Archive for the ‘Fashion News’ Category

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


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.

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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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?


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.

Marie Helvin: ‘I know I’m too thin. It’s the adrenaline…’

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Marie Helvin: 'I know I'm too thin. It's the adrenaline...'Marie Helvin has the same problem as other women in finding clothes that suit her. She may have what her former husband, the photographer David Bailey, called a “perfect body”; she may appear enviably un-crêpey at 55, but in the wrong kit she can look scrawny.

I can vouch for this, having witnessed her trying on a whole rack of clothes intended for publicity junkets surrounding the launch of her new autobiography.

Experience has taught Helvin how to avoid obvious mistakes, as she riffles through the assembled options.

“Too short. I don’t show my knees.” “Too frilly.” Girly dresses are out. “Too frumpy.” The Ralph Lauren suit joins them. “Too weird.” So does the tartan Vivienne Westwood two-piece.

On and on goes the weeding process: too hot; too covered up; too pastel; too low-cut for television. That leaves just a handful of outfits for her to try on. The skirts swim around her bottom, and one dress fits below the waist but won’t do up around her bust. This, she assures me, is entirely usual: “My mother was known as Jayne Mansfield.”

Helvin knows she is too thin. In her youth, Bailey, who she credits with developing her look, said she looked “mighty meaty matey” and kept her on a broccoli-only diet. But these days her problem is maintaining her “fighting weight” of 130lb.

She has dropped to a size eight in the month since her mother died of a brain tumour. “It’s the adrenaline. I find it hard to keep things down.”

This is an agonising time for Helvin. Every night her octogenarian father rings from Hawaii, her childhood home, in tears.

Each morning starts with her sister Naomi, in Thailand, calling about when she can get home to Hawaii to scatter the ashes. In between those fixtures, she has to go out, sparkle and look glamorous. Even for a pro who has been modelling for nearly 40 years, that’s tough.

What makes it worse is that her friends aren’t rallying round. “I think they’re too scared to call me,” she says sadly. What about Jerry Hall, who used to be known as her terrible twin? “Jerry and I haven’t been close for years. We made a good foursome when I was with Bailey and she was with Mick, but then she had a family and wanted to talk about nappies.”

Helvin maintains that she is single and childless by choice. Last week, when challenged on television by Fern Britton, she blurted out: “I don’t like children,” and is now regretting her words. “She asked me whether I hadn’t had children because I wanted to keep my figure. I was so shocked that anyone could think that that I made things worse. It’s difficult when people tell me I look good for my age, so I say that I don’t have the stresses of children and a husband. Of course I like other people’s children. I just don’t want my own.

“At one time Jerry persuaded me to try, but when it didn’t work after six months I was relieved to go back on the Pill. I never wanted children – maybe because my mum didn’t want grandchildren. Maybe it’s genetic; none of my siblings has had children. Maybe it’s to do with the abortion I had in my early modelling days in Japan. It could be to do with my younger sister Suzon dying.”

Suzon was 23 when she fell off a cliff in Jamaica in mysterious circumstances. It was the beginning of the end of Marie’s marriage to Bailey, who offered minimal support. Later, she moved in with Mark Shand, the Duchess of Cornwall’s brother, but it was “torture”. “I’m spoilt. I like my own space,” she says. “I don’t even own a microwave and men don’t like that. They want to be looked after.”

In their time, every playboy – Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Dodi Fayed – tried to add Helvin to their list of conquests. Sometimes she had a fling, sometimes she resisted. She had enough money to travel and be independent. Then financial disaster in the aftermath of September 11 swept away her savings and five years ago, aged 50, she started modelling again.

“It’s flattering to be asked and it’s good money,” she says. She certainly knows how to do it. One minute she’s feeling grim and asking for a paracetamol, the next she turns on the “alert but at rest” look for a good photo: “You should look as if you have just exhaled – ‘Aaaah’,” she explains.

Her look is unchanged from her modelling heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. For a while she had short hair, but her publishers insisted that she grow it for the book so she looked like Marie Helvin.”It makes me recognisable. If I go to the supermarket wearing it in a scarf, with no make-up and baggy jeans and I don’t make eye contact, no one recognises me. Monroe used to say she could become Marilyn. It’s about the way you walk.”

