, or only a tiny portion of you is in focus, and distorted at that. I’m reduced to just wearing lipstick. Which is OK, but just sometimes I'd like to go all out!

Mary: The only way you can see anything is to get a really good magnifying mirror that is well-lit. It should be of the highest quality , and if you can afford it, get one with different light settings. [Note: I bought a light up magnifying mirror made by Revlon with three different light settings, it made a huge difference. LG]

2. I've reached an age when my paling complexion looks grayish, but I am allergic to almost all fluid foundations. That has left me using mineral foundation and it's not good enough. I used to use AgnesB tinted moisturizer, which I could tolerate and then it just disappeared so that I couldn't even order it from the
US. My skin is very well cared for inside and out, it just is not colored enough and I look tired. What are some ideas for counteracting it?

Mary: Try compact foundations which are a very different formula to liquid. They sit on your skin more than liquid. Chanel does a very good one. If you want to look young and healthy you'll need bronzer and brusher, or even self-tanner. Mineral powders are not good enough but they're a very quick, out-the-door process.

3. There are conflicting reports about make-up suitable for an 'ageing' skin. What exactly should a woman of 56 put on her face and what should she leave off to stop her looking like a fright?

Mary: No-on should think of having ageing skin until after 60. It's application rather than what is applied, it's not about what, it's about how. If you feel you're looking a fright you probably are but what does fright mean to you? What point are you in your make-up regime? There is a time at any age when you can do too much, too much blush will make anyone look like Baby Jane. Don't use completely matte eyeshadows because they kill a lot of the natural glow of the lid and keep most of the colour on top, always think up, rather than down, smoky lids will make you look tired. Don't put your blush too far down.

4.Does there a come a point in a woman's life when she should stop wearing black mascara? I'm in my early forties with fair skin and highlighted hair, is it time to switch to dark brown mascara?

Mary: No. There are no age rules. If you don't like black mascara, don't use it. Or try brown and see if it looks better.

5. I am 47 and always troubled by how foundation (I use Stila or Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer)always highlights my dry flaky spots and recovering blemishes. Scrubs still leave those "edges" behind.

Mary: It sounds like you haven't found the right skin-care regime for your skin. It might mean a visit to a skin doctor.

6. Due to a very mild case of Rosacea in the past, the pores on my nose are quite large and I have slight ruddiness of the nose and chin area which I feel the need to cover with foundation. I have tried Dermablend, etc. but end up with a nose that looks like an orange peel with the foundation settling into the large pores. La Roche Posay liquid foundation applied with a wet sponge goes on fine and I cover with powder to set but the coverage is a bit thin. I have tried so many foundations in the past, there must be a trick to it that I am missing?

Mary: Compact foundation is much easier when you have big pores and using powder creates the illusion of closed pores. Also try a pore minimiser. Estee Lauder does a good one.

7. My question is this: Are bronzers really worth it? Even with pale, large-pored skin?

Mary: The size of your pures has nothing to do with bronzers. Yes, wear it if you like to look slightly more tanned and healthy. If you like looking pale, don't. You can rub it in like a self-tanner. It's simply to give you a little more freshness. It shouldn't show. It should show even less than your blush. Blush, bronzers and foundation should never show, they're there to create an illusion.

8. Is there an under-eye concealer you'd recommend that doesn't look cake-y once dry? I'm getting that crepey skin around my eyes and don't want to emphasize it.

Mary: Very tricky. What I use on everyone’s skin, including my own, is either Dior Skin Flash or Issima Precious Light by Guerlain. These are the alternatives to Touche Eclat, they lift the area under the eye. The way to apply is to put much too much on your eye, then you need to let it sit for 30 seconds and pat it in, not rub it in because that will be rubbing it off. Never put foundation under the eyes.

9. What is the best way to deal with downy white hair on the face? You know, the noticeable kind.

Mary: I think it can look rather sweet, like a peach, and we should get over it. But if you really don’t like it, see a dermatologist.

10. Can you recommend a hypo-allergenic sunscreen for the face? I use Clinique, but would like to find something to alternate with it. (Even the Clinique starts irritating and I have to leave off sunscreen for a few days. I do wear a big hat!)

Le Roche Posay or Sisley.

11. What's the best way to keep my lipstick from bleeding?

Mary: Don't use lipgloss. Use a lipstick with a thicker consistency. Old fashioned lip-liners do help, use a lip-liner then fill in the dewiness with lipstick, keeping the outside line quite dry. Some brands are better than others, such as Chanel or Dior. Spending money on lipstick becomes more and more important as we get older. You really can't get away with cheap lipstick.

