Archive for November, 2007

The big squeeze

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

What do women want? This was, and remains, Freud’s most vexing question.

If he cast an eye over this month’s glossy magazines, he might deduce that we would like equal pay, careers that don’t get in the way of family life and, frankly, vice versa. We’d also like the perfect clutch bag and winter boots that go with everything.

 The big squeezeFreud might also notice that the female silhouettes featured in the glossies – all guitars and hourglasses – do not remotely match the oblong-, oval- and apple-shaped women shopping on the high street. He would observe that what these women really want is a waist: they are shopping for controlling, tummy-flattening underwear. According to recent reports, sales of these items have shot up to £135 million annually.

While it might be sensible to say that it’s a sad day for feminism that our physical appearance has become so important, I’m actually whispering: “Go girls.”

In the past decade alone, the Western woman’s waistline has expanded by two inches to an average of 33.5in, and the rest of our bodies can’t keep up. It’s one thing to burn our bras (though I would only ever dream of doing this symbolically), but does our emancipation, our freedom from the restrictive underwiring of patriarchy, mean we have to have man-shaped middles?

A decent waist is a symbol of femininity, less entangled with sexuality than, say, an ample cleavage or a nice bit of leg. The purpose of a trim waist is to make clothes look better, and we all know that women – especially Brits – are more likely to dress for themselves than for men or other women.

Having spent my teens and twenties on a Sisyphean quest to be half a stone lighter (whatever my weight), I realised post-childbirth that shape was more important than size. Once that cow we call Mother Nature decided to take my waist away, I didn’t much care how fat I was, I just wanted to be concave in the middle. A fashionista friend recommended Spanx – restrictive big pants with a name and the kind of kitschy packaging that took all the shame out of the procurement of such undergarments. But though they are fit for purpose, nothing can remove the shame of stripping off in a pair.

It’s a brave woman who can look at herself in flesh-coloured cycling shorts, let alone allow the eyes of others to fall upon her. Yet bravery is the order of the day: John Lewis has seen a 22 per cent rise in sales of such pants in a year, and it’s no wonder M&S is doing so well these days – it sells five pairs a minute.

Why not, then, abandon courage and embrace the waist-cinchers that our grannies wore instead? The boned corsets and satin “waspies”, thick, belt-like contraptions that can yank a waist in by a couple of inches, are making a deserved comeback, thanks to burlesque star Dita Von Teese.

Abandoned by our 1960s sisters for being the Western equivalent of foot-binding, they are being ushered back into fashion, often worn as outer garments. Agent Provocateur has a special post-partum version favoured by Gwyneth Paltrow; and Elle Macpherson’s real-women-friendly underwear collection includes a “waspie” suspender belt, as does that by trendy smalls company Myla.

These controlling frillies, which some say train abdominal muscles to pull your tummy in, have become my excuse for not doing sit-ups. And what could be more liberating than that? LT

Ouch

The news that girdles are in fashion again brought it all back. I was about to go on my first date and my mum suggested I borrow her roll-on. No, not a deodorant (if only) but a sausage-skin with dangly suspenders. It looked highly unlikely that I could get one arm into it, let alone both hips.

“Cross your legs and heave it up,” Mum advised, briskly. I crossed and pulled. Mum tugged from behind. Then I tried to stand up: I couldn’t uncross my legs.

Thus clamped, it worked better than all her warnings to “behave” and, anyway, it was unlikely to inflame my spotty date. Indeed, he threw me a bemused glance when I creaked as I sat down in the cinema. Halfway through Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, tears streamed down my cheeks – even though he was singing a happy song on the top of a bus. I had to get rid of it – especially as a nail-bitten, ink-stained hand was about to encounter a rigid wall of rubber.

Hobbling into the Ladies, I rolled off my roll-on. “Argghhhhh!!” I shrieked, which alerted an anxious usherette. Frozen in the light of her torch, I displayed a stomach like a filleted haddock but a face wreathed in smiles of relief. They say that sex didn’t start until the 1960s – and that was why.

I’d love a nipped-in waist and an hourglass figure. But I know that in order to achieve it, I’d have to be very uncomfortably dressed, lots of bits would get squashed, I wouldn’t be able to eat properly, and I’d probably faint. That’s why, as they say on Dragons’ Den, I’m out.

But there are women who think it’s perfectly acceptable to go out for the evening in all that corsetry, squeezed from neck to knee and teetering on daft shoes. You can’t possibly have fun if you can’t walk and you can’t breathe. How can you smile, let alone flirt? And in the unlikely event that you get to the bedroom, surely you have to get the girdle off before he sees it?