Plastic surgery? “Absolutely, I approve,” she says, “but everyone says once you start it’s difficult to stop. I’ve considered Botox but my forehead is so high it might make me look like an alien.”

Instead, she trains herself not to frown, does facial exercises and sleeps sitting upright to avoid puffy eyes and crumple marks on her face. “Iman had to do it for six months after a serious accident and discovered that her skin looked better.

“Otherwise, I do what everyone else does. I use soap and water. Sometimes I eat, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m lucky in love, sometimes I’m not.”

But, of course, she knows how to dress. Jeans or a pencil skirt and a white shirt are her daily uniform. British tailoring delights her, so she adores her Edward Sexton suit. For the evening, something clingy – like the Roberto Cavalli dress; or sparkly – like the Ben de Lisi jacket; or cinched in around her waist, as with the Maria Grachvogel blouse.

But she can’t bear tights or closed-toe shoes. “I’m an island girl.” And, as soon as she can, she wants to turn off “Marie Helvin” and just be Marie with her family in Hawaii.


Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Pret-a-rapporterWhat are we supposed to do about the year-round mono-climate we’ve managed to create? Environmental doom apart, I’m very cross about it on a personal level: it’s wreaked havoc with my wardrobe.

This is how the season has shaped up for me so far. In anticipation of a tour of duty in the fashion trenches of Milan and Paris, I lost my head and invested in an autumn/winter uniform. What an idiot. After I had hauled a hundredweight of purchases several thousand miles, the whole lot turned out to be redundant.

The shopping list would have made sense in the good old days of four distinct seasons. I bought two coats: a sleek black cashmere one by Boudicca and a red Harris tweed by a new designer called Kinder (tweed, ha!).

I got myself a pinstripe pencil-skirt suit; a thick grey long-line jumper; a couple of high-buttoning long-sleeved blouses; a stretch wool Body Conscious dress (wool!); and I threw in several pairs of boots and thick opaque tights to cover all eventualities. Or rather, none.

What was I thinking of? Style-wise, I flattered myself that I’d hit every trend, but what a disaster. September was hot in Milan and hotter in Paris. Back in Blighty, barely a day since has warranted much more than a lightweight jacket and an umbrella.

We’ve reached the absurd situation where the pre-set machinery of fashion is still churning out the same old seasonal fare, assuming that sun is for summer and cold is for autumn as it was in Dick and Dora storybook days. And worse, for all my supposed insider fashion intelligence, I keep getting fooled by it. No more: it’s time to get a grip.

Look around this month and every fashion magazine and shop is full of alluring varieties of weather-inappropriate coats – cocoons, swingy things, capes and First World War trenches. Stand back, say I. Why buy when properly cold days have practically faded to a distant memory? By the time a chill comes around, they will all be on sale, anyway.

You can always tell the way things are going by the pack-conversation of fashion editors waiting for the shows to begin. Along the rows and benches, I heard nothing but the latest chic boast: “Oh, I haven’t bought a thing!”

Has an incredible parsimony settled over this previously spendthrift community? Only partly – though designer prices have rocketed. No, the smart Americans and Europeans were happily wafting around bare-legged in little more than breezy, trapezey dresses (black, natch) and humongous wedges or platforms.

Way to go, I think. A neat jacket to shrug on top, a couple of belts, a scarf and an arsenal of opaque Wolford tights – that’s what a modern, climate-aware, year-round wardrobe looks like to me.

• Is there really no stopping the blight of Mrs Beckham? An unconfirmed rumour – from reliable sources – is circulating that she’s likely to be the face of the Marc Jacobs spring advertising campaign. That would mean being photographed by the unsparing lens of the ex-grunge visual supremo Juergen Teller, who has created Jacobs’s advertising image over many years; a brave step for any woman with vanity, but that’s by the bye.

It’s the head-messing contradictions the collaboration sparks – the world’s most uncool celebrity in association with one of the world’s coolest designers. I speak as a snob, of course. VB and her bodyguards are for ever getting under one’s feet at fashion shows.