12. What foundation would you recommend for dark south Asian skin?

Mary: Nars, who made colours for Naomi Campbell, and Bobbi Brown. Both have modern textures.

13. Are all the chemicals we put on our skin everyday doing us more harm than good - aren't we eating a pound of lipstick a year or something? Joking aside, are the so called natural or organic cosmetics such as Dr Haushka and Lavera any better?

Mary: I doubt it. Organic make-up isn't half as good as the main lines.

14. Hello from Australia. I am now in my late 40s and having grown up in the subtropics hatless with endless sun I now have sun damage. On my neck it is evident as broken capillaries, large patches on each side. I currently leave it be. Is there a foundation or product I can use to help disguise the area without looking obvious.

Mary: Blend the foundation down your neck

15. A question for Mary: what does she think of mineral foundations and what kind of coverage do they give?

Mary: They are quick and easy to use once you've learned how to use them. The colours are true, but you will never have the same coverage liquid or compact foundations.

16. I keep seeing recommendations to exfoliate daily, but I'm not sure what sort of products to use. What do you recommend for a fifty+ fair skinned, freckly redhead with super sensitive skin?

Mary: Over 50, only twice a week. You need to remove the layer of old skin for a natural glow. Use a gentle scrub and don't rub.

17. I always had small eyes, and now that I have reached a certain age, my eyelids have totally disappeared. Should I just abandon eye shadow?

Mary: It depends if your eyes are very dark, you might have some intensity in your eye colour but if but if your eyes are pale blue you need something to give your eyes some colour.

18. One more - does Mary agree with Charla Krupp that we women over 40 should stick with sheer, pink lip stick or gloss?

Mary: 40 isn't old, for godsake. I hate sheer lipsticks, absolutely not. I can't think of anything more ageing. There is a time, between 45 and 55 when your body is going through a lot of emotional and physical changes and you can't wear red lipstick because it reminds you of what's happening to your body, but at 64 you stop caring and you can go back to red lipstick. As for pink, I like more sultry colours. Pink lipstick is very unsexy.

Nothing to wear

There seems to be a problem with British women finding anything they can wear when they enter the highest echelons of management. One executive had to start designing the clothes herself:

“I hate that asexual look – that middle of the road at Morgan Stanley style. I like a double-platform shoe,” she says, looking down at her Louboutins. “You can run to meetings in them, they’re comfy . . .” At 29, Paterson Smith, a state-school-educated girl who can pitch in three different languages, runs sales and marketing in the UK for hedge-fund products at Rothschild. The more successful she has become, the more flamboyantly she dresses. “I enjoy my clothes now, instead of wearing them as armour,” she says. But it was only when she got together with Starkey that she found the right grey pinstripe to wear with baby blue. “I’d been looking for eight years.”

A Lintner or Starkey design never leaves room for the sort of wardrobe malfunction Paterson Smith suffered on her first day in a new job. She stalked into the office wearing a cream Alexander McQueen suit, with a zip up the back, which undid itself to reveal an embarrassing expanse of executive thigh and caused a riot of internal e-mail banter for days afterwards.

Even though there is room for McQueen – and Pucci, Issa, Dolce & Gabbana and Temperley – in Paterson Smith’s work wardrobe, she says that most seasons, when she browses, her heart sinks. “Smocks? All I thought then was, ‘What the hell am I going to wear?’ That season it was Michael Kors, Celine and Kate,” she says, looking fondly at her saviour


Saturday 12 April 2008

Couple arguing (with hands)

sound is essential for this one

Amos Oz says one should not ask a writer if a work is autobiographical about him, but whether it is autobiographical about you. Here I see my inner Sid Caesar. Not so inner.

A Marshall Plan for America

Well, we have waited sixty years to make some recompense for American's contribution to defeating fascism in Europe in WWII and now, at last, we have our chance. America, Britain is coming to the rescue:

"The British are the new Japanese, and New York is the new Italy - the place to come to stock up on designer clothes," says Raegan Morgan, sales specialist at Diane von Furstenberg. "We opened our downtown store in May and, particularly since September, we've been inundated with European visitors. The British especially really load up the dressing rooms."