So we’ve gone back to the dark ages – getting undressed in the dark, I mean, because of so many ugly underpinnings – simply because this generation of young women hate their bodies so much. What a sad situation. How did it happen? Girls, we’ve moved on from there. We have careers, independence, ambition, confidence. We can be kinder to ourselves and our bodies.

Those of us who remember the liberty bodice – a term about as apt as “friendly fire” – recall a thick, ribbed cotton vest with endless buttons, apparently designed to keep us warm but creating such compression and rigidity that I have no idea how I played netball. It was called “liberty” because it was a softer, freer version of the debilitating Victorian corset. So why do we want to go back to a time when women were trussed up like turkeys to attract a husband?

Any corseted mother should consider the effect her pathological dissatisfaction with her own body is having on the next generation. And any celebrities endorsing “shapewear” should… oh, I give up on celebrities.

I’m all for good make-up, hair colouring and a pretty matching bra and knickers, but the sound of Cliff singing Summer Holiday is enough to bring back the pain of that night in the Kingston Granada when I became a rebel without a corset.

Britney skips drug tests

Sunday, November 11th, 2007


Britney skips drug tests Britney Spears ignored eight random drug test requests, according to her ex Kevin Federline’s attorney.

Kevin’s lawyer, Mark Vincent Kaplan, made the allegations in an emergency hearing he had called in Los Angeles to discuss the former couple’s on-going custody battle.

Neither Spears nor Federline, who has been granted custody of their two boys – appeared in court for the last-minute meeting. Under the latest court ruling, Spears is allowed to see her boys — Sean Preston, and Jayden James — three times a week, but must follow an earlier court order to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol tests and well as attend joint parenting sessions with dancer Federline.

But Kaplan claims Spears has violated the court drug test order by ignoring eight out of a total of 14 requests and lives in a ‘parallel universe’. He also told the court, “Mr. Federline doesn’t want to take these children out of their mother’s life, but what are we to do?” However, Spears’ new lawyer, Anne Kiley, has defended the star’s actions and branded the drug testing procedure ‘unconstitutional,’ claiming a missed test does not indicate a positive one.

And Kiley also hit back at Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon when he said the early morning requests for the tests were not ‘unreasonable’. But Kiley claimed superstars like Spears were not used to being woken up at 8 am, retorting: “You are not a pop star with a number one album, so you don’t know.” If Spears is proved to have violated the drug-testing procedures, she faces having her visitation rights suspended until she follows the court order. The hearing continues.

Amy Winehouse’s husband is remanded

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Amy Winehouse's husband is remanded

Singer Amy Winehouse looked on tearfully as her husband was remanded in custody charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice..

Blake Fielder-Civil, 25, of Jeffrey’s Place, Camden, north London, appeared at Thames Magistrates’ Court, east London.

District Judge John Perkins remanded Fielder-Civil in custody until November 23 when he will appear at Snaresbrook Crown Court, east London.

A second man, Anthony Kelly, 25, of Constable House, Chalk Farm, north London, appeared in court alongside Fielder-Civil, charged with a similar offence. He was also remanded in custody until November 23.

Winehouse, accompanied by her father Mitch, stood at the back of the courtroom next to the glass dividing the public gallery from the dock throughout this morning’s hearing.

Wearing a black top and grey pencil skirt and sporting her trademark beehive, she blew her husband kisses and mouthed “I love you” repeatedly as Fielder-Civil turned around and smiled at her.

Following the hearing Winehouse left the courthouse through a rear entrance and was driven away in a silver BMW without speaking to reporters.

The court heard that Fielder-Civil is charged with one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The full charge is “That on or before the 8th November 2007, within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court, you conspired together with James King, to do an act namely whereby James King would withdraw from being a witness in an indictment charged before the court against another for causing grievous bodily harm to James King with intent to pervert the course of justice contrary to Section One (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977″.

The charge against Fielder-Civil’s fellow defendant, Anthony Kelly is that he “With the attempt to pervert the course of public justice did a series of acts which had a tendency to pervert the course of public justice in that you arranged with the victim and the defendants in that the victim doesn’t attend court”.

Fielder-Civil is one of five men arrested in the last two days on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to a court case due to start on Monday at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court. In that case, Fielder-Civil and Michael Brown, 39, face charges of assault causing grievous bodily harm relating to an alleged incident on June 20 this year.

Re-launch of Ossie Clark label

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Marc Worth, the fashion info tycoon is not a man to waste time.

Today, he and his brother Julian, who set up WGSN (Worth Global Style Network) ten years ago, sold the fashion information business to the media group, Emap, for £140 million. And, already, another major fashion venture beckons.

