Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yulia Tymoshenko is possibly best known for her highly fashionable wardrobe. It is unusual for her type of clothes to be worn in a political environment and this has given her an international notoriety that most Eastern Europeans certainly never achieve. I think this has afforded us the space to reconsider the approach that is taken towards dress by most female politicians. The accepted baseline is always conservative clothing, nothing too risky, kept as close to menswear as possible in order to accentuate the more masculine elements of personality. People who reveal themselves as too feminine, Theresa May, Jacqui Smith, are more likely to be criticised than regarded as fashionable. It often feels like female politicians are opening themselves up for a world of sexist pain if they dare to wear half of the clothes available in Marks and Spencer, never mind any other shops. However the perception that they have pushed it too far in order to look good is wildly inaccurate, if they really were wearing tremendously fashionable clothes, the type that can be recognised by the most incompetent among us then they would clearly come in for less criticism.

Tymoshenko's clothes are better, more exciting and beautiful than any British female politician's. Even the younger women who go into politics don't bear any comparison and that's not because they have less money. They just don't seem particularly interested in the way that they look. Political hair among the women of this country is dire, even those with good haircuts like Sarah Teather lean towards the thoroughly conservative. Tymoshenko takes great care of her appearance generally, she would never allow her hair to be styled like Theresa May's, she clearly has her fingernails manicured. Originally I wanted to write a comparison, unfortunately the only viable and consistent comparison on the level of dress seemed to be with Laura Bush (who does not have a career as a politician), who also has an ability to choose clothes cut to a very high standard.

Hilary Clinton is perhaps the next best comparison to make. Again she has hair problems, women appear to get to a certain point in their lives and western hairdressers start giving them very specific haircuts with matching colour jobs. Clinton has always had atrocious hair, in no way does it stand up to the record set by Tymoshenko whose hair has never been objectionable, even if it sometimes comes across as boring. Clinton does know how to choose her jackets though, they fit well and they often have good collars, which is true of Yulia Tymoshenko's jackets as well.

There aren't any competitors in English politics, tidying up Theresa May is the best option available and although she will never be as glamorous, as well kept she will choose interesting clothes. The press should stop criticising female politicians for wearing what they enjoy, it's difficult to choose items that are formal, interesting and suit bodies that are not as petite as Tymoshenko's and some of our politician's have been doing an okay job of it, even if their garments aren't as enthralling as I would like.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Any attempt I make to buy clothes at this time of year tends to be scuppered by the December sales season. As if shopping wasn't already a tragic, unpleasant event, marred by the sheer number of people on London's streets, the shops now make the experience reminiscent of hell by making clothes shops, our last bastion of peace on a Saturday afternoon Oxford Street as bad as everywhere else. I have not been been shopping this year and I intend to buy the meagre five presents that I owe to people I love after work sometime in the next seven days. The notion of spending my weekend in the shops at this time of year is one that I am rejecting more actively as I get older, usually I like clothes shops even when they're full of people but the clothes shops trot out the most gruesome elements of their stock for every sucker in the country in December. Shoe shops, specifically Office are the worst, they don't seem to have sales, they appear to make a line of horrific shoes that don't fit properly to sell to people at cheap prices. Have you ever tried buying sexy, appealing shoes that fit okay with size 8 feet? It's not fun, it's stressful, competitive and tiring and I don't do it anymore. If I could abolish one single thing it would be the December sales, save it until January and let us buy what we need in peace when we can't avoid shopping.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A different colour and cut of dress and less eye make up will expose the subjective perception of fashion writers everywhere. Keira Knightley's collarbone, the top of her chest, jaw and arms are exactly the same size but when she puts on a dress with a full skirt that doesn't expose her rib cage the credulous will happily believe that she's healthier than she was a few months ago. That's not to say that I think she's unhealthy, I'm aware that if I stopped eating meat, cake and other sweets, the odd roast dinner and fried breakfast and exercised regularly I could probably be the size of Keira Knightley within a couple of months and I would be healthier than I am now. All media is fickle and a little ignorant of clothes.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The University of Southampton has decided to close the Textile Conservation Centre. "It is understood that an endowment of £5 million could still save the centre". Read about the situation on Times Online and please sign this petition if you are a British citizen. As The Guardian points out The only comparable centre in Europe is in Switzerland.

The official website for the TCC is here and as it points out the Textile Conservation Centre is the leading international organisation in the field of textile conservation research, education and practice, it should be saved because our clothing and an incredible amount of textile design is not simply comparable to art but is art. Who will restore William Morris patterns, the Bayeux tapestry, the textiles of the royal palaces if no one has the skill to do so, should we just let every artistic industry die?

Friday, December 07, 2007

It took me a long time to understand why I disliked the negative commentary concerning Gwen Stefani's harajuku girls, the discussion of racism seemed fundamentally racist, as if the presence of harajuku girls was making a comment about all Japanese people rather than celebrating the strides in fashion made in the style district of Tokyo. It felt to me as if prejudice towards Japanese women already existed and was betrayed by a sudden violent but flippant reaction to some dancers who were not caucasian.

