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

Thursday 31 July 2008

Misogyny defined

. . . one of the great rhetorical tricks of patriarchy, which is to define women’s value in terms of appearance, and simultaneously to define appearance as something so utterly trivial that only completely shallow and useless creatures — like, say, women! — would care about it.

writes Kate Harding,

A fashion resurrected

Looking for something to wear last night to go out to dinner on a hot night, I glanced once more at a very beautiful sea green long dress I have had since 1999 for godsake. Long has been out of style for fashion decades, even fashion centuries. I could still wear that dress, but where to? As Lisa Armstrong points out,

For years now we've all been wearing short cocktail dresses in the evening, on the assumption that only Swedish royalty and Oscar nominees still wear long.
But the return of the maxi dress may presage the return of long. Here's how to do it:

Where the maxi dress blazed a trail, the long dress now floats along in reflected glory. Far from looking stiff and formal, the long dresses that guests wore at the Wood-Macdonald wedding looked fresh and uncontrived. Suddenly, asking friends if they are going long or short for an event sounds like a sensible question rather than satire. After years of being force fed acres of over-bronzed, over-plucked, overexposed, punishingly high-maintenance flesh, covering up looks neither oppressive nor puritanical, but chic and - paradoxically - simple.

Inevitably, there are a few tricks to making it all look effortless. Pale colours are fine, but not sickly pastels. Dirty pinks, faded greens or a retro print are the ideal. The right kind of cover-up is another trigger to achieving the desired effect - nothing too bulky, or too coat-like. A vintagey lacy cardigan is a sweet option, but a velvet wrap or a pashmina works too. Outsize shoulder bags are hopeless - this is a look made for clutches, or something antique on a chain. Hair should be simple and uncontrived - a loose ponytail or chignon would work well, the better to show off those big dangly earrings. Shoes don't have to be clumpy or aggressive-looking, although a platform keeps the look from being too early-Nineties.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

How to get Kissed

The papers today are full of a new line of make-up for men. Predictably, they're not keen. Harry has not yet advanced beyond the soap and water stage of metrosexuality and was horrified at the price of a Boots sunscreen. £10!!!

Guyliner, a £6.50 kohl pencil, will be in stores this week, closely followed by Manscara, a clear gel for lashes and brows. If they sell well, a lip balm and cover-up will follow.

But are Britain's men ready to start the day by enhancing their eyes or concealing their bags? Not according to 17-year-old Damon Aston, a jeweller from Watford, who agreed to try Guyliner, but couldn't wait to get it off. "I would never wear it. It's not manly, it's just gimpy. I'm not that kind of boy. I don't think girls would like it. It depends on the girl, but not the ones who like proper boys," he insisted.

Barry, who runs a London market stall selling cosmetics, agreed. "I don't know anyone who would wear it. I heard Jean Paul Gaultier is selling lip balm, but it's not for me. I don't think I could sell it on my stall."

Bill Jones, who works as a French polisher, said that his partner might like him to wear it, but he refused to try it on. "It takes too much time to do when you are going out and when you get to my age the less you look in the mirror the better," he said. "She might like it and think it makes me look better, but I'd only try it in the bedroom."

However, financial assistant Iain Robertson disagreed. "It looks good. I think most men are a bit metrosexual these days. It's just makeup and women may traditionally buy it, but it's not set in stone. You could be in the office with a hangover and cover it up with concealer."

After struggling to apply it, drama students Andrew Bate and Tom Done were pleased with the way the Guyliner brought out their eyes. "I would wear it to some events," Tom said. "But I wouldn't wear it to work or to have a pint with my dad."

Tattooist Graham Carlton, 45, admitted he was no stranger to makeup: "I wore it many times when I was growing up in the 80s with the New Romantic scene. It was almost a uniform and the girls liked it. I don't think it would have the same effect now - I have gained 4st and 30 years so I'm guessing I would look like Danny La Rue."

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Such a perfect day . . .

It is lovely when you are longlisted for a major literary prize and people send you flowers. But Anya Hindmarch sent me this.

And a very nice email.

Booker Prize longlist

Man Booker 2008 longlist

The ‘Man Booker Dozen’ 2007

The longlist for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced on Tuesday 29 July 2008.

A biography and synopsis for each title will follow on shortly

Judith Krantz remembered

I'm researching a piece on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Judith Krantz's first novel, Scruples. Do any of you have any opinions about her, as a very early chick-lit writer?

Mutton dressed as lad

In the piece Harry links to, there is the following observation:

"I'm not sure our readers are clinging to their youth," says David Hepworth, co-founder of The Word with Mark Ellen. "The point is, they don't believe they've ever got old. They'll do what they like until they fall down. Women, for all sorts of body clock reasons, always know exactly how old they are; but men, in their own heads, are perennially 37. What's more, they're blessed with a magical ability to look in the mirror and disregard all the evidence to the contrary."

Monday 28 July 2008

Is Harry a Groovy Old Man?

In today's Independent John Walsh casts a spotlight over what, as far as I am aware, has been a previously unidentified cultural demographic.
As he says mid-way through the article:
'The Groovy Old Men' started out as the children of post-war rock'n'roll, growing up in the forties, fifties, and sixties. They're probably the most fortunate generation in history. Lucky to have missed the war, most of them also missed rationing, national service, and austerity. But they witnessed the initial stirrings of rock music-Elvis, Bill Haley, Cliff (?) Buddy -the benefits of the pill, the apotheosis of the teenager, the rise of satire, the counterculture, the expansion of screen -based culture into the global village, the first wave of computers....No wonder Groovy Young Men turned out the way they did.' ( read full article here)

Well, apart from the absence of any mention of the Grateful Dead , recreational drugs , and tab-collar shirts, do I see myself reflected in this definition? Well, truth to say, yes. I have an i-pod, I go to the gym, and I did go to the Latitude Festival with my sons last year ( but not this year because I thought the music line-up was dull).
As for the other observations that Mr Walsh enumerates: they are well made and we get the picture- it all serves pretty well as a journalistic approximation.
But what reading this rather engaging article on- line won't show you is two things. Firstly the pleasing absence of any photo of the ghastly ego on legs that is Mick Jagger. It's about time that he wasn't trotted out as the icon of our generation. He never was. In Harry's opinion he is a shallow show-business construct of his own making, and he fronts his own tribute band. Which is sad , rather than impressive.
Instead the article in the paper is pleasingly illustrated with photos of Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, and Paul Smith, amongst others. Each, in their own way, with an admirable degree of style, and, I would surmise, a mature and idiosyncratic take on, well, getting older.