Telegraph Online understands Marc Worth will now immerse himself in a long-cherished ambition to create a full comeback for the Ossie Clark label.

Details of the re-birth are sketchy, at present, but it is understood the label will be re-launched at the next London Fashion Week in February. Worth, 44, has secured the services of the talented young designer, Avsh Alom Gur, who has previously worked with Donna Karan and Chloe, among others, to head a hand-picked design team. Full details will be announced at a media briefing in London within two weeks.

Ossie Clark was one of the most important figures in British fashion in the 1960’s and 1970’s. His languid, ‘retro’ style epitomised the ‘Swinging Sixties’ generation and, nearly thirty years on, continues to inspire.

Clark graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1965 and after a series of magical fashion shows was dubbed ‘the king of the King’s Road’ by the fashion press. He was a contemporary of Mary Quant and Biba.

With his partner-muse and, later, wife as well, Celia Birtwell, the print wizard, he created an iconic silhouette adored by the likes of Marianne Faithfull, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berensen, Patti Boyd and Jane Asher.

He was seduced by the hedonistic party lifestyle of the time and despite a business deal with Radley which produced his diffusion line, he fell heavily into drugs and debt and – when the 1980’s ushered in the punk movement which quickly renounced Clark’s romanticism – into despair as well.

In 1984, Alfred Radley persuaded Clark to design for two seasons; the clothes were beautiful, but they were his last collections. Although technically out of business, he occasionally created one-off pieces for friends and also in the early 1990’s, trained the designer Bella Freud as a pattern-cutter.

Tragically, Clark was murdered in 1996 in his Holland Park flat by a former lover. In a fashion twist, Celia Birtwell has latterly re-emerged as a fashion figure, using her distinctive floral prints to create a series of capsule collections for Topshop, which bear the ‘vintage’ 30’s-40’s silhouette Clark loved so well.

Meanwhile, the David Hockney, ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’, painted in 1970, today hangs in Tate Britain and is one of the most visited paintings in the country.

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Robbie Williams loses £200,000 to con men “friends”

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Robbie Williams has reportedly lost more than £200,000 to two con men posing as friends.

A source told the Mirror that the two men were part of Robbie’s LA Vale soccer team entourage and used the former Take That star’s Hollywood home as a “24-hour crash-pad” before asking for the money to set up a fashion label in New York: “Robbie wants to be everyone’s friend and on this occasion, people have taken advantage. He has up to 20 people in his house at a time and everyone jokes that he’s the perfect host.”

“But what were fun times to begin with have started to take their toll. Rob’s become a bit jaded by the whole situation and has started putting on a bit of weight.”

The source explained that Robbie finally confronted the pair last week and a huge argument erupted which only ended when Robbie threatened to call the police and dissolved his beloved amateur soccer team: “It was as if the penny had finally dropped and Robbie realised he was being taken for a mug.”

“There was a screaming row between him and several people. He accused them all of taking advantage. He ordered them all out of his house and told them not to come back.”

“But it was when he disbanded the team that everyone became convinced he meant business. It’s very much his pride and joy. They all disappeared pretty sharpish.”

“At best Rob was being used, at worst, he was being conned. These so-called friends have preyed on his hospitality and good nature.”

What exactly is Britney Spears trying to tell us?

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

“Blackout,” the new album from Britney Spears, is as intoxicating as a snort of high-grade white powder. Like that nightclub indulgence, it’s an expensive ride, crafted by a team of top producers exploring the outer reaches of cybernetic pop. Its dazzling studio effects, rhythmic reconstructions and vocal shape-shifting drag the listener in, as each song elaborates on the power of desire and desirability. It’s hard to resist.

But maybe it’s time to start just saying no.

Since it leaked online a few weeks ago, “Blackout” has been receiving buzzy attention. A few reviewers have trashed it, but most have called it a comeback. Spears’ musical presence on the album may be minimal (dance-pop notables including Keri Hilson, Europop darling Robyn and L.A.’s own Nicole Morier shore up her vocals throughout, and Spears has just two deeply buried writing credits), and her public behavior remains cause for concern, but apparently that doesn’t matter. The music’s fun, the beats are fresh, and the Spears that “Blackout” promotes isn’t a person anyway but a publicly traded fantasy. Cynicism clearly outweighs compassion when it comes to poor, sad Brit.

The public agrees that Spears is a product worth purchasing. “Blackout,” which was released Tuesday, is expected to chart at No. 1 next week, moving about two-thirds of the 527,000 units Carrie Underwood did the week before. This even though, beyond a sleepy and rather sad phone-in appearance on Ryan Seacrest’s KIIS-FM radio show Wednesday, Spears isn’t promoting the release. Maybe she’s too caught up in the loss of her kids in a custody battle; maybe (even this seems possible with her) she really doesn’t like “Blackout” all that much.