She was at Jacobs’s show in New York, and at his Louis Vuitton collection in Paris – as well as practically everywhere else. What people like me can’t stand is the idea that the woman we had down as a show-side nuisance (there to please the tabloids) might be about to vault to the forefront of a brand that we have spent a decade revering as separate, special and anti all things establishment and mainstream.

If true, it would of course be the biggest tease Marc Jacobs could pull – as well as an industry-sized billboard summing up the way fashion is going. Or has gone.

Using Posh would say: “It doesn’t matter what cliques and elites think any more, only celebrity sells.”

It would be a triple coup. Victoria could feel endorsed in her fashion credibility, Jacobs could use her fame both genuinely and satirically – while people like me work up his name even further with our endless speculations about his possible postmodern ironic manipulations of media.

Whether Jacobs does employ Mrs Beckham or not is beside the point. Even in theory, it sums up the chilly reality that has dawned through this last round of collections. In more shows than I’d care to enumerate, there was a prickly feeling that designers are shooting above the heads of the insider audience.

They were not aiming to impress the critics, but to sell bags, bags, bags, and a few dull commercial clothes to (hate to say it, but) vulgar “new markets” – for some of which Victoria Beckham is a heroine.

• On the upside, my favourite tip from the latest shows is one to adopt right now. Jewellery has gone big, blatant, and, for the likes of me, satisfyingly junky.

Multiple strings of giant beads, pearls, chains, diamanté brooches, stacks of bangles and stone-encrusted belts were liberally scattered over the most influential collections – including Marni, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton and Dries Van Noten. What’s not to like?

With a sharp eye for the right kind of sparkle, colour and oversized flowers, it’s all eminently sourceable for a few quid from most Christmas church fairs.


Thierry Henry: ‘I’m definitely not a fashion victim’

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Thierry Henry Fashion Thierry Henry is back in London. With minders, a precisely timed schedule, and a clothes range to launch.

Crowds jostle to get a glimpse as he models the Thierry Henry Capsule Collection in the window of the Regent Street Tommy Hilfiger store.

He certainly looks the part. Black kipper tie, white shirt long-sleeved shirt and grey suit from the Tommy Hilfiger range. Matched with an air of confidence and a genuine smile.

Cameras flash and bulky men guard doors. Champagne is served. Cheers to the new clothes.

But what is the footballer thinking in those split seconds when he turns away from it all, his back to everyone, his fists on his hips? Is this real for him? Does he have other things on his mind?

He has been through a lot recently, the move from Arsenal to Barcelona for £16.1m, the divorce from model Claire Merry (who he met on the va va voom set). What does it feel like being back in London? Doesn’t he just wish everyone would just go away?

He seems resigned to the perils of stardom. But it is still strange to see yourself on the side of a bus, he says.

“I can never get used to it to be honest.” He is still “like a kid” about that.

How did the collection come about?

After working with Tommy Hilfiger on a few shoots, Thierry mentioned his new charity to him, The One 4 All Foundation, which tackles racism and social inequality. Hilfiger liked the idea of teaming up.

Profits from sales of the collection will go to help the charity.

There were a lot of meetings, Henry tells me. Lots of shoots. He sounds quite bored. “I didn’t know they were going to put my face on it.”

The point, for him, is the charity. This is what is real.

“It’s important. That is exactly where I come from”

The aim is to help these kids. “Trying to keep them dreaming.”

Henry was born and brought up in the tough neighbourhood of Les Ulis, Essonne, France. AS Monaco spotted him in 1990 and signed him up. Then he went to Juventus, Arsenal, and this year, Barcelona.

“Those kids still have the right to dream. You never know, maybe the next Prime Minister might be there. But you can never know if you don’t give them a chance.”

It is clear he sees himself in them, and this drives his enthusiasm.

He says you need to give them the material things that they need – like furniture, and facilities, so they can have a good education, so they can “just be themselves, and make sure they grow properly”.

“Sometimes your parents can not be around you and support you because maybe themselves, they have to take two jobs at a time. It is the oldest brother usually who has to look after everybody.”

“I know exactly how it is in an underprivileged area. That is where I come from.”