I'm having the same response to the discussion of the recent injured idol trend. One person interviewed commented that the bandage trend made it easier to pick up men and as a result this has been picked up online almost uniformly as an anti-feminist style. Even the feminist blogs have run with this notion despite it clearly being quite sexist, for instance if you interviewed a man on the street in London and he remarked that he wore pinstripe suits because they made him taller and women find taller men more attractive I doubt that he would be labelled as sexist. It's the idea that this is linked to bondage, that styles linked to those things are a little dubious, that women wear clothes that men like that's being responded to. This is all mixed in with the idea of exoticism, of men exoticising women of different racial backgrounds to themselves but to make that link unconsciously and carry it across the Internet in response to a style of clothing, no matter how weird, is both racist and sexist. It seems important to remember that people who really think about their clothing do so with the primary intention of looking better from the perspective of other people. If the motivation is linked to your sexuality it's not surprising and I rarely hear an argument that tackles this basic idea in a practical sense.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I rarely come across a collision of fashion and chocolate so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lindka Cierach has created a Lindor dress. Linzi Stoppard was photographed in the dress this week, it's made of that striking red chocolate wrapping that's immediately recognisable and Swarovski crystals. It's a bespoke gown that cost £3,500, amazingly the chocolate appears to actually construct the skirt, how she isn't actually eating it while wearing the dress is completely beyond me.

Cierach's clothes are very striking, she shapes the female body in a really specific way and that makes her work surprisingly distinctive. While the Lindor dress is a novelty item it carries the characteristics, the cut of her clothing very well and it is difficult to envisage disliking her clothes because they make bodies look so interesting.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Things that I'm specifically interested in: menswear and the way that the media engages with it, the emergence of the three piece suit as standard clothing in the 19th and 20th centuries, haute couture as a relatively new and passing phase as framed by Charles Worth, the parallels between corsetry and cosmetic surgery/injections as forms of acceptable body modification, the supermodels as representations of the ideal fashionable body.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Men's fashion writing is quite simply excrutiatingly humiliating. While women's fashion writing isn't exactly the height of intelligence it doesn't quite manage to be as derogatory, doesn't force as many unoriginal novelty pieces into a space that can't hold them effectively. If I begin with examples than perhaps my position will be clarified easily. 8 Men's Fashion Mistakes to Avoid is the most obvious of these. Mistakes include socks and sandals, novelty ties and underwear and 'blaring' designer labels. The author Daniel Billett, who I would guess is a career writer rather than a person interested in clothing, then goes on to start insulting practical measures that a man might adopt. Apparently carrying a backpack to the office is a fashion mistake and wearing loose clothes is wrong. Now I would say that any man who actually thinks about the clothes that he wears avoids at least 6 of the "mistakes" that Daniel Billett took the time to think up, possibly while watching television, eating his dinner and typing with one hand. It seems fundamentally insulting that this could be published as advice anywhere. If "he understands what wearing clothes for real life situations is all about" than why is he focusing partly on the foolish and partly on perfectly acceptable but clearly personal dislikes? His work is embarassing because it's so simplistic, despite being a man he treats other men like incompetents by putting this kind of thing together and god alone knows who else thought this was an ingenious article.

Men's Flair is a little better. It treats men as if they are people who are interested in the clothes they put on rather than incompetents who need to be told not to wear Homer Simpson ties. I think it can be taken as read that if you're wearing a novelty tie you know it looks silly and feel good and confident about that. Men's Flair does occasionally churn out nonsense, here is a piece on male fashion icons. The chosen two are JFK and George Clooney, both are well dressed and will always be perceived in that way but the site fails to indicate why these men are style icons rather than two interesting celebrities. Men's Flair needs to go into more detail, the writers need to sit down and think about the exact reasons why they would choose brown boots over black boots, George Clooney over Denzel Washington and really highlight what it is about certain subjects that make them special. This is almost the opposite of Daniel Billett's problem, he treated his audience like they understood nothing, the writers at Men's Flair seem to think their audience understand their motivations without explaining them. The writing is certainly of better quality, this isn't a gimmick, the people who write here are motivated to write about clothes even if it's not fleshed out properly. I wouldn't pick this site out as a good example of online fashion writing but it's not appalling and doesn't assume that men know nothing about items they encounter everyday.

Of all the sites I've looked at in the last few days I would probably pick Stylezilla by Chris, which unfortunately is updated rarely. It's American, most menswear sites appear to be and it's purely about clothes. The run down and commentary is pretty good, it's clearly aimed at men who work in smartly dressed environments but what it does it does well. The entire site isn't an advert, it isn't trying for masculine irony, generally you could read it and feel like you were engaging with someone who has an honest enthusiasm for fashion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's been 60 years since we experienced all-encompassing textile restriction and that lack of restriction allows our clothing to be significantly more adventurous and creative than it would otherwise be. In Britain in the 1940s one of the most prominent wartime slogans (there was a slogan for everything it seems) was Make Do and Mend. The industrialisation of clothing production, a method that the country had adapted to in an extremely short space of time was withdrawn because there was little available material. Clothing manufacturers were put to work constructing military uniforms and as a result many people unpicked clothes and household materials and converted them using different patterns. The rules were stringent; The government limited pleats and hems because they consumed material and men's trousers typically had turn ups. Coupons were issued that restricted the amount of new clothes an individual could purchase. It is difficult to envisage the difficulties involved in rationing. The romanticisation of wartime Britaitn is something I don't want to engage in, I feel that it is mistaken to idealise a time period with restrictions that you cannot envisage. It sounds like it was difficult, oppressive and frightening. The majority of us cannot conceive of living with absolutely no luxury but going to shops and purchasing clothes, stockings, cake is luxury in the context of that time.