Harry Goes To Paris

Just for three days. But time enough for art, shopping, dining, and good conversation.

My very urbane and charming host James suggested either the Richard Avedon or Annie Liebowitz exhibitions currently on in Paris.
I plumped for the Avedon. I had had a dose of Ms Liebowitz at the Vanity Fair show at London's National Portrait Gallery earlier in the year. There is only so much contrived celebration of celebrity one can take I feel.
The Avedon was splendid.Of course much of his early fashion work was located in 50's Paris. And very captivating it was. But the aesthetics and glamour of the fashion work were pleasingly juxtaposed against the later, mesmerising, portraits. Samuel Beckett in Paris, the Beatles caught in that moment when they were growing from boys to men. And the Monroe shot. How over-played and overused her image has become. But here was one I had not seen before, almost without artifice, finally looking like a real person.
In the last room there were just shots of real people. Some of the current dispossessed of the USA. A memorable show.
The only disappointment was that they had made the wrong choice in terms of the show poster. It's always good to finish a cultural expedition with some shopping.

How to tie your hijab this season

I have long thought that organised religion and fashion were deadly enemies, and I thought this despite the fact that in my childhood, Autumn and Spring were the times when you hit the shops so you could join the fashion parade in the ladies' gallery of our synagogue for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Passover. While the men below prayed, the women cast a critical eye over each other's outfits. Evidently, God was a keen fashionista if he judged whse name was to be written down in the book of life and whose in the book of death by whether we had a Chanel bag with a chain handle.

It has slowly been sinking in that the Muslim woman who ties a headscarf across her hair might not been the downtrodden slave of misogynist fundamentalism that the panicky first believed. The scarf, or hijab, is now a hot fashion accessory amongst young Muslim women. How have I come about such a realisation? Looking at salesgirls in London. At the stunning women whose carefully put together outfit checks this season plus an artfully tied hijab on top:

Jana Kossaibati, whose blog, Hijab Style, claims to be the UK's first style guide for Muslim women, says women are getting more experimental. "Muslim girls are very conscious of the way they dress. When you wear a headscarf you stand out as a Muslim, so what kind of message are you also sending out if you look drab or messy?" Kossaibati started her site because there wasn't another like it in the UK, "but since it began 10 months ago a lot of others have appeared," she says.

Go and check out that site, and also Hijabfashionista and The Hijab blog, where
classic "Spanish", "simple braid" and layered styles are studied and copied by women who want to make sure their scarves turn heads. Other sites advise on the best scarves to wear for sport and even under a baseball cap.

Perhaps fashion will defeat fundamentalism. Hope so.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Don't tell him Pike!

The funniest sitcom ever made. This sublime moment derives its humour from everything you know about Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike. It's all led up to this: the encounter with a captured U Boat captain. Cast and script fused.

The new economising

. . . my own much-loved purchase from a previous downturn was a multicoloured Missoni coat, in vivid tangerine and ochre zigzags. It was half price in a sale, though still not cheap, yet it's worked out as one of the most economical purchases I've ever made, because I've worn it thousands of times (thus justifying the cost- per-wear equation). And, though it might sound excessive, I swear it's actually practical, because it's literally over-the-top - you can fling it over a pair of old jeans or on top of a little black dress, and immediately look as if you've made an effort.

Justine Picardie in the Telegraph today

Saturday 26 July 2008

Laughing baby

What women want

Valentino AW08/09 couture show

More Croc evil

Once the anti-smoking message took hold in the West, the tobacco industry had to find new markets for its products and aggressively sought out the Third World, creating an evil addiction where none has existed before.

Similarly, a sharp downturn in the US sale of Crocs, has led their manufacturers to look elsewhere for sales:

Shares in the shoes' Colorado-based manufacturer plunged by as much as 47% at one point yesterday as the company warned that its sales were likely to be lower this year than last.

Crocs chief executive, Ron Snyder, blamed economic conditions: "We are obviously disappointed with the economic situation in the US and part of Europe, however we remain confident about the long-term prospects."

Crocs had been aiming for second-quarter sales of between $247m and $258m (£130m). According its new forecast, it will only make $218m to $223m. To cope with slowing demand, it is closing a factory in Canada.

Snyder said there were plenty of countries where Crocs were gaining ground and vowed to press ahead with global advertising to build the brand. "We believe many of our markets are under-penetrated and should provide meaningful growth opportunities for our products well into the future."

One day, the floor of the rainforest will be bright with discarded plastic shoes.

Friday 25 July 2008

The email I have always wanted to send

Is here

Fabulous or dreary?

It's Dior and costs £3265.

Browns Little Black Book

Avsh Alom Gur for Ossie Clark

Browns has a rather fun thing on its website, a little black book with pages on the new designers

Thursday 24 July 2008

Men and Uniforms

The idea of a uniform is a bit of a conundrum for the average male. It's not that uncommon , in my experience, for the female of the species to sometimes bemoan the boring apparel of their significant other. Probably quite rightly. Because men do seem to conform rather a lot in their style of dress.