The collection with Hilfiger is a way that he has found that means he can help. But he has no pretensions about his fashion credentials.

“I am not a stylist and I am not a designer,” he says.

“I’m definitely not a fashion victim. It is not like ‘I need to have this because everyone is wearing it’. I will actually be totally the opposite.”

Who influenced his style?

“My dad. When I was young. He was just crazy with his clothes.”

Always wearing matching clothes, always looking good. Just being himself.

Any style tips for men? What creates the best look?

“Just wear what you really feel comfortable with. Be yourself and be confident. It depends on what you like and how you wear it. I think it’s all down to that. You have to have your own style.”

There seems no danger of him getting sucked into the clean-cut fashion world he is moving in right now.

Fashion or football? Football. Every time.

And what about what next? Any plans?

“I never plan anything because sometimes you can get too much disappointment when you plan stuff. You already can get disappointed when you don’t plan aswell.”

The enthusiasm is gone from his voice.

Fair enough. Some of his plans have admittedly gone astray.

I’ll see what life can bring me, he says, as the next person desperate for his attention is ushered in.

Kate Moss celebrates Christmas early

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Kate Moss Kate Moss celebrated Christmas a few weeks’ early at Annabel’s in London last night, and she has every reason to celebrate.

She is looking great. She has a new haircut (fringe + choppy, shoulder length bob) and a new boyfriend, Jamie Hince, guitarist with The Kills. And she has just presided over her third and best-yet collection for Topshop.

She marked the occasion with a glamorous dinner and fashion show at the legendary nightclub in Berkeley Square, which she co-hosted with Topshop/Arcadia supremo, Sir Philip Green.

For all its star-studded celebrity, royal and rock ‘n’ roll rating – Princess Beatrice, Naomi Campbell in Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl and boyfriend Jamie Cullum, Elle Macpherson, Lily Allen in vintage Claude Montana, Sir Bob Geldof, Bobby Gillespie, Chrissie Hynde, David Walliams, Sadie Frost, Jade Jagger in Yves Saint Laurent, for starters – there was a buzzy, friendly intimacy about the whole evening.

Kate was positively glowing, her hair and skin as gleaming as the black satin ,halter-neck, ‘cat suit’ from the collection which she wore with a vintage, 1920’s silver beaded cape. She radiated happiness and, as they say, her smile just beamed.

The collection was shown on a gold catwalk which snaked between the tables – the first time Kate has seen her clothes in a proper fashion show-catwalk situation.

“I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown this morning,” Kate told me. “But then, once I saw the run-through and the clothes on the girls I realised it was going to be alright.”

She was spot-on. Heavy on black – which, as every girl and woman knows is THE most flattering colour – the clothes mixed 1920’s flapper, Biba and disco diva influences in a manner that was both sassy and sophisticated.

Great mini-dresses – which also worked as tunics over wide trousers and leggings – were embellished with fine black sequins and beads. Long, ‘hippie’ dresses were bias-cut and patchworked in floral and black lace.

Sir Philip’s daughter Chloe was wearing one of the star pieces from the collection: a cream and silver beaded Charleston shift, which also comes in black and silver. There was a gold ‘romper’ playsuit and a pair of skimpy hot-pants which only a Kate-clone could wear, but these were balanced by LBD’s with long sleeves trimmed with feathers and well-tailored tuxedo-style trouser-suits – in black, a la Marlene or cream, as in Bianca. Sir Bob’s girlfriend, Jeanne Marine, said she wanted ‘every single piece’. Lily Allen couldn’t wait to get her hands on the dresses.

The disco diva vibe was particularly appropriate, since after dinner (lobster salad, blackened cod, choccy pud), Sir Philip unveiled a surprise guest – Grace Jones, who writhed sinuously inside a billowing Issey Miyake witch’s cape, blown and tossed by a friendly wind machine, while husking ‘Slave to the Rhythm’. It was when she hit her stride – and some wild, screamingly-high notes – in La Vie En Rose, however, that the place really erupted. Kate, Naomi, Kelly Osbourne, the Geldofs, the soprano Katherine Jenkins, among others, were all lured irresistibly onto the tiny dance-floor.