It is a bit like a United Nations effort to give funds to a developing country, but with more of an emphasis on Ralph Lauren and Levi's. And in truth, this analogy can be read with something akin to literalism: as Americans, beaten into consumer timidity by daily warnings about their dying economy, increasingly forgo $300 (£150) dresses and a 17th pair of jeans, US retailers are increasingly relying on British tourists' money.

"If we had to depend on custom from New Yorkers, it would be difficult," says Morgan. The store manager at a well-known American high street store that asked not to be named admitted, "We all thank God for the 'two-bag Brits'," referring to the British practice of bringing two suitcases on their New York trips - one packed with clothes to wear, and a spare to bring back all the extras they will buy. Chris Heywood, spokesman for NYC & Company, the official marketing and tourism organisation for New York, is more blunt about how crucial the British pound has become: "British tourism is absolutely essential to the city's economy."

Friday 11 April 2008

The tyranny of beauty

Lunching with Mary Greenwell yesterday I heard that there is no longer any reality in magazines. There are no photographs, apart from paparazzi ones, that are not airbrushed and photoshopped. No-one hasn't had botox, fillers, at the very least. This means that the (apparent) gap between what we look like and that the celebs look like gets wider every day. Born beautiful, they appear not to age.

Here's Lisa Armstrong in the Times yesterday talking about our lookist society:

One only has to see the Daily Mail's “Woman in parka shocker!” caption that accompanied a picture of Tessa Jowell on Monday to see how applying exacting sartorial standards across the board has become a habit. It's one thing to hold Madonna or Kate Moss up to scrutiny, or even to have fun with Carla Bruni, who is playing up to her new role sensationally - as befits a former supermodel. Inevitably, Sarah Brown got swept up in the forensic dissection of the French First Lady's outfits - and (hands up) The Times, along with other papers, ran unfavourable comments on the former's appearance. The entire female flank of the French Cabinet has recently had their wardrobes pored over as if they were auditioning to fill in for Cate Blanchett on the red carpet while she takes a spot of maternity leave.

In fairness, some of them looked as though they were auditioning. What's puzzling is the derisory tone of some of the commentary and the degree to which jibes about a woman's taste in footwear become a form of covert sniping about her character (the derision, by the way, doesn't generally come from fashion writers). Increasingly, looks are used to define women who never set out to compete by those rules.

“The fact that women are seemingly colluding doesn't make it harmless,” argues Sheila Jeffreys, the feminist author of Beauty And Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West. “Sitting around bitching about how bad other women look won't ultimately make you feel better. Today's emphasis on looks - and the scorn heaped on anyone who doesn't conform - is incredibly unhealthy because it normalises painful and sometimes dangerous cosmetic procedures, promotes uncomfortable and immobilising clothes, fosters an epidemic of eating disorders and creates a tyranny of youth, under which no one is allowed to age.

“The principles of beauty have always been part of the mating ritual, but they're now routinely practised in the workplace. We're seeing that, even in politics, women are required to look a certain way: high heels, tighter-fitting clothes, lipstick. It's a free world, but in reality there's very little choice involved. There's virtually no challenge to the wall of thin, youthful images. The definition of what's attractive is becoming narrower.”

And while Western women are under pressure to show more and more of their bodies, Muslim women are increasingly veiling themselves. “It's a different manifestation of the same condition. I don't see either as empowering,” says Jeffreys.

Therein lies what seems to be the mother of paradoxes. More than 30 years after bra-burning and lipstick-abstaining, most Western women earn their own money, many work in worlds previously closed to them and a few occupy the top slots. Male babies outnumber females by 104 to 100 - so in theory women have never been more powerful. So why perpetuate, and even inflate, criteria that seem more relevant to women living in a harem?

Thursday 10 April 2008

Mary replies Tuesday

I had lunch today with Mary Greenwell and she has incredibly generously agreed to respond to as many of your questions as she has actual answers for.

We will be working on the responses on Monday and I will post them on Tuesday.

The ethical handbag

I don't claim to go out of my way to buy ethically, though I won't buy very cheap and I won't buy faked, but the Guardian today has a gallery of ethical handbags. This one is made in Cambodia out of scraps that would be thrown away onto landfill sites. It costs only £45 from
By La Vie Devant Soie and you can buy it online at

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Reuters interview

I was interviewed six weeks ago in Singapore, and finally here it is

Q: Do you think women understand the psychology of clothes better than men?

A: "It's very rare to come across women who say I don't care what I wear and what I look like. And I think even when they say that they don't mean it. Or what they mean is they've given up, they just don't think they can find anything that suits them.