But perhaps they feel more constrained in their choice of what to wear than they are given credit for.
They conform to unwritten rules in terms of professional status ( though perhaps nowadays to a dress down uniformity). And outside work they conform in a tribal way to to a chosen peer group ( sports gear, media savvy/ ironic T shirts, Grateful Dead t shirts). Yes, the overall look is deeply dull. Because one sees it cloned a million times. And it's perhaps not very stylish.
But hang on.
Women fall for a man in uniform. We know that because that's what they tell us. But perhaps they are referring to the DJ and bow tie, or perhaps the firefighter. We are assured that these a big turn - on.
So there is a sort of Darwinian pressure on the male to embrace the idea of a uniform.
But what elements of a uniform create attraction? Literature suggests that power and masculinity are the key signifiers ( Bathsheba Everdene and Anna Karenina spring to mind).
Perhaps the partner's complaint of 'dullness' is just a coded way of saying ' my dear , I'm sorry but you simply don't look powerful or masculine enough'.
This may be a bit of a poser for those of us of more senior years. But spare a thought for the younger generation. It's possible that they are being rather poorly served by some of the leading style arbiters. Just look at those skinny jackets, fey sweaters, and flimsy shoes.
But I guess if they adorn themselves head to toe in D&G and make sure those logos are showing, then they are at least managing to communicate ' I have money to burn'.
Which today is perhaps the key cipher for power and masculinity.

(posted by LG but by Harry)

Harry Agrees With Hadley

Well, up to a point.

Hadley Freeman in the Guardian was asked recently what is ' the safest way to compliment a lady?'. ( Read it here).
The question is revealing. It shouldn't be about what is safe, but what is right.
She has certainly got it right in identifying some of the things that should not be said: ( 'that dress makes you look pretty').
But I am less convinced of her recommendation. Yes, it may be ok to say 'That's a nice dress',. Or 'that colour really brings out the colour in your eyes'. But in my humble opinion neither of these are likely to pass muster.
Because they sound like a rehearsed response. Unless the male in question has a track record of paying attention to others ( perhaps a loaded question) , and  a track record of comment and compliment, this is going to sound anything but spontaneous.
Ok, it's difficult for men. So many ways to get it wrong. It's not surprising that steering through these troubled waters results in something anodyne.

The real answer is simply 'You look fabulous'.
But it has to be said unprompted, and with spontaneity.
There may well have been time for a couple of martinis before being called on to say anything. That's what the martinis are for.

Thank you

Many thanks to all of you who shared your memories of 9/11. Please add to them if you wish

It's true. Shoe designers hate us

Lisa Armstrong at the Times asked around to see if designers were going to introduce a mid-height heel, and the answer is no, they aren't:

“So,” I asked the head of the shoe design studio at Louis Vuitton in Paris recently, “when are you going to do a shoe for you know, wearing?” The slightly wounded reply was that if they had money for every time someone made a smart-aleck comment like that, they would be very rich indeed, but that actually, there were no plans to introduce lower heels in the foreseeable future.

It's pretty much the same story at other fashion shoes houses - officially, at least. “Our customer is a fashion customer” one PR said, implying that anyone not prepared to stagger through her day in 105mm has obviously given up the fight to look good. Another told me that their 35mm to 55mm heels were doing very nicely - with the “older” customer.

Great. Wanting a shoe you can walk in now categorises you as a geriatric. In some of the more fashionable stores, you actually have to ask to see a mid-height heel - they're not on display. Oh, the shame. Sidling into the adult section of the video store and asking to see the stuff with animals probably has more kudos.

“The simple fact,” Rupert Sanderson tells me on the phone from the shoe factory in Florence, “is that heels just look sexier, stronger and more arresting the higher they are. With the advent of the concealed platform, heels can be even higher. Technically, the sky's the limit. I keep doing lower heels, and some of them look quite strong - but the eye gets distracted. We're used to height.

“The other reason why designers still push the extreme heel is because that's what women come to us for. Practicality is what they go to the high street for.”

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Rape in wartime

I was otherwise busy this morning writing this short piece for the Guardian on rape in wartime, following the arrest two days ago of the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

I details my own extremely brief career as a war correspondent.

Fashion after 9/11: A question for readers

I'm working on a chapter of my book, The Thoughtful Dresser, about fashion in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 - how the horror of the attack affected us. I remember the first new copy of Vogue I saw after the attack, it must have been about three weeks later, and feeling slightly sickened by it, wondering how I could have been preoccupied with such trivia, which of course wore off in time.

I'd be interested in your thoughts and recollections, particularly American readers.

Credit crunch haberdashery

In a rush this morning, I advise you just to read this, about the new credit crunch haberdashery - the make do and mend de nos jours.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Ethical fashion directory

People Tree

The Guardian has just rolled out a very impressive new searchable ethical fashion directory.

Check it out here

In days of yore

For the past few days I have been doing this newfangled thingy called a 'wardrobe edit.' I hauled everything I wasn't actually wearing at the moment into a rail in the spare room at which it was revealed that I actually had far more clothes than I thought I did because I could actually see them. The envisaged scenario is that at the end of summer I'll do another edit and rotate some things back in again.

It seems that our dear Princess Anne has also just done a wardrobe edit, observing this summer's trend for florals:

Let's not for one minute suggest that Princess Anne's decision to dig out the dress she wore to her brother's first wedding in 1981 for another family wedding 27 years later was remotely connected to thriftiness. Anyone who can afford a designer dress, and has the space to store decades worth of posh clothes in palatial wardrobes, isn't too concerned about her bank balance. No, Anne's decision to recycle - or, to use the appropriate fashion parlance for this phenomenon, to repeat - a floral print piecrust-edged wrap dress is actually a common fashion practice.

However, as Imogen Fox points out in the Guardian, if you wear what you wore last time this fashion was around, you have to do it with a leetle bit of a modern twist if you are not to look in the miror and recoil with shock and disgust at how old the neck has got above the collar.
In 1981 she wore the dress with a yellow floral and net hat, and accessorised with pearls. Fast-forward to this weekend and she's wearing the same hat and yet another pearl choker. This isn't just a sartorial aberration either - the princess has form in repeating outfits without imagination. A blue-and-white dress worn to a film premiere in 1986 was trundled out again with the same white gloves 14 years later. A bonnet was worn twice 17 years apart, each time without irony.

Excuse me, you're on a hiding to nothing if you're looking for irony from a member of the Royal Family. Particularly Princess Anne. Isn't irony what they put on the horses' feet?

Anyhow, what with the Goth look coming back this Autumn, we're all warned against hauling out the gear from our early Eighties Madonna phase. Imagine that stuff on Madonna herself, with her weird reptile face and creepy arms. No, what we do is gesture to the look, gesture. I hope that's straight now.