Now, back in February, at London Fashion Week, when it was first mooted that Kate was about to go into the fashion business with Sir Philip, there were more than a few ‘suits’ who wondered if this was a wild card too far for the high street entrepreneur. Kate appeared to have survived the ‘Cocaine Kate’ scandal of September 2005. But she was still irredeemably attached to the former junkie, Pete Docherty and, with her unkempt hair and sallow complexion, appeared, at times, to be matching him in the unsavoury stakes.

Kate’s first collection came in for criticism for being a bit of a riff on her own wardrobe. The second fared better. And, now, with this Christmas collection, it is becoming increasingly obvious this is no flash-in-the-pan for Britain’s most famous model. Even those at Topshop who may have had initial doubts about her commitment to the fashion venture, now are full of praise for her involvement, application and enthusiasm.

Ms Moss is obviously in this for the long-haul and with every successive notch on her retail career ladder she is becoming more and more assured and her collections are developing a distinctive signature.

It is quite extraordinary to think this has all happened in just nine months.

Fashion for all

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Fashion for allParis fashion week: eight days, 90 shows, a cast of thousands, a budget of millions. And how many trends? Er, none, actually. Nada, zero, zilch. At a push, you could count florals as a trend, but predicting that people may wear floral prints in summer is a bit like forecasting that they will wear sunglasses or eat ice cream. When something happens every summer, it’s not a trend.Trends have become the comfort food of style, the clothes on which we mindlessly retail-snack. They govern how we dress, whether we like it or not. With catwalk interpretations in every store, and the high street bringing us a new look every three to six weeks (that’s our attention span for a new look these days, apparently) what we buy is almost inevitably trend-led. So the mood in Paris last week was uncertain and a little bewildered. Six months ago, designers marched us smartly into gothic black, body-con and power dressing. Now they are beating a semi-retreat back into romance and prettiness, and we are left wrong-footed. To add to the unease, while there is no one mood, no single direction to be gleaned from Paris this season, this does not mean that all outfits are to be deemed equal. Far from it. There will still be a fashion in-crowd – it’s just that this season, you can’t hope to join the club simply by buying the key piece, the puffball skirt or mustard-coloured jumper. The look of the moment is as exclusive as ever: it’s just going to be harder than ever to pin down.

We can start with butterfly wings. Fashion is, after all, the zeitgeist with a price tag, and micro-trends are as much a phenomenon of fashion retail as of electioneering. In his book Microtrends, Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief adviser, has identified trends that while small – linking, say, 1% of the population – can become extremely powerful in our internet era, in which like-minded people can find each other and join forces. Similarly, our sophisticated, fast-moving fashion industry can now lend momentum to seemingly insignificant trends; the choice is such that there is, arguably, no longer any need for the whole of womankind to sign up to boho. Certain motifs and ideas recurred in Paris, albeit without an overarching trend to link them.At Alexander McQueen, butterfly-wing prints appeared on a long, fluttery silk dress; at Miu Miu, they quivered in 3D on the front of a pair of sandals. Frock coats made a sequence of cameo appearances: in cream silk at Christian Dior, cinched tight in Prince of Wales check at Alexander McQueen, zipped at Givenchy, deconstructed at Hussein Chalayan. The subverted-French-maid look cropped up twice (super-short, like aprons without a skirt, at Miu Miu; in lime and white frills at Giambattista Valli).

The fact that the two noblest fashion houses of Paris – Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent – both chose stars as their motif of the season could be seen as a micro-trend; the appearance of turbans at Sonia Rykiel and at Hermès likewise, especially since turban-style wrapping was the inspiration and recurring theme of Francesca Versace’s first collection, Francesca V. Nor is the micro-trends phenomenon limited to Paris: in Milan, a fad for casual floorlength gowns – a wardrobe category that didn’t exist this time last year – made star turns at labels as diverse as Armani and Roberto Cavalli.