In 1942 the L-85 restrictions were adopted in the USA. These restrictions weren't rationing in quite the same sense. Pantyhose, tights and stockings, were banned because the nylon could be used for military purpose but the L-85 restrictions were put in place to save 15 percent of domestic fabric production and 40 million to 50 million pounds of wool. The length of jackets and the width and length of skirts was limited leading to the enforced popularity of the pencil skirt. In addition buttons, pleats and trimmings were restricted. Cuffs, double yokes, patch pockets and attached coat hoods were all banned because they were perceived as features that used extra, unnecessary fabric. These rules worked to suspend fashion and preserve the same styles throughout the 1940s, the fashion industry in Europe had been suspended indefinitely and the US slowed down in accordance with that area of the world.

Ultimately the fashion industry snapped back quickly and immediately moved towards using extraneous material in clothing, a subject discussed in the British press over the last few months with the coverage of Dior's New Look. I don't think that the reemergence of the fashion industry is as interesting as the engagement of the public in retaining style with very few new clothes and very little material. I'm not talking about a fighting spirit but rather the development of a very specific skill set, a generation of women who could sew regardless of their social status because the majority would not have been able to retain any staff or employ dressmakers. If you would like to see some wartime clothing patterns you can take a look here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I am not obsessed with eyebrows but they are quite clearly extremely important if you are interested in fashion and appearance. The shape of the eyebrow restructures the face, this is never more clear than when you look at photos of Liz Hurley. Even if she's had work done (which is neither here nor there) her eyebrows make her face look different.

This is not about Liz Hurley though, this is again about political fashion and I specifically want to talk about the eyebrows of the Chancellor, Alastair Darling.

I wouldn't want Darling to dye his hair and eyebrows to match, they make him recognisable when so many polticians are forgettable, but in a world where women are constantly criticised for their appearance it seems rather unfair that he escapes with so little comment on his decision. Indeed many male politicians are given a get out of jail free card where their appearance is concerned while their female counterparts are roundly objected to. Jacqui Smith apparently shows too much cleavage, this is reported by The Times, The Sun and The Daily Mail. Alastair Darling's eyebrows don't match his hair but this only comes up (affectionately) on the Labour website and Yahoo Answers. Google gives me one national media reference and it is in a column that Darling wrote himself. I really think that if we're going to comment on the physical appearance and attributes of politicians, actually comment on their bodies and the choices they make about dressing and adapting them then it shouldn't be restricted to female politicians but broadened. In fact I would appreciate it if there was a little more commentary on just how boring and disenchanting the clothing of male politicians is, they may spend on suits but have you seen their casual wear?

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you want to listen to people utterly manhandle the idea of appearance and plastic surgery, ignore the entire human history of body modification and make a series of moral judgments made on the basis of spurious opinion that the individual members of the discussion group already held than I suggest the 21st November edition of BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. They make an absolute pig's ear of discussing the issue, barely scratching the surface and utterly failing to recognise the modification of the body as a social norm, more importantly a social norm in the United Kingdom. Once again I'm referring to corsetry, which changed the shape of women's bodies to make them more beautiful for over a century. These people are paid to think and discuss on this programme and they really fail to do either.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Last night I flicked the TV on to Question Time and I was a little confused by the clothing, make up and hair choices made by Nicola Sturgeon. Obviously Nicola's appearance wasn't my main focus although Westminster politics is such a load of showmanlike drivel that the way the panel look may as well be a major selling point.

Before I really take apart the appearance and adornment of one person I want to explain why I look at politician's clothes, hair and their faces. Once upon a time these things tended to show allegiance to political parties and groups, some politicians would look more monied, wear more conservative clothing but now there seems to be a merging of appearance. Labour have even started to wear red ties again, I noticed David Miliband wearing one the other day in a shot of the House of Commons. If you take a look at Theresa May and Harriet Harman you're hard pressed to place them on the political spectrum:

What was wrong with Nicola Sturgeon's appearance? Primarily I'd like to point out that this is nothing to do with her gender, I have an equal opportunities response to the way people dress and fundamentally having examined her last night I feel that she would have looked infinitely more amenable and approachable if she had done absolutely nothing to her face. Her eyeshadow was the exact colour of her hair, which completely bleached her face out and made her look slightly yellow. Her hair clashed with her red (pink based) jacket and her eyebrows were darker than her hair, this confuses me. Does she dye her hair or colour her eyebrows with pencil or is this natural? My eyebrows are darker than my hair but my hair isn't blonde. The problem is with the general effect that all of these things produce: that she has a kind of half arsed approach, that she cares enough to do put make up and follow convention but not enough to actually really think about any of it. Basically her approach to make up and clothes is a bad political decision. It would be far more respectable to forget make up altogether, keep everything natural and wear very dark grey (bordering on black) trouser suits that gave the appearance of someone intent on serious politics. So here she is looking okay (a far better jacket), this photo gives me the impression that someone was trying to open her eyes up by jaundicing her eyelids, a grave mistake:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The F Word is engaging in a debate about the positive and negative aspects of Trinny and Susannah (there are three posts, I have linked to the last one). There seems to be a real drive to identify whether their behaviour is actually beneficial to women or whether it propagates an unhealthy image of womanhood but the debate begins from a point of naivete. Firstly the initial criticism of Trinny and Susannah polarises people into gender categories, although the word "woman" is constantly reiterated it's used in the cultural sense rather than in the sense of sex and sexuality. Thus the proposition is that culture greatly effects the way that people are culturally constructed by culture. The notion that women not acceptable in their natural state is absurd but not quite as absurd as the idea that women have a natural state that is practical in the British climate. Our clothes perfectly represent our culture and in November we have no alternative but to wear them. Regardless of what you wear you make a statement about the way that you interact, if you wore a hemp jumpsuit it would be read by those around you because people read symbolic cultural signifiers. Since women and men cannot live in their natural naked states, the only possible natural state, they have to engage with culture on this level. From there it's a very short step to adapting your body, adjusting the amount of hair visible to the outside world and changing the shape and visual impact of your body. This is not a new thing and every human community has developed cultural significance around the adornment of the body. The F Word bloggers are polarising genders because they are focusing so strongly on the idea that this practice is negative for females but rules of dress apply to all people, men cannot wear skirts, if they're not suitably masculine they cannot wear tank tops in the same way that women cannot display a certain level of hair. This is unfortunate and something that society needs to tackle because the symbolic significance is a little too focused on these instances but it's not a femininst battle in and of itself, it's also not that broad-ranging. Despite a love of clothes and style I wear make up about once a month, the emphasis on feeling vulnerable without make up is not about women or females, it's about individual dependence on culture to make yourself feel okay and that trend is present in all types of people, to focus on such a trend on a feminism blog and to apply that label to women is to generalise them. It is not a feminist action.

Trinny and Susannah are two women on a television show. Primarily they're part of the culture that we see around us everyday but more importantly they advise people about clothes. They're not a problem, they're not a solution, they're TV presenters and they're neither trailblazers for feminism nor anti-feminist. They probably target women because their viewer demographic is made up of women. At no point do they give us their opinions on what makes real women, they focus on femininity because they are feminine and they like it. There is absolutely no way that we can escape the wider culture that we live in, even if we departed from the UK and started a new society a visual language would likely grow and evolve and it would probably differentiate women and men because our bodies look more different than similar. That doesn't matter and the sought after femininity and masculinity of our community doesn't specifically matter either, it does matter that people don't feel pressured into the parts that they don't want to accept but usually there's something that you do, so the confidence to know you can choose is fundamental. If you shave your legs you don't have to pluck your eyebrows, if you wear skirts you don't have to wear heels, you can opt for what you want and it makes you no less a woman or a man and it certainly makes no difference to your sex.

Fundamentally what I want to say here is this: feminist literature often emphasises a cultural neurosis about womanhood rather than revealing it in a startling new fashion. It also sometimes appears to polarise rather than work towards the equality of treatment and opportunity that is desirable. This especially comes across when reading a criticism of fashion or high heels or make up, things that people opt into rather than things that they're forced into (like a lower pay scale). The argument that women are forced into looking a certain way is inaccurate, I'm 26, I wear flats 90% of the time, I rarely wear make up, my eyebrows are fully intact, I barely practice hair removal, I watch my weight and food intake because it makes me feel healthier and happier. Women are not forced into responding to cultural demands about appearance, performing these actions means that quite a lot of them feel more comfortable in the state that society prefers but that is a choice, it's a choice open to everyone in our society and while we can support women's choices to live outside that cultural dictat we cannot make value judgments about people who "prop up the system". They are not doing anything particularly because they like removing all that hair and being incredibly feminine or masculine, that's the rub when you want the choice and not to have a society that leaves some people behind.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The exhibition of Matthew Williamson's clothes at London's Design Museum makes it clear that he designs outfits for people to wear rather than parade in. The influence of Zandra Rhodes is obvious in his work, in the colour and style but he retains a easy humanity that her garments sometimes lack. Here are some snapshots:

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fashion timeline

This is a timeline for couture/ready to wear contemporary fashion.

1858: Charles Worth establishes his haute couture fashion house in Paris

1881: Cerruti, a producer of woollen fabrics, is founded

1906: Paul Poiret opens a fashion house and is the first couturier to launch a perfume.
Guccio Gucci opens a small, family-owned leather saddlery shop

1909: Chanel opens a millinery shop, 'Chanel Modes'.

1913: "Prada Brothers" is founded by Mario Prada in Milan.

1918: Adele Fendi establishes a fur business in Rome

1920: Elsa Schiaparelli starts selling her clothes

1936: Salvatore Ferragamo moves his shoe business from the US to Florence

1938: Gucci opens a boutique in Rome

1939: Chanel couture house is closed. Boutiques sell perfume and accessories only.