Monday 21 July 2008

Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the pursed mouthed puritans who tell you can't wear a patent leather mock croc shearling flying jacket, like this

Paul Smith on How To Be Dapper

The Thoughtful Dresser brought this interview with Paul Smith to my attention. ( Read it here)

What he says is wise and rings true. It's fair to say that he has thought more about menswear than I , so I am delighted to find that I agree with him. Particularly when he observes that  ' It is harder to dress casually and still look stylish especially with the trend for sloppy polo shirts and cargo pants.'

The sort of person I am not like . . .

. . . but wish I was.

A woman develops a methodology to store her scarves.

I will spend years thinking about doing this, without actually doing it.,

Sunday 20 July 2008

Another ebay item

A Nicole Farhi shearling jacket lined with rabbit fur, size 12

Yet more Roberto Cavalli!

Roberto Cavalli has a lot of love to give. It spills out of him indiscriminately like an overflowing fountain. As he walks through the rooms of his sprawling Tuscan villa, a paean to the decorative qualities of animal fur and trailing purple orchids, it is difficult to find anything that does not provoke a new burst of passion.

He loves his blue-and-yellow macaw, which is quietly minding its own business on a large gold birdstand in the dining room. 'I love you I love you I love you!' Cavalli shrieks ecstatically, as the bird squawks. He brings his face up close and tries to kiss it. The parrot swipes its beak perilously close to Cavalli's nose.

Outside, sitting down for lunch on a leopard-print garden chair, he professes ardent devotion to the pine nuts in his bowl of fresh pasta. 'I love them - the taste! I love the small things,' he continues, breathlessly plucking a white flower from a nearby trellis. 'What you see in one flower is so fantastic. The detail on this one leaf ...'

But most of all, the 68-year-old Cavalli loves women. 'I love the skin,' he says, clasping my arm. 'I love to be watched from beautiful eyes.' He gazes at me intently through reflective sunglasses, leaning forward so that his unbuttoned black shirt gapes open. The giant diamanté crucifix he wears round his neck bangs gently against the table.

But as well as loving women, parrots and pine nuts, Cavalli has developed another outlet for his considerable reserves of passion: he is about to launch his own red wine. 'I love it,' he says, not entirely unexpectedly. 'I drink only this and nothing else.'

and so read on!

Really, I implore you, just stop whatever it is you're doing, make a cup of coffee, situate a box of tissues near your screen so you can wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes and Enjoy. Because I can't just paste up the whole thing so click the link. Guaranteed to bring minutes of reading pleasure.

How to work out what to wear

The wedding invitation's in her bag

Harry set off with his linen suit and his Martin Margiela shirt in a suit bag yesterday, to attend a social event. He was anticipating  being the only dressed up man there. If anyone called him on it, he said, he was going to tell them that he'd decided to be Italian.

Of course, what he was wearing was exactly the right kit for such an occasion. 

We spend a lot of time wondering what other people will be wearing, terrified of being under or overdressed. Harry and I agreed that we should turn this on the head and ask ourselves - what is the appropriate dress for the occasion. Wedding: jeans and t-shirt? No. Barbecue: black tie? No. It's fairly simple, really.

For example: mid-week post work party in garden of publisher - linen Nicole Farhi dress, structured jacket. Sunday evening drinks party in Central London flat: LBD and statement jewellery.

And if the other guests don't have the wit to understand what they're suppose to wear, that's their problem. You know you're wearing the right thing.

There is something wrong with this Anglo-Saxon culture which buys clothes for special occasions, instead of buying clothes you can dress up or down so you can look fabulous every day, but that's another subject.

Saturday 19 July 2008

More politics!

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It has always been my intention to keep politics well away from this site. We are here, regardless of nationality, religion, or what we vote, because we are interested in clothes. I may relax the rule slightly as we get nearer to the upcoming US elections, but certainly not at the expense of alienating readers who come here to get a fashion fix. There is nothing I dislike more than the flame wars of the political blogs (though I am sometimes guilty of indulging.)

But from time to time I have something to say about something in the news and I prefer to park those as guest posts at the site of my good friend Norman Geras, who first introduced me to the very concept of the blog, as it happens.

So if you are interested in my views on a recently released murderer, you will find them here. And find out what I do in my spare time when I am not being irritated about people who won't dress up at parties. Or writing books.

Ebay corner

I have up for sale a pair of barely worn Marni shoes, size 39 (UK six, I believe) if you can take walking in another woman's shoes.

Every time I take them out of the box I hope that they will have grown a quarter of an inch since I wore them last, but they never have.

Which is odd, when you consider how many clothes shrink in the wardrobe.

The woman who spent £3000 to get a flat stomach . . . read on

from the Times

I remembered an article I had read by a journalist whose similarly stubborn belly was “melted away” by Smartlipo; she'd had it done in the lunch-hour in New York. Two weeks later, she wrote, she was patting her “concave” belly and flaunting herself in a new bikini. After a week's deliberation I booked a consultation at a private clinic in London, one of the top British places for Smartlipo. While waiting for my consultation I was handed a cuttings book full of similar testimonials. It was going to cost £3,000, but even before I saw the expert, I was sold. Yippee, I thought, I'm on my way to a concave belly.
. . .

One would have thought that after not one but two sessions of Smartlipo, and fat removal, my stomach would resemble Keira Knightley's. Alas, no. Perhaps it is my age. Perhaps it is my lifestyle. You know how debauched journalists are. Well, maybe, but I spent six months training for, and ran, the London Marathon this year. In under four hours.

What a silly waste of money

Perhaps it is my genes. Anyway, what a silly waste of money; and what a potential risk, having an intrusive procedure done to my healthy body that was deemed necessary because I deemed it thus. I put the experience behind me and resigned myself to loving my tummy. Then I went on a press trip to St Tropez, where, lo and behold, I bumped into the journalist who had written the original Smartlipo testimony that had so encouraged me. And do you know what, she wasn't wearing a bikini.