If butterfly wings, frock coats and French maids are micro-trends, there are some mini-trends around too. First up is simplicity, albeit unfortunately not simplicity of the jeans-and-white-T-shirt kind: this is statement (read, expensive) simplicity. For the first time in years, outfits made up of separates in the same print hit the runway: at Louis Vuitton and at Miu Miu, but most strikingly at Balenciaga, which about turned from last season’s Global Traveller (clashy-clashy, we’re calling it) to a collection in which every outfit was made up of a single print of a vibrant hydrangea or poppy. At Celine, the new mood of reborn, super-luxe matchy-matchy shone through in the hot pink cocktail dress, worn with perfectly matched bag and shoes. A complete no-no a month ago, this look has suddenly found favour. Victoria Beckham, who appears to have some sort of obsession with matching accessories to her dress, will be in heaven.

Nicholas Ghesquière said of his new collection that, wherever possible, each outfit was comprised of just one piece. The new statement simplicity means top billing for dresses – with playsuits and jumpsuits also making a strong showing as one-piece outfits. The headline dress shape of the season is strapless, with a bustier giving added shape at the neckline and the hips slightly exaggerated: this dress, in myriad guises, cropped up everywhere from Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent to Agnès b.

Perhaps the most noticeable trend of the week was not, strictly, a clothing one at all. For the past five years, “It” handbags have been a fashion, retail and media phenomenon – at times, the cover star of Grazia has seemed to be as much the oversized, £1,000 masterpiece of YSL buffalo hide as the undersized actor carrying it. But suddenly, shoes rather than bags are where it’s at for the first time since, well, Sex and the City was on the small rather than the big screen. Just as many shows in past seasons have seemed to be little more than vehicles for the handbag cash cows, this season it was the shoes that seemed to jump off the catwalk.

At Miu Miu, for instance, the ultra-naivety of the clothes was belied by the fabulous, sophisticated shoes: T-bars, with gold teacup handles on the heels, and round-toed court shoes, with heels so high the wearer seemed almost en pointe, tied with ballerina ribbon criss-crossed at the ankle.

So how does all this translate into getting dressed? We fashion hounds have been gnawing away at this issue on your behalf all week, and what we have come up with is this: it’s floaty, but with a bit of a jacket, and a shoe with a good chunk of a heel. (Two shoes, obviously, with a chunk of a heel each, but after a month of catwalking, we’ve lapsed into the fashion singular: “a boot” rather than boots and “a jean” rather than jeans. One of our number, who shall remain anonymous, announced on Saturday that she was looking forward to a drink and “a nice olive”.)

The handbag-versus-shoe struggle is important here: while handbags and shoes are, arguably, both about sex and power, they represent different aspects of each. A handbag is more ladylike, a shoe more strident. And while a stiletto heel is a half-hidden menace, a stolid heel – this season’s choice – is an open threat. (Fuck-you shoes, rather than fuck-me shoes, if you will.)

Colour matters too. The French editors on whom I have had the most resounding style crush this season are both doing floaty-with-a-bit-of-a-jacket-and-a-chunk-of-a-heel for winter, but in black; come spring, they and everyone else will be doing it in colour.Fashion for all

There are two colour camps next season. Some labels, such as Lanvin or Louis Vuitton, are going with marzipan brights while others, such as Antonio Berardi and Vanessa Bruno, are plumping for blush: the colour of pale skin crossed with a pink party dress.

As to where to get your floaty with a bit of a jacket and a chunk of a heel look – I did warn you this season wasn’t the snappiest – I have to start with Vanessa Bruno, if only because the 40-year-old designer herself took her bow in possibly the best example of the look I saw all week: a blush-pink tuxedo-style jacket, worn open with a simple white cotton skirt and vest. The clothes in the show – especially the lace-over-lime shorts and lace-over-peach jacket – were beautiful too. Stella McCartney captured the look with soft blazers over elegant silk shorts; Antonio Berardi with jackets and trousers in silk the colour of full-cream milk. Some designers I shall refrain from mentioning decided to channel the “floaty” part of the look into those hideous low-crotch pants. Christian Dior captured the sharp/soft contrast with trompe l’oeil dresses made to resemble a waistcoat and long skirt; Loewe had jackets and shorts in sand-coloured suede. Nina Ricci, designed by Olivier Theyskens, put a darker spin on the floaty-plus-jacket look, so that the models looked like gothic wood nymphos. There are brands in Paris that march to the beat of their own drum. At Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs continued to experiment with imbuing new value to a fashion brand by means of artistic input, collaborating with artist Richard Prince on a range of handbags and shoes which deliberately challenged notions of quality. The LV logo, for instance, was stamped smudgily, as it might be in a bad fake. (Readers who follow catwalk sagas might be interested to hear that Jacobs’ backstage demeanour did nothing to suggest his tantrum with the fashion world over the bad reception to his New York show is over. After the show, he greeted Prince loudly thus: “Did you like it? Because there’s only one person who I cared if they liked the show, and that’s you. If you liked what we did with your stuff, then I don’t give a fuck what the rest of the world thinks.” Loud and clear, Mark, loud and clear.