I've watched with great interest the psychology of these makeover shows, (such as) Trinny and Susannah, and how very much those women want to be transformed. They want to look in the mirror and think they look the best that they can look. They understand how very well clothes can transform you... I think women get and understand what I'm trying to say about clothes, on a deeper level."

Hilary Alexander explains Jaeger

It was at the V&A's 150th birthday party that I saw Hilary Alexander looking incredibly chic in a MaxMara jacket and Jaeger dress that finally sent me down to Regent Streret to take a look.

Here she is, on video, talking through the store's makeover

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Robert Clergerie

not the ones I bought

I finally broke down yesterday and went to the Robert Clergerie shop on Wimpole Street, at the top of St Christopher's Place. Top Baby Lia's mother, Ruth, was quite right, they're fantastic, the best shoes for wide feet. And very expensive, but what can you do?

To go into a shop and say, what lovely shoes, can I try these, and they say yes, and yes we have them in your size, and yes, look they fit, and yes, they are comfortable, and yes, I can walk in them and as Molly Bloom would say, yes yes yes yes, and so it's over to the cash register and out with the Amex and yes.

Put out the black flags

The Times tells us it's the end of the dress. Instead we have to wear short, highwaisted skirts, with tops tucked in and skyscraper heels.

Yeah, right.

Monday 7 April 2008

Ask Mary: An occasional series begins

Mary Greenwell , make-up artist to Uma Thurman, Cate Blanchet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightly, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen and who began her career in Paris in the 80s working with Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, Tatiana Patitz, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford (enough already! do you want to make us feel totally insecure?) has graciously agreed to take occasional make-up and beauty queries from Thoughtful Dresser readers..

To kick off, I asked her if it was necessary to wear primer under foundation, what it did and which one she would recommend.

Here's her answer

I would rather someone spent the money on something MORE BENEFICIAL.
Yes, the primer will prep the skin but is unnecessary if the skin is cleansed, exfoliated, and moisturized properly. Daily maintenance of a good skin regime is the best primer. A bit like going to the gym, as then you do not need to wear support and lifting knickers and tights (maybe).

If you decide to opt for the primer route, go for Laura Mercier or Chanel.

If you'd like to post your questions to Mary, bang 'em out in the comments below and I'll pick the best (or most popular) ones and pass them on for her consideration.

Remember, this is like asking Einstein for help with your maths homework.

Re comments below - the make-up look we'd prefer to avoid

Sunday 6 April 2008

The Polish au pair

I've just come back from the Oxford Literary Festival the highlight of which was a session this morning with Tom Stoppard.

He brilliantly described the process of writing as going to bed at night thinking that your day's work was 'really okay' then waking the next morning, re-reading it, and discovering that 'the Polish au pair has re-written it in the night.

A couple of weeks ago, in article about 1968, he observed:

A small incident which must have confirmed some people’s worst suspicions about me occurred when I was asked to sign a protest against “censorship” after a newspaper declined to publish somebody’s manifesto. “But that isn’t censorship,” I said. “That’s editing. In Russia you go to prison for possessing a copy of Animal Farm. That’s censorship.”

I was introduced to him at a party at lunchtime. He congratulated me on being long-listed for the Orange Prize. I feel certain someone must have put him up to this, but still, it's as good as actually winning the prize (apart, of course from the cheque.)

Saturday 5 April 2008

How to team black and blue

Apparently I'm in the groove because I have a couple of dark blue coats, one Cos one from the Jean Muir closing down sale, which I wear with LBDs and black patent shoes

Here's Jess on how to put it together:

Wearing blue and black together takes a bit of getting used to. It's a combination that is neither all-out moody, like black and grey, nor straight-up chipper, like blue with white, but betwixt and between, like a shadow on a sunny day. Handy for days that are neither red-letter, nor a washout, but somewhere in the middle.

However, done badly, black and blue looks like a cheap-trying-to-be-cheerful school or checkout uniform. Be aware of this pitfall in daywear - a boxy navy blazer and straight black skirt, for instance, are to be avoided. To give this particular danger a wide berth, you need to add to the mix something out of the workaday: a slinky fabric, a spot of sharp tailoring, foxy shoes, whatever. It is tempting to opt for baby blue rather than bright blue with black, because it seems like a softer combination, but that looks like business wear. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not fashion, darling.