“Oh, Smartlipo! It didn't work for me either,” she laughed. After I had picked myself off the floor, I asked her what she would suggest instead of Smartlipo. “There are cheaper, less invasive ways of getting a flat stomach. Do Pilates and yoga, and stop eating so much sugar and drinking so much. Then spend the £3,000 on a holiday!”

How to make yourself look short and fat

This girl called Alexa Chung went into Russell and Bromley and bought a pair of black loafers and now Agyness Deane has a pair too and so we all have to wear them.

In my own quest for shoes I could walk in, I tried a pair on a few months ago was too depressed by the vision of myself in the mirror to buy them.

My legs+flats=low self-esteem.

Jess Cartner-Morley has also given them a whirl. She points out that if we must suffer to be beautiful, we also have to suffer to be fashionable. With sky-high heels the suffering is physical, with loafers, its psychological. Which is worse? The pain of heels is temporary, mental anguish can scar you for life:

If ballet flats can feel a bit twee and mousy, loafers have about them a strident air of the fifth form prefect. They make my legs and feet look about as delicate as hockey sticks. But this season, fifth form prefect has come over all sixth form common room cool. Hey, you have to suffer to be beautiful; you have to ditch your vanity to be comfortable. For once, it all makes sense.


Friday 18 July 2008

Now here's a woman I'd like to go shopping with

Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl

Do you use shopping as a distraction?

Oh yes. I think writers use any kind of distraction possible.

Tell us your favourite shopping memory.

Wedding-dress shopping with my daughter. I'm a rather unwilling shopper, so she had to tell me where we were going for lunch to keep my spirits up. But it was a wonderful experience. I cried when I saw her in one of the dresses and she decided that had to be the one.

What is the best thing you've ever bought?

My trusty suitcase recently gave up on me and I got a new one from Louis Vuitton. I won't say the price, because it was more expensive than the clothes that go in it, but every time I see it I go "Ahhhh".

And the worst thing?

I got overexcited in the 80s, along with the rest of the country, and bought a patchwork velvet skirt with a jagged hem. I thought I looked like the cat's whiskers in it, until one day I saw myself in the mirror. I never wore it again.

Do you have any shopping tips?

If you buy something that costs £1,000 and wear it once, that's what it will have cost. If you wear it a hundred times, it works out at £10 per wear. That's a bargain.

Have you ever felt guilty about something you have bought?

I do like to fly first class. I used to feel bad about the money; now it's the environment. When you're on expenses, you get a taste for a lifestyle and then, tragically, it's very hard to go back.

What can't you get through the week without?

Clarins moisturiser. That's compulsory. And Cadbury's Fruit & Nut. I eat it in the evenings with a glass of wine. I get my five a day that way.

Thursday 17 July 2008

So here it is, Merry Xmas

Today I was invited to a couple of Christmas press show previews, at Jaeger and Selfridge's.

I did Jaeger first, picking up a coat-dress which has just come in, which I spotted at the AW08 press show a few months ago. For once, they actually have this on the site and that's it above. Very mid-Sixties. To wear with a ribbed sweater beneath and wide-legged trousers and very high heels.

I really like the cashmere travel sets they had, which include suede-bottomed slippers, socks, an eye mask, and a blanket. What they probably give you when you travel BA First Class, but of course I wouldn't know, would I? Still, the frequent traveller can heavily hint to their spouse. Even better it's only going to be available on line so they don't even have to go into a shop full of frightening female things to get it. It will cost £199, but who can put a price on love, as the Mastercard ads are always telling us? There were also lots of snakeprint silver things, Swarovski make-up mirrors. A shoplifter's paradise, in fact.

The Jaeger London collection was extraordinarily cohesive. You saw all the work paying off, and the creation of a collection out of the London Fashion Week show.
And this was the piece that the fashion press this afternoon was oohing and aahing about from the forthcoming collection. The top is cleverly cut to resemble the front of a tuxedo. Difficult to see from the pic but a very good dress.

After that I somehow managed not to make it up the other end of Oxford Street in the last week of the sales when it was raining, to Selfridge's press preview. And missed a £43,000 teddy bear with emerald eyes and a solid gold nose. Or so I read in the Evening Standard on the tube. And was quite glad I had. Because in another part of the paper was a piece about children in London who can't go to school because they have no shoes.

63-year-old woman in a bikini


Appeal to well-read readers . . .

Can anyone kindly identify which Edith Wharton novel this passage comes from? House of Mirth perhaps?

She had a few handsome dresses left- survivals of her last phase of splendour. . . as she spread them out on the bed, the scenes in which they had been worn rose vividly before her. An association lurked in every fold: each fall of lace and gleam of embroidery was like a letter in the record of her past. She was startled to find how the atmosphere of her old life enveloped her. . . She put back the dresses one by one, laying away with each some gleam of light, some note of laughter, some stray waft from the rose shores of pleasure.

Invisible man

Martin Margiela has never given an interview. He has never been photographed and almost no-one in the fashion industry knows what he looks like.

Since he started out, in 1988, the designer has never agreed to a single interview or been photographed for any magazine, however respected the title. Particularly in a climate where the superstar designer – from Jacobs to Prada, and from Tom Ford to Vivienne Westwood – might hardly be described as backwards in coming forward, one could be forgiven for thinking that Martin Margiela is a figment of the industry's imagination. And that's just fine by him. Suffice it to say that Martin Margiela makes Greta Garbo look like Victoria Beckham.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Both cheap and ethical

You can't see it very well in this picture but above is a cuff in tiny checks. A larger photo which came to my email inbox shows it better but won't copy.

The cuff is from People Tree, the ethical fashion company. This is who made it:

There is a dark side to the jewellery industry: The cheap, spangled jewellery that is all over the high street is often made using child labour in India because it's cheaper and children's small hands are more suited to creating intricate jewellery. However a Delhi child labourer will be routinely forced to work 12 hour days, working, eating and sleeping in the same cramped, poorly lit and ill ventilated workshop.

Even though jewellery is major business in India it is difficult to form labour unions because it's usually created by small producer groups. This means that the producers are rarely able to bargain for a fair price and are at the mercy of a long chain of middlemen.

Tara (Trade Alternative Reform Action) defends the rights of the poor, employing only adults, offering them advance payments so they can buy materials, and giving them the security of long term contracts.