1941: Textile rationing in England, silk stockings unavailable in Europe

1943: The U.S. government passes the L 85 Restrictions, limiting the use of wool and silk in clothing manufacture

1947: Dior creates "New Look"

1950: The marquis Emilio Pucci opens his couture house

1954: Cristobal Balenciaga introduces "semi-fit" dress
Chanel couture house opens again

1955: Mary Quant's boutique, Bazaar, opens on the King's Road, London

1957: Death of Christian Dior; his successor is the 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent

1959: After work as general design assistant at Guy Laroche's, Valentino Garavani returns to Rome to open his own atelier

1962: Yves Saint Laurent opens his own couture house in Paris.

1968: Ralph Lauren creates menswear line

1975: Giorgio Armani Company is founded

1978: Miuccia Prada inherits a leather goods business from her grandfather
Gianni Versace opens first Versace boutique in Milan

1983: Karl Lagerfeld becomes Chanel's house designer

1985: Dolce and Gabbana produce their first women's line.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Occasionally the fashion blogs report Vivienne Westwood as having made some kind of controversial statement. In September a Telegraph interview with Lesley Thomas reported her as saying "There's this idea that somehow you've got to keep changing things, and as often as possible. Maybe if people just decided not to buy anything for a while, they'd get a chance to think about what they wanted; what they really liked." This seems less a controversial statement and more an accurate judgement of consumerism. The problem that she's perceiving isn't specifically at the top of the industry, it's more prevalent on the high street in outlets like Zara and Topshop, which constantly roll out new stock. You can't go into a store, take a look and return a week later to purchase a piece of clothing after thinking about it because it's likely that the garment won't be there anymore. Westwood is identifying a problem with the way we have to shop rather than making a generalised statement.

Then in another Telegraph article by Roya Nikkhah, Westwood tells us that fashion magazines propagate racism because they use less black models than they should. While Jo Elvin makes the absurd claim that "There are fewer black women who are big enough stars to sell Glamour" (Hi Jo, I'd like to suggest Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, Ajuma Nasenyana or Yasmin Warsame) Michael Roberts who is the fashion director of Vanity Fair supports Vivienne Westwood's comments.

On the 28th October PETA stated that Vivienne Westwood was the latest designer to go fur free. I was surprised that she was still using fur, it seems a little backward to stop using fur in 2007 when all of the fashion houses have had ample opportunity to phase it out in a fashionable way over the last 20 years.

Basically there doesn't seem to be any controversy here, perhaps the controversy is that someone as political as Vivienne Westwood still using fur as an acceptable material. Ultimately she has been a designer for a long time, certainly enough time to make factual statements about the fashion industry without dressing them up in polite terms. It is a shame that the only press that seems to be giving her coverage is the Telegraph, she deserves a broader audience, if her statements seem obvious it's worth remembering that most of them deserve a level of societal focus that they are not receiving. We should not be wearing fur, there should be more black models in and on the front covers of our fashion magazines, we should buy less clothes but more that we love.

I leave you with the beautiful Ajuma Nasenyana, the only photo of her that I could find and use from google image search.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Peculiar fashion trends generally filter down from the catwalk to high street shops, currently you can find Balenciaga's hologram leggings amongst those trends. I'm definitely a Balenciaga fan and I find Nicholas Ghesquiere's clothes incredibly exciting so I was quite interested and amused to find that these had leaked into Topshop.

Urban Outfitters appear to be snagging the concept for one of their shoes from Tashkent NYC at the moment. There's been some outrage about it on the fashion blogs. Presumably that's because the price difference isn't particularly large and Tashkent NYC is not a major fashion label that makes a lot of profit. However if you knew about both of these shoes and could afford either pair (and had any sense of aesthetic) the clear favourite would have to be Cheyenne's shoe on the right, which is interesting, elegant and appealing from a design perspective.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

People should dress their bodies rather than their genders. It seems an obvious and rational statement yet it is in direct opposition to accepted behaviour.

In many countries clothing is sorted into three definite consumer categories: male, female and unisex. Most people automatically opt for clothing that fits into their gender description. They position their bodies in line with the binary categorisation that consumer culture provides. The actual shape and silhouette of their bodies is placed within that structure regardless of what it actually looks like, whether it’s actually the right shape for the clothes.

Even if a specific body would suit the clothes of the opposite gender from an aesthetic perspective, even if different clothes would accentuate masculinity or femininity more people tend to stick to the correct category. Shopping outside of those consumer definitions is regarded as subversive by those that consider it and not regarded at all by a huge number of people. There’s a tendency to listen to the bureaucracy rather than the shape of the body that you’re dressing and that is related to cultural pressure, the need to be more female or male, more in line with culture than self. Occasionally a woman who buys jeans from the men's section will pipe up about it but rarely will you hear of other instances of women buying men's clothes and the suspicion is that those women come from a culture of light cross-dressing, are backed up in this choice by their peers. Gendered departments are usually viewed as a rule rather than a guideline.