Chanel next season was an ode to Americana: a prom queen with a camellia corsage. Alexander McQueen was a homage to Isabella Blow, with a high neck, a square shoulder, a tiny waist and a vertiginous heel for day; a romantic gown with a corset and some bosom for night. Lacroix was bright and shiny and beribboned, like fashion giftwrap. Hermès was jodhpurs, cocktail dresses with built-in pashminas, riding boots in hot pink crocodile; everything for the foxy maharajah. Chloé was, well, I didn’t get Chloé at all. Dingy layers for women who want to look soft but not pretty, kooky but not interesting, is the best I can come up with. This, in all, was a season which asked more questions than it resolved. But chin up – you can always wear florals.

Paris Fashion Week: Round up review

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Paris fashion weekWhile Milan had romance, Paris said it with flowers. The floral dance began at Balenciaga, where Nicolas Ghesquière delivered an electrifying collection in peony, rose, gladioli, violet and gardenia prints from the archives, digitally enhanced for supranormal shape and colour possible only in computer-land.

In sumptuous fabrics, such as silk faille and radzimir, his sculpted short dresses and micro-suits over shorts appeared as dazzling as sunlight on stained glass.

Shoulders were curved, skirts belled, corset-lacing replaced seams and the thong concept continued with metal-heeled gladiator sandals.

The theme was taken to the opposite extreme at John Galliano. Here all was softness, frills, retro bias-cuts and gentle pastels, with the emphasis on roses; printed on chiffon, appliquéd in silk and half-hidden within the folds of a ruffled peplum.

Elsewhere, florals were tropical. Antonio Marras at Kenzo hacked his way through a rainforest to produce exotic blooms, knitted in jacquard, beaded in sequins or splashed on silk.

Dries Van Noten focused on the jungles of Bali and Borneo, with mis-matched orchid, hibiscus and frangipani-print cotton and silk, wrapped and draped in sari- and sarong-folds, and variations on sarouel trousers.

Mini-florals came in wafting chiffon at Stella McCartney, or bunched into voluminous cotton blousons at Junya Watanabe. Christian Lacroix splashed Impressionist roses on demoiselle dresses. Limi Feu, daughter of Yohji Yamamoto, showed silver roses on black full skirts.

Alexander McQueen, eschewed the flower-strewn path, but poured his heart and soul into a collection of outrageous beauty in a tribute to his late friend, muse and mentor, the fashion icon, Isabella Blow.

Hourglass tailoring of exquisite precision; “geisha” silks; “samurai” leathers; feather-print chiffon; gowns hand-stitched with feathers and worn with silk butterfly hats and crystal dragonfly pillboxes by Philip Treacy – all a vivid reminder of Blow’s eccentric, stylish wardrobe.Paris fashion week

Prints were important, even when not floral: stars and stripes at Chanel; leopard-spot and pinstripe at Dior; Minoan friezes at Sophia Kokosalaki; and rock-and-roll T-shirts with computerised “Old Master” mixes in Olivier Theyskens’s collection for Nina Ricci, accessorised with marabou and ostrich feathers.

Yohji Yamamoto explored the George Sand-Frédéric Chopin wardrobe in dramatic black-and-silver tailcoat-and-crinoline marriages, with “tattoo” prints.

Crinolines also starred in Rei Kawakubo’s cacophony of colour, print and global references at Comme des Garçons, while Jean Paul Gaultier inveigled feather and satin crinolines into his Pirates of the Caribbean in camouflage.