After all, it’s not really her album, is it? It’s one thing to recognize the fluid collaborative process that has made for great music since the days of disco and jazz before that. It’s another to blithely dismiss the importance of the figure who carries that music forth into the world. Spears is listed as executive producer of “Blackout”, and the Wall Street Journal reported that it earned her a nearly $4-million advance. So the idea of Britney it presents must have some relation to her own idea of herself.

At any rate, there are three Britneys now. There’s the tragic celebrity going through a public breakdown, who seems to have little command over her own actions and less over how others treat her, including the public that’s circling and scorning her.

Then there’s the Britney created by Spears and many others over the course of a decade, an embodiment of the feminine libido in an age when empowerment and exploitation are often confused. Finally, there’s the Britney the public imagines, a repository for our fears about what today’s tough little girls might become and our disgust and fascination with the fame machine.

“Blackout” is an attempt by Spears and her latest crew of in-studio plastic surgeons to reconcile those three Britneys. But as seductive as the music is, it fails. Instead of reconciling the fantasy Britney with the one who breathes, these songs push aside her pain and defeat and substitute an almost militant wantonness. In the process, they abandon what made the invented Britney so appealing: her stance on the knife’s edge between virtue and corruption, the innocence of a girl brash enough to declare “I’m not that innocent.”

As the living, breathing Spears continues to crash downward in plain view, few seem troubled by the disconnect between the success of this album and the sorry state of its nominal maker. Even more disturbing, no one seems to care that the songs on “Blackout” uphold the very attitudes about femininity, sexual power, and the blur between reality and television-tabloid “reality” that have dragged Spears into misery — and those of us enthralled by her into a state of callousness and cynicism.

Let’s assume that Spears still wants to connect to the spirit of sexual liberation that took shape in the 1970s and went pop mostly through Madonna’s efforts in the 1980s. “Blackout” contains some direct Madonna references. The CD booklet photo showing Spears sitting on a priest’s lap, which has outraged the Catholic League, is an obvious nod. More generally, the album’s mix of avant-garde dance music and libertine lyrics echoes controversial landmarks such as “Justify My Love” and “Erotica,” which blended explorations of explicit subject matter with cutting-edge dance beats.

But Madonna’s libertinism was always tied to a community — an underground of self-identified queers and other sexual outlaws who saw erotic freedom as part of a larger movement toward gay and women’s liberation. In comparison, the mood of “Blackout” is oppressively retrograde.

Enlisting her signature panting coo, Spears presents herself (or is presented by the songwriters representing her) as a girl gone wild, driven incoherent by desire. “What I gotta do to get you to want my body?” this mother of two implores on “Get Naked.” The song is subtitled “I Got a Plan” — but the voice who claims that plan belongs to a man, background singer Corte Ellis, not Spears. Spears plans nothing. She occupies the centuries-old stereotype of the woman in heat, unable to control her sexuality, only finding relief when a man takes her in hand.

The other message “Blackout” strongly conveys is that notoriety is its own reward. In “Piece of Me,” the song most often cited as proof that Spears possesses some level of self-awareness (though she didn’t write it), Spears responds to being surveilled by the tabloids by listing the violations for which they cited her: She’s too fat, too thin, a grocery-store flasher, and a working mama who trots her kids around to her photo shoots. Most of all, she’s “shameless,” a word that has sounded truly defiant in the mouths of Garth Brooks and Ani DiFranco but that, dully voiced by Spears, becomes a condemnation she’s willing to embrace.

This list of sins is made musical within a choppy, mechanical setting that reinforces the aggressive petulance of the vocals. The title phrase suggests a threat without following through. A few songs later, “Freakshow,” which Spears did co-write, presents Team Britney’s solution to the quandary of constant surveillance: “Make them clap when we perform.”

In this scenario, a woman who’s been branded as overly sexual can respond only by becoming truly pornographic. It’s the culmination of the self-objectifying process that reality television and the fever for celebrity promotes, in which any kind of interior life, including both sexuality and artistic creativity, gets flattened out and transformed into an empty commodity.

If these songs represent Britney talking back, her response is disturbingly adolescent and predictable, with none of the redeeming emotion and individuality of other celebrity answer songs, like “Get in the Ring” by Guns N’ Roses or “Leave Me Alone” by Michael Jackson. W. Axl Rose wanted his enemies bloody; Jackson wanted to escape to Neverland. Britney doesn’t want to fight or retreat. Her solution to being exploited is only to exploit herself further.