They run campaigns against child labour and have established sixteen schools and vocational training centres for children from poor families, which over 700 child labourers have attended to date.

Mosim, a jewellery maker from one of TARA's beading groups said she puts her money in a savings account, which she is saving to put towards her dowry. The project allows her to learn a professional skill, earn an income and spend time with people her own age in a country that rarely allows women to leave the home. Mosim even made her first visit to Delhi recently to participate in Tara's annual producer meeting.

You can support Tara's work by buying the unique jewellery created by Mosim and the other TARA artisans.

It is reduced from £10 to £7 in the People Tree sale, about the price of lunch at Pret a Manger.

When I said wear a scarf, this isn't what I meant

Not tied round the head, for godsake.

Celia Walden in the Telegraph tries one on and does not like it.

According to Dennis Nothdruft, curator of London's Fashion and Textile Museum, this headscarf resurgence is about a new sense of chastity in fashion. "Before peasants used them to keep their heads cool, women wore headscarves in medieval times to maintain their modesty," he explains. "But it is also symptomatic of the economic downturn. If you can't afford to have your roots done, wear a headscarf to cover them up. Sociologically, it's about escapism."

Given that the fashion world likes nothing better than provocation, isn't it also a nod to Islam? "There's no doubt that we have a huge Muslim clientèle," agrees Alexander. "But this is more about a return to that elegant Grace Kelly era than anything else."

So, will this strange amalgam of royal homeliness, Muslim chic and proletarian pretence ever take off? Come autumn, will we be seeing women ambling down high streets or queueing at the cold meat counter in Waitrose, looking like Russian peasants?

"I do think we will be seeing a fair amount of headscarves around over the next few months," says Gaia Geddes, executive fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar. "But the fashion may be better suited to young girls, who will be able to pull it off with the right tongue-in-cheek manner."

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Nearly six million Youtube viewers have seen this, and now I have

Rules are made to be broken

Here's a dress by McQueen. Well, you couln't wear it because it shows off the bingo wings etc. But hey, apparently by putting a top underneath it, you have made an edgy new look. Now personally, I would have thought that a top under a dress like that would look silly. But fashion says, no, it's okay now.

And now for something completely different

How to make a balloon dog

Monday 14 July 2008

AW08 mid-market

The marketing executive of L.K. Bennett has left a comment in my post on the rise of the mid-market. She has provided a link to some of the pieces coming in for Autumn. Go take a look.

There are some very good tops.

Business Casual

I haven't inhabited the corporate world for a few years now. So, for all I know, thing may have changed. But somehow I doubt it.

How irritating were those invites to conferences or regional meetings that stipulated the dress code as 'business casual'. I mean , they should just have got off the pot and said: ' Chinos and polo shirts compulsory'.
This kind of mid -Atlantic look had become universally adopted in the business world as the uniform of the executive in mufti. Ralph Lauren for the North Americans and Lacoste for the Europeans, and likewise, deck shoes versus loafers.
I don't necessarily have anything against these items or styles of clothing; I do, after all,  wear polo shirts ( but not with a logo above the left breast). I may have been imagining it,  but at these gatherings I would often  pick up a tedious vibe of:  ' Look at me, no suit, what a dashing fascinating person I must be- I'm wearing a pink polo shirt'.
I guess one of the definitions of a tribe is a tendency to conformity. And business conferences are nothing if not tribal gatherings.
And maybe the organising principle behind this was right. After all, if you don't draw the line somewhere people might just turn up in cargo pants and flip -flops.
Which someone once did. What a surprise - he was Australian.
And I suppose it's a distinct possibility that everyone does that now.

Dresing up and down

I was at a wonderful party last night. It was billed as a drinks party, and the venue was a friend's flat in Central London. It was quite a family party: there was an 89-year-old aunt.

I noticed that all the women including that aunt, had dressed up beautifully. (I was in my new Karen Cole dress and my D&K shoes). The delectable handbag designer Lulu Guinness was wearing a sensational vintage Fifties black grosgrain dress with a flared skirt and a red rose at her waist. We talked about our outfits and she said that whatever the occasion now, she just dresses up. The dress gives her confidence.

And, like Carrie Bradshaw, I got to thinking. When did men
stop thinking that a suit was what you wore to dress up? And why oh why do most men look so damned boring? Even in London?

Cue Harry and his long-awaited piece on men and their uniforms . . .

Sunday 13 July 2008

The greatest travel writer you've never read

I have been pretty shocked in the past week or so to discover how many otherwise well-read people have never heard of Norman Lewis, who is without a doubt the greatest post-war travel writer.

His biography, Semi-Invisible Man, by Julian Evans, has just been published to mark Lewis' cententary. I first discovered him in the late Eighties and devoured his seminal work, Naples '44, about his time, during the war, as part of the Allied army of Occupation of Southern Italy following the collapse of the fascist regime in the south. It is achingly funny and rich in insights into that marvellous, untidy, erotic city.

Lewis' 1950 book on Indo-China, A Dragon Apparent, was in the suitcase of every educated journalist during the Vietnam war.

His elegyy for Spain just before the arrival of mass tourism in the Fifities, Voices of the Old Sea, and not published until 1984, is one of the five or six books I cherish.

I once had a brief correspondence with Lewis. I wish I could find the letters.

So just go and read him. And if you already have, then Julian Evans will be doing an event at Daunt's Books on Marylebone High Street on Wednesday. I'll be going.

And who buys couture?

asks the Sunday Times?

They are a new fashion type, these rich and pampered couture shoppers. Although their lifestyles are European (and specifically London), their cultures span the world — Korea, China, Venezuela. And what are they here for? Excess — in colour, proportion and, above all, decoration.

Yet there was little innovation. Like the husbands who pay the bills — anything from £50,000 to £150,000 for an elaborately jewelled creation — these women don’t give tuppence for the avant-garde. They want a waist where God intended; they don’t want flashes in embarrassing places and are bemused by garments with three sleeves. They want everything just as it always has been — at least, since the 1950s. And Paris couture survives by meeting their needs.