There is a better school of dress to subscribe to. People who have choice should disregard the gender categories that consumerism provides and think about their bodies, what fits them, what they look good in and most importantly the ways in which their bodies are naturally structured. People need to think about their hips, their shoulders, their thighs and chests and waists and garb themselves according to the rules of their bodies and not wider society. It’s difficult, not least because you have to see yourself and clothes and it is tough to think about what suits you as well as what you like, hard to find clothes that do both. Even more so when you’re breaking taboos. But what is this foolish gender divide that we allow society to infringe on us? I hear the refrain “Men and women are different” all the time but I’m a little more concerned with similarities, particularly those parts of our gender construction that were written centuries ago. If we’re so different why create more difference? If it’s already there we don’t need to mark it out, that happens naturally so the suggestion has to be more freedom to wear what we want, the clothes that make us more beautiful, that emphasise the strengths we have individually.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fashion snubs older women. This is a very interesting article to read from a British perspective because I often feel like I'm surrounded by shops and labels that I really look forward to trying out but that I'm too young to buy from at the moment. Shops like Hobbs which provide beautiful clothes for women who can wear a really certain style and cut and Jaeger, which produces beautiful garments that can be worn with confidence by people who are well into womanhood. Fenn, Wright and Manson provides clothes that sometimes look too mature on younger women because they often aren't the right shape or style for them but actually makes women in their forties and onwards look sexy and interesting. When I think about clothing the possibility of ageing is a positive and exciting thing and I'm surprised by this article as a result. I notice these clothes without looking for them- I can't wear most of them despite occasionally trying them on and realising that I'm not enough of a woman to wear them yet. There appear to be all kinds of clothing possibilities, perhaps there's market to be cornered overseas that no one has targetted yet, maybe we need to export some of our clothing brands!
The aim for a fashion theorist, as with everything else, has to be to understand the subject from a starting point of unity. There has to be one concept to work from and to me that appears to be cultural construction. How do people construct themselves through their clothes? What impression does clothing leave the spectator with? What can we do with our clothes to make the best possible version of ourselves?

We begin with basic consumerism, fashion as functioning across tiers of availability. In the UK we begin with markets that sell clothing that creates false labels and emulates high end fashion so fake Burberry, fake sportswear. Then we get to the High Street, which holds a number of tiers from Primark to H&M, Marks and Spencer, Urban Outfitter, Warehouse, Jigsaw, Juicy Couture, Karen Millen, Agnes B. Then ready to wear designer clothing such as DKNY, Chloe, Paul Smith, Ferretti and then couture, a dying art that is made by a limited number of design houses such as Chanel, Givenchy and Versace. There begins an understanding of how the industry works. From that point on a fashion theorist has to conceive of how these different tiers of the fashion industry can be mixed together to create a more equal view of fashion theory and from there a broader concept of fashion theory can begin.

To understand fashion it is necessary to look at its history with an abstract eye, fashion is full of patterns that revolve around the human body and the various ways in which society is framed. Even now there are condemnations of social class that take place through the perspective of clothing choice. Look at the word "chav" which is so prevalent in the British media and on close examination you are left with "I do not like the way that person dresses. I think they are inferior because of their clothes". Ignorance of another groups social structure equates with judgement of their clothing but it's also a comment on money and the social background and choice and privilege of the person uttering the comment. They are probably on the outside of the social group they are criticising and do not understand the neccessity to dress like someone elses peers despite possibly having done so themselves in the past. Why is this important to fashion theory? Well it provides an explanation for some of the odder mainstream, wide ranging clothing choices. Dick Hebdige wrote about this phenomenon in The Meaning of Dress but it tackles a very limited period of history. Can we not extend the idea of dress and clothing beyond small groups of people. Why were corsets worn so widely for such a long period of time? Why has the suit proven an enduring fashion item, a fashion uniform if you like? These are the questions that a unified theory of fashion should seek to answer, we should move beyond subculture and gender perspectives and discover clothes as more than function, as an item that allows us to construct ourselves in culture beyond our peers and the dictates of designers and consumerism.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Laura Ashley's archive collection provides original designs and prints from the 1970s to its customers. This strikes me an an idea that's ingenious, there are so many things that have been produced over the last century that people would like to see emerge in their original form rather than adapted for the current fashion climate and these clothes in particular have a prim and unique feeling that can't be created in any other form. Even if you're not interested in buying them the concept is work checking out on the information page because it's so interesting but I would I think there's something about these clothes that makes me want to purchase them. It's the combination of cut, colour and pattern that you can only find in vintage shops. In 2007 there's something undoubtedly hip about Laura Ashley's 70s dresses.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Liselotte Watkins is a fashion illustrator and has been working on the H&M Cavalli collection. You can see a selection of her illustrations on the Lundlund website. She has also worked with Miu Miu recently but apparently her clients have included The New Yorker, Vogue, Elle, Net-a-porter, Vagabond, MAC Cosmetics and Anna Sui. I recognise her illustrations from an Anna Sui advert or campaign though I can't recall how long ago I was exposed to them.

I always find it interesting to think about all of the people whose work we're exposed to that we wouldn't recognise. It's such a repetitive world. In fashion there's a constant feeling that there's always someone whose work you have seen but have never heard of.

In case you really like Liselotte's work there are some animations here that do work but might take a little time to load up.
There's quite an interesting piece on Tokyo Fashion and specifically the Tokyo Look Book on Style Bubble.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bella has owned these shoes for about 15 years. At first the most striking thing about them is the colour, emphasised by the gleam of the material but actually I think the shape, the round toe and that great rectangular heel draw me to these shoes more. If they were made of dull black plastic than I wouldn't like them very much so I suppose it's really the overall effect but the more I look at the heel the more I'm drawn to it.