But lyrics don’t matter in dance music, right? Real meaning resides in the way its rhythms moves the body and its inventive sonic twists expand the mind. If words are present, though, they communicate. Think about the dance songs you love most: They’re built around ritual incantations that express freedom, sorrow, pride or communal connection: “I Feel Love,” “I Will Survive,” “I’ve Got the Power,” “Groove is in the Heart.” Even chilly Madonna built a utopian vision of the dance floor as a free space in songs such as “Vogue,” in which striking a pose becomes a means to self-realization.

There’s no self-realization on “Blackout,” nor is there celebration. There’s only addiction – to sex, to powerful men, to exhibitionism. If this is how Spears wants to be perceived, she’s even more troubled than the tabloids tell. If it’s what those entrusted with her best interests think is most enticing — and if the marketplace proves them right — then we’re all hooked on some pretty nasty stuff. I wonder, will we ever be able to kick it?

Source: www.latimes.com

Goodbye Lycra, hello street cred

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

For the past few years, we have been told that cycling is becoming fashionable, in the sense that more people are doing it. But next month, it will become truly fashionable – as in the “Milan, darling” sense – when Chanel launches a limited-edition, eight-gear bicycle complete with leather saddle and quilted panniers, adorned with the trademark interlinked Cs, of course. But at £6,200, it’s probably not a good idea to leave it chained to the railings outside the local pub.

Fashion and sport have always had a symbiotic relationship. The permanent fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum illustrates this clearly with its three mannequins: one wearing English hunting dress from the 19th century; the second, a shooting jacket from the 1990s; and the last a lurid pink velour tracksuit from Juicy Couture, circa 2002.

Hunting, shooting and aerobics have all crossed into the mainstream and influenced the way we have dressed. But cycling? In this country the sport has never had the glamour it enjoys on the Continent.

While across the Channel the roads are always being blocked off to allow jewel-bright pelotons of amateur cyclists to thrash through the towns and villages, over here we frown on anything that might hinder the progress of the almighty automobile. So to avoid the traffic, keen sports cyclists have always set off at dawn, racing from one deserted village hall to another without the fanfare of an accompanying motorcade.

Recently, however, concern for the environment, worsening traffic conditions, high oil prices and an awareness of its health benefits have combined to attract thousands of new cyclists.

This summer, the Tour de France was given its best-ever send-off from Greenwich, of all places, and in September London mayor Ken Livingstone had great stretches of the capital closed for a day for the exclusive use of cyclists. Organised rides, such as those from London to Brighton or Cambridge, are becoming oversubscribed as more of us start using our bikes not just to commute to work but as something we actively enjoy as a hobby.

What this means – human nature being what it is – is that we want faster, sleeker, lighter equipment. Fashion designers have not been slow to catch on. Last year, the Italian house of Armani teamed up with bicycle-makers Bianchi to produce a line of chic city bikes (with in-built iPod carriers) and Sir Paul Smith, who hoped to become a professional cyclist until, at 17, an accident forced an abrupt career change, promotes the handmade frames produced by Derby-based firm Mercian.

We have also become more demanding about the clothes we wear while riding our bikes: after all, there is little point in having the very latest stripped-down fixed-wheeler if you are hoofing along in an old anorak and Day-Glo cycle clips. But skintight Lycra flatters very few, so an exotic fashion hybrid has emerged, most clearly shown by the London firm Rapha. For some years it has strived to harmonise the cruel demands of all-weather cycling with the diktats of style in its collections for men.

To this end, it has collaborated with Paul Smith to produce limited-edition designs. It also uses technologies such as the windproof, breathable Hytrel membrane in its softshell jackets, as well as leather from African hair sheep in its eye-wateringly expensive mitts. But it is the cut that sets it apart. Its jacket is “slim-fit, with off-set, fully lined zip. Four different pockets offer flexible storage. Lightweight friction toggles, cable-holes and ear-phone cable loops. Black lining. Embroidered logo on chest and back of collar.” No wonder it looks more at home on the pages of GQ than Cycling Monthly.

The company catalogue is a kind of cyclists’ pornography: grainy pictures of figures on willowy bicycle frames, battling against the elements. It attracts men in their thirties and forties with disposable incomes and big dreams – but who also have a meeting at 8.15am, so make do with the “¾ length lined zip with lockdown puller”.

The products are beautifully made and the design is convincingly coherent. Once you know what to look for, you can see the jerseys and jackets, hats and gloves cropping up at almost every traffic-light gathering in central London.

Which is more than you can say about the Chanel bike.