They have other demands, too, such as quality of the standard even the best ready-to-wear labels cannot provide. They also want exclusivity, so most couture houses have an unwritten policy of limiting sales of any £100,00-plus garment to one per continent, with first choice going to the most loyal customer. As one vendeuse told me: “There are no ceilings now — they have all been broken. These women have closets to die for. And they all pay cash.”

She sums up the market forces by confessing: “We can’t get enough crocodile bags, even though they sell for £20,000. Kurdistani millionaires’ wives buy them in every colour, which often means 10 identical bags.”

More or less

Unsuprisingly, the Sunday Times reports today that the fashion retail sector which is experiencing an upsurge is the middle market. Buyers are trading down from Harvey Nicks and trading up from M&S and Primart.

Many of the brands in this not-too-expensive, not-too-cheap niche are small compared with the retail giants. What sets them apart is a focus on quality, design and a commitment to producing fashion you might want to keep. In a tough economic climate, these values chime with the way we want to live now, and they are good for business. Jigsaw reported a substantial sales rise this year and is about to launch an e-commerce site. Banana Republic isn’t having a summer sale — because there is no left-over stock. Reiss and All Saints are expanding rapidly, and Jaeger posted a profit of £82m last year. One of the most exciting fashion relaunches will also be in the middle market. I’ve had a sneak peek at the first collection by the former Topshop guru Jane Shepherdson for Whistles, and it is full of grown-up, gorgeous, covetable clothes.

A black jacket I bought at Whistles two and a half years ago for £175 has several years more life in it, in terms of both quality and style. I was looking in L.K. Bennett the other day, and the small number of pieces they have started to get in for Autumn look very promising, as do the shoes.

Saturday 12 July 2008

Death of a model

Dorian Leigh has died at the age of 91.

She was born in San Antonio, Texas, the plainest of four Parker sisters, her features too pronounced for the preference for plucked brows and rococo lips that prevailed through the 1930s. She married at college and had two children before her divorce in 1937. Her parents took her and the children back into their home in Queens, New York City, and her chemist father encouraged her in education. She studied calculus at New York University and went on an engineers' training programme. She worked first as a draughtsman for the navy and then on wings for the eastern aircraft division of General Motors, but quit, she claimed, because her suggested design improvements were rejected.

She then took a job as an advertising copywriter in New York. In need of extra money, she went to a model agency run by Harry Conover, who recognised her face as suddenly suited to the times. Leigh's age - 27 - was problematic, so he instructed her to tell Diana Vreeland, fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, that she was 19. Vreeland ordered Leigh to leave the eyebrows alone and report back the next day to model a hat for the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, leading to her appearance on the cover for June. The movie Cover Girl, a montage of newsstand displays starring Rita Hayworth, was the fashion fantasy of 1944, and Leigh - the Parker was dropped out of courtesy to her family - was the sophisticated edition of Hayworth.

Leigh's real career as the zeitgeist began the next year. Charles Revson had added matching lipsticks to his Revlon nail enamels in 1940, and soon US wartime prosperity, which increased the purchasing power of working women, allowed him to advertise his lips and nails combos in full colour. For 1945's Poison Apple campaign, "the most tempting colour since Eve winked at Adam", Revlon hired Leigh as the face that lost paradise. She became the Revlon fantasy dame, starring regularly in its promotions, including the 1952 campaign for Fire and Ice, a Madison Avenue legend. Avedon shot her in faux-Balenciaga scarlet cape, and a dress with its front spangled with silver rhinestones. The questions on the spread suggested Leigh's unconventional character ("Do you sometimes feel that other women resent you?" "Do sables excite you, even on other women?") A senior advertising executive who hated it said Leigh looked like "a little tootsie whom the Aga Khan spotted on the Riviera". But Vogue thought her classy, and ran it big. Leigh had introduced sister Suzy to the Eileen and Jerry Ford agency, and she succeeded Leigh as Revlon goddess.

People were more interesting in the olden days.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Pure cashmere half price

So do you want 50% on a wide selection of the world's finest summer-weight cashmere!

Obviously, you do.

Men and their handbags

On the tube today, four suits got on and proceeded to hold a business meeting in the middle of the carriage. Two of the suits were in their 50s and the other two in their late 20s. I noticed that the older suits both carried briefcases while the younger suits both carried small back-packs over one shoulder. Like a shoulder bag.

Harry tells me that the back-pack is the new briefcase and hence the briefcase is the sign that you are out of the loop, style-wise. I never knew that.

Apparently during his career as a high-flying executive, he pretty much pioneered this look.

The Great Outdoors

It's that time of year when London experiences a surge in the number of short term visitors. Tourists used to be easy to spot; garish casual clothes and a camera slung round the neck. Now they are just as easy to recognise, but they seem to take up so much more space.

Their uniform has become that of the great outdoors. Cargo pants with a  seemingly infinite number of pockets, weather-proof jackets in space -age materials ( and more pockets), a day sack overloaded with water bottles and technology, and trekking footwear that is at least twice the size of ordinary shoes.
I'm all for dressing appropriately for the conditions. And much of this gear is eminently suitable for striking out into the wilderness. But I am curious as to how this has become the chosen apparel for city visitors. When you see a group of them together they look like a gaggle of mature anthropologists on a field trip. 
I guess it may be due to all those headlines about the perils of  city life. So could it be that those cargo pockets are stuffed with self defence equipment, distress flares, and emergency rations?
It's not just visitors who have recently stepped off a 747. This also includes indigenous parties who arrive at a London mainline station from the depths of Surrey or Hertfordshire looking like they must have got on the wrong train. Surely, kitted out like that, they meant to end up on the Yorkshire Moors.
Well, it's their choice. But I am left musing whether this is what they wear at weekends at home. Do they dress like this to go shopping?