Tall women who don't wear shoes with big heels often make the mistake of thinking that people choose them because they make them seem taller. Heels are about posture and the shape of your legs. In heels women seem more confident because they have to adjust their shoulders and hips to the height of the shoes, they have to compensate for the shift in the centre of gravity. It's a very good way to appear to be a different type of person, perhaps a little less shy than you actually are.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Delhi based fashion designer has died after two months spent in hospital with burn injuries. Two men poured kerosene over Mona Suri in August but no one has been specifically identified. The Times of India has the story here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The paparazzi provide us with images of fashion that consistently compete with the shots that photographers take on location and in studios. From this type of photograph, taken on the move or at large events, has arisen an industry that overlaps celebrity and fashion, creating outlets for such images. Traditionally the society pages of magazines like Hello employed such techniques to present an ideal of glamour but now the media has grown to encompass all kinds of photographs and magazines aimed at different demographics. We can reel them off; Heat, Grazia, Closer, all aimed at a specific market. Some are more respectful than others, using different paper, presenting images in a variety of unique ways but all with a focus on the visual image that is editorialised in a specific way. What do we gain from these photographs as consumers, not only of magazines or the aesthetic that pictures present but from the clothes that we see? Is it easier to create styles for ourselves or do people viewing these celebrities, dressed generally in expensive clothes merely give us something to mimic?

I think that the abundance of paparazzi shots on the shelves has allowed people to dress with more originality and feel a confidence in combining their clothes in surprising ways. This seems prevalent among people in their 20's, a confidence in consumerism that allows them to wear clothes that in other circumstances could be a little over the top. Whether that's new is impossible for someone of my age to judge but the awareness that it is not happening within specific subcultures marks it out as different. This is not a group following a trend set by musicians, it's predicated on individuality, not a significant stride away from the everyday but a touch here and there of something a little bit chic. Good quality clothing is more affordable than it was and that lets people dress well but there is also an ability to mix everything up and find things that work. When you see teenagers walk down the street they often look as if they've pulled collections of clothes off shelves that match, the older people get the less they do this. Instead they match clothes to their bodies. The amount of media we consume has definitely opened people up to looking a little sillier and indulging in creativity with their clothing.

It doesn't ultimately matter if Kylie is wearing Gareth Pugh or Marc Jacobs, the subjective judgment in people's heads discounts the designer and focuses on her appearance in a dress. The question for the person gazing at her is definitely based on a comparison of Kylie in the latest photograph and Kylie in the last five shots that they encountered. Most of us have an eye for what we like and as we consume more and more photographs of fashion, see more clothes on other people, we make more decisions about what does and doesn't look good. This is inevitably applied to ourselves, the construct that we are really building is the image of the character we perceive our individual self to be. Part of our thoughts on Kylie's dress are to do with our feelings about the material, colour, cut as it relates to our body and character as well as hers. The paparazzi have made this process quick and easy. Hand in hand with consumer capitalism, which makes it so easy to pick up machine made, mass produced clothing, the process has been completely normalised in western culture. That we judge appearance and relate it to ourselves is not surprising, that we do it with figures that would have once been idols, that we can reduce photos of this type down and forget the enforced glamour is.

The avant garde Russian female artists who were so engaged and entranced with mass textile production certainly never conceived of it as something that would work so well with capitalism. However it is clear that it would be tough for them to argue that it hasn't been an equalising force in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Those photographs though as nasty, reprehensible and disrespectful as they may be make all those icons and idols come down to our level, they give us the choice to dress in any way that we want to, just as all people do because today Marilyn Monroe would be photographed looking really sloppy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Walking around Plitivce National Park in Croatia it struck me that I could not tell the difference between German and American pensioners. They were wearing the same kinds of clothes, the style, cut, colour, functionality were the same and only when really focusing was the ability to recognise nationality apparent. Not only does that lack of difference make it clear that people construct identity through their clothes, link themselves to culture and all of its excesses and practicalities but it also seems to say something about the generational attitude toward function over appearance. British female pensioners are far more likely to wear skirts than German or American women of the same age. A loose guess would be that those particular women who wear skirts regularly grew up when they were specifically in fashion, that the skirt was always seen as a popular, attractive fashion item and moreso than in the States where trousers were more normal in the 40s and 50s. German culture has had to undergo such upheaval that a different course of cultural events seems to have led to a similar conclusion. It's clear that people in their 50s and 60s now are far less likely to wear skirts more regularly than trousers, even if they are British women because they grew up with trousers as normal, functional clothing.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Are you a pirate or a ninja? Gaultier is either a pirate or a man with a crush on Johnny Depp. One may lead to the other, it's difficult to tell without the ability to ask. His S/S 2008 collection was very revealing though, he's always been quite passionate about expressing fun through his collections and this season really didn't disappoint. There appeared to be at times a combination of styles slamming into each other and creating the type of fashion masterwork that only comes out of the best designers. Note the pirate-flapper overlap and if you take a look at the rest of the collection you'll see what I would describe as a complete inability to separate out periods of time in the fashion industry, which is of course what you want from a designer in 2007.