Ask Mary

Monday brings a brand new occasional series to The Thoughtful Dresser. I have secured the series of make-up goddess Mary Greenwell who will be asking readers' questions about make-up and beauty.

Who she, again? That would be Mary Greenwell whose celebrity clients include Uma Thurman, Cate Blanchet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightly, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen. Who began her career in Paris in the 80s working with Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, Tatiana Patitz, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford. By 1985 she was working for all five Vogues on a weekly basis and created the no make-up look we all work so hard to achieve. Today she runs a course where for £1000 you will be taught how to do your own make-up. Though I hit make-up heaven last year when I met her at a party and she invited me to come and sit on the sofa while she redid my face, and sent me off for a whole new kit.

Check back on Monday when Mary will answer the question I posed to her yesterday afternoon, and you'll have a chance to ask your own, and I'll pick the best ones and put them to her.

Friday 4 April 2008

Who wrote this?

The Court of Appeal decides

I was 16 in the summer this was released, and no other song can take me straight back to that time and give me goose bumps, as if I were time travelling

A few, banal little clouds

Belatedly I have discovered that the Guardian's excellent art critic Adrian Searle has been doing a series of podcasts in which he talks about art works. Here he is describing John Davies' photo of the Trafford Centre, in which you will hear a human voice studying an art work and seeing what amateurs like ourselves usually miss.

Mary goes shopping

Readers with long memories may remember the Christmas party I went to when Kate Moss's make-up artist Mary Greenwell said that if I came and sat down on the sofa she'd re-do my make-up. Here is Mary in the Guardian today on her life in shopping,


What do you take in your makeup bag when you travel?

A La Prairie moisturiser, a Chanel Silhouette lipstick, a Sisley mascara and a Guerlain bronzer and concealer. With those things, you'll always look made up.

It's not the ooh-la-la factor

Rachida Dati, France's Justice Minister

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about why French women are like that and not like this.

The following, in my view, nails it:

For many sociocultural reasons there has always been more complicity between men and women in France than in Anglo-Saxon cultures, and that complicity breeds a different kind of woman. This is at the heart of fascination with French women. Franco-American actress Charlotte Rampling once said that "French women have been made beautiful by French people. They're very aware of their bodies, the way they move and speak; they are very confident of their sexuality."

My cousin's French partner would be shocked if he did not, at home at the weekend, sit down to a three course lunch on Saturday with napkins in napkin holders and a glass of excellent wine. And shocked if my cousin was not always beautifully dressed.

Thursday 3 April 2008

When to keep your clothes on

courtesy of Norm, from the NY Times

Let’s face it — this may be a gender issue. Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who’d throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.) After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction. “It’s really great if you find a guy that reads, period,” said Beverly West, an author of “Bibliotherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Books for Every Phase of Our Lives.” Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site, agrees. “Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,” she said, but “now that you mention it, if I went over to a man’s house and there were those books about life’s lessons learned from dogs, I would probably keep my clothes on.”

It isn't autobiographical

From today's Guardian

I have just published another novel, The Clothes on Their Backs. And once more: I am not the child of timid Hungarian refugees, nor have I ever had a slum-landlord uncle. I did not grow up in a mansion block off Marylebone High Street. None of my relatives were survivors of second world war slave labour units. I did not have an early marriage that ended in disaster on the honeymoon. I am not a widow; I don't have two daughters. It is all a tissue of lies and invention.

More than a decade ago, a literary editor sent me to interview the Irish novelist John McGahern, whose book The Dark was about sexual abuse. McGahern met me at the station and took me to his farmhouse in Leitrim. We sat outside on the porch before dinner and talked about writing. He discussed the function of the precise placing of the paragraph break. He described it as, "like tact, in conversation". When I got back to London, the literary editor said, "Didn't you ask him if he was abused?" I had finished the novel on the train to Leitrim, my heart hammering like an iron clapper against the ribs, and what the hell difference would it have made to me to know that sometime in the 40s the author had been fiddled with by his old dad? For such knowledge is the business of the peeping tom who looks through the cracks in drawn curtains at other people's privacy.

And why my intense irritation at this persistent, boring and inane insistence that fiction must be autobiographical? Because it reduces the imagination to material for journalism; it takes an axe to fiction. Such journalism tells me of the reading public's growing fascination with what it considers to be the authentic, the "misery memoir". Is the imagination now regarded as "spin"? For writers of fiction are what they are: those who make things up, who exaggerate, who cannot be trusted with the facts, whose inner world is more realistic than the one outside the window.