Pop Quiz! The correct answer

a) Incorrect. There are very few men who can get away with answering yes to this question and they have names like Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, and with the exception of Mr Smith none are like to find themselves in the scenario envisaged. Unless you can nip into the spare room, get out the sewing machine and whip up a little couture number for your beloved which will correct the appearance of fatness, leave this one alone

b) Incorrect. On the face of it, a bald no might be seen as get out of jail free card but most women will see through this obvious ploy. A No can be pulled off if, through a great deal of practise, the Man gives the Woman a studied and authoritative gaze, as if he is making a finely-judged assessment a. But she'll still feel like she's being looked up and down like a sow at the fair. She does not want you to have to look her all over, she wants the answer to be obvious.

c) Absolutely incorrect. This answer will quickly be decoded for its true meaning: 'Listen, chubbychops, we all know you look like the back of a barn and no-one at the party but me could possibly fancy you, so let's get a move on.'

d) Correct. Notice what happens in this brief response. In part A of the sentence the Man gives the Woman what she was actually after, an instant reward for all her labours in the bedroom, Wow. But notice Part B where, before the Woman can begin to ask supplementaries, he adroitly changes the subject, putting HER on the defensive. At this point the Woman will point to her wristwatch and say, 'Never mind that, will you just put that silly book away and get your coat on, or we'll be late.

After utilising this simple gambit two or three times, the question will cease to be asked.

This may on the surface seem to be an aid to men in their war against we sisters, but actually, I think that asking a man if you look fat is a hiding to nothing because you will never get an honest answer, and if you did, would you actually want it? Best to have gone to a really good shop to buy the dress in the first place, where they will not have let you leave with a party dress that makes you look fat.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Cat in a hat

Not for the squeamish, or cat lovers

says a devoted admirer of Cruella de Ville's working the black and white look

Pop Quiz!

Two people are going to a party. One person, let's call him, for the sake of convenience, the Man, was ready 40 minutes ago and is sitting in the kitchen listening to the radio and enjoying working through his Bumper Book of Sudoku puzzles.

The other person, who, also for the sake of convenience, we'll call the Woman, has bought a new outfit for the occasion, but having tried it on, takes it off again and tries on four other outfits before reverting back to the one she started with.

She finally comes down to the kitchen and says to the Man: I need a completely honest, unbiased answer, do I look fat in this?

Is the correct answer:
a) Yes
b) No
c) Darling whatever you wear, you will always look beautiful to me
d) Wow, you look absolutely fantastic but how much could that have cost?

I will provide the correct answer in a future post.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

365 Days of Aunt Susie

Who wore a different outfit every day of the year

Skin deep

In a long piece in the Indie yesterday, on how badly tv serves the question of beauty and women's relaionship to it (apart from the scientific exposes of bad cosmetic surgery) the author shares my distrust of some make-over shows. I was fan of Trinny and Susannah when they did What Not To Wear, in part because of the observation, or rather, the penny that dropped with most viewers, that the biggest single change you can make to your look is a good hair cut and colour and some well-chosen make-up.

I am strongly opposed to progs like Extreme Makeover and Ten Years Younger because of their reliance on cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry. I'm not against, in principle, cosmetic surgery, at least for other people, if they want it. I'm certainly not against cosmetic dentistry.

What I am against is taking women on low incomes, drilling down their teeth to give them £20,000 worth of veneers at the programme's expense and then leaving them to fend for themselves when, five or ten years later, they need replacing. The make-overs (which rarely involve the simple application of a decent diet and some exercise) are the equivalent of a fashion shoot where the dress is held together with bulldog clips and the teenage model's spots are airbrushed away. It's a con, and a nasty con, at that.

Not mention the fact that the make-overs turn them into simulacrums of real people, little replicas of the hot look. And when the hot look is over?

Unless on a beach...

......grown men tripping about in plastic flip-flops is this summer's fashion faux-pas.

So begins a Guardian review of  a range of men's summer footwear ( otherwise known as sandals).
Well, at least they agree with Harry, but some of their selection seem to be far closer to beach wear than appropriate for the city.

Monday 7 July 2008

I have nothing further to add

Ask Hadley

Chic without sweatshops

Hadley Freeman can ease your fashion pain

Monday July 7, 2008
The Guardian

I was so shocked by the revelation the other week that small Indian children made some of my Primark clothes. What can I do to make sure this doesn't happen again?
Mary O'Keefe, London

Um, don't buy clothes that cost £3 maybe? Before anyone (ie, Primark's lawyers) get upset, I'm not saying that all cheap clothes are studded with the sweat and blood droplets of half-starved children. But to continue buying cheap-as-chips clothes and then to express shock that they are not made by happy couturiers, sewing the pieces by hand while reclining on goose-feathered pillows and chortling contentedly seems - and I really mean no offence, Mary - a touch naive, let us say euphemistically. Someone is paying the price for those clothes, my dear. And seeing as it's clearly not you, and it's unlikely to be the store (most stores tend to be a bit reluctant to sell clothes for less than they paid to have them made - they're funny like that) perhaps it's someone else. Someone around the age of 10, maybe.

It's like those diets that promise you can eat stuffed-crust pizza, pasta carbonara and deep-fried chocolate gateau and still lose weight. People, it just doesn't work like that - well, not unless the chocolate tastes like rehydrated and artificially sweetened seaweed because, well, that's what it is. And a beaded top that costs £2.50 is either going to be very badly made, sewn by people content to be paid 60p a day or has the wrong price tag on it. Guess which makes stores more money?

Of course, if one takes this argument too far then you end up saying that the only kind of clothes people should buy is couture, which really is made by the aforementioned happy couturiers (although even they might not always get to be pillow-recliners). The reason we buy cheap clothes is because most of us are not Dasha Zhukova and don't have boyfriends who buy us £50m paintings on a whim. But just as the best way to eat is to eat a normal-sized amount of half-decent food - not Michelin-starred, not greasy, battery-farmed offcuts - at reasonably spaced intervals, so the best way to shop is to buy the occasional well-made piece of clothing. Not Gucci necessarily, but something that costs more than a latte, perhaps.

And ultimately, I truly do believe it works out cheaper. Buying one dress for £75 that lasts you a good handful of years is definitely more economical than buying a new £20 dress every time you have a party because the last one didn't make it to 10pm without ripping. So, in conclusion, you'll be living with more money, better clothes and without guilt.

I think I just saw a ray of light break beyond those clothes yonder.