Manish Arora created a tribute to pop art that looks absolutely astounding. I can't put my love of these designs into words so I'm just going to whack some photos on here. I think a love-hate relationship will be instantly apparent to most people. Some of the dresses should be vile but somehow the cut and colour and utter vibrancy make them appealing. I really love the big, A-line dresses that wash over the model's bodies and create a completely different figure.

At the other end of the spectrum, coming from an alien race residing at the opposite end of the fashion galaxy is Martin Margiela, his clothes in a sense are probably more beautiful, certainly minimalistic but not quite as exciting as Gaultier and Arora.

Finally Balenciaga. Oh how I enjoy these garments, I find this collection the oddest but most enjoyable of this year. I would buy a piece from the women's show if I could, the structural quality of these dresses really appeals.
I am going to Croatia for a week so I am going to leave this space empty, like a drained carton of milk. Here is a photo of traditional Croatian costume. I especially enjoy the patterns and the length of his trousers...

Friday, October 05, 2007

The F-Word has linked to a news article on Afghan TV's version of America's Next Top Model. Introducing the stylings of western fashion is certainly a sign of a different kind of life for these women and it's brave in the face of cleric Abdul Raouf, a member of the country’s ulema religious council making statements on the issue. “Not only is it banned by Islamic sharia law, but if we apply sharia law and take this issue to justice these girls should be punished.” Welcome to consumer capitalism Abdul Raouf.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I haven't talked about the death of Jacques Helleu because I wasn't really sure what to say about it. There have been some half hearted obituaries floating around and a few quotes from people high up in the Chanel train but what seems to be discerned is that he was very much in the background despite being Chanel's Artistic Director for almost half a century. Vogue UK quotes Patrick Demarchelier as saying "he was very kind and had humour." It's rare that people in the fashion world are described as kind, even after they pass away. Rather than talk about this I was going to provide links to some of the ad campaigns that Helleu was involved with, it should be recognised that a number of the similarities between them were probably down to him but someone has already done it so...

The Best of Helleu.
Shoes are loved because they are so aesthetic, almost examples of detailed design theory. On a more practical, artistic level they can compliment an outfit or clash with it but the right shoes will always offset your garments. Whether they are simple or complicated in appearance and regardless of the level of comfort, you can always find an interesting pair for any price.

Growing up I hated shoes. I had to search for hours to find a pair that fit. My large, flat feet were the feature I was least capable of adorning well. When I became confident about clothing my size 8’s became less of a trial and more of an exhibition space. Shoes became a joy because I could transform myself simply by wearing tulip red heels or lime green flats, patterned silk trainers with small, swirling flowers embroidered onto the fabric. To those who lack a shoe fetish, an abiding love, I recommend this particular peculiarity wholeheartedly.

So here have some Marc Jacobs, Prada, Repetto, Yamamoto and Trippen.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Look is currently selling a smock top featuring the greys and yellows that characterised the Gucci ready to wear collection last week. It has been featured in Cosmopolitan and Elle so if you want one snap it up quickly.

Melanie Rickey reiterated in the comments section earlier this week that sizing is not standardised. The size zero (UK size 4) literature appearing consistently at the moment revolves around false measurement of women's bodies and it constructs an idea of femininity that is at best flawed. Freud noted that femininity and masculinity are simply attributes. I've written about this before in other contexts and it continues to be important in contemporary thinking on the concept of femininity. A century ago corsets were falling out of fashion but they had been extremely popular for a very long time, objects that not only obstructed the movement of the chest but actually caused widespread deformity in women, reshaped their bodies so that the chest became a V rather than the shape that is familiar to us. Tight lacing remained a common practice up to the end of the 19th century, particularly among those who were upwardly mobile. In a sense that reflects the nature of contemporary fashion at the level of consumer. Those with the most money have the most motivation to stay slim, they cannot purchase the best and most expensive ready to wear items if they are not slender enough to wear the clothes. Both the feminine and masculine have been subject to human fashion for centuries and when taking the influence of fashion into consideration it should be remembered that people are less influenced, less controlled by it than ever before.

Many dress historians and feminists think of the corset as an example of women's subordination and from there all kinds of questions concerning the size zero trend arise. The idea of women submitting to a male viewpoint on attraction is often espoused yet this works poorly for both trends. Corsetry was the accepted mode of dress among empowered women, the ideal of the slim waist is ever present in our society and it's not only men who are the driving force behind it. This is the ideal that's accepted by all people and while exceptions are present that notion hasn't changed for centuries. Western ideas of femininity are simply related to the shape of the body, a small waist, curves at the bust and hips and these notions are carried forth even now. The ideal feminine is fetishized by everyone and not necessarily in the sexual sense of the word, it has to be accepted that this discourse leads women to fetishize their own bodies if they have the money and time to do so. The size zero/four obsession is simply another example of our culture creating fetish through the feminine and what better way to get to the feminine than through the female body? Women simply lean further toward the feminine than the masculine. A slender waist is the ideal for masculinity as well, a sense of power displayed through the shoulders and chest rather than through the hips. Jutting curves are not powerless displays, femininity in the most idealised form is as aggressive as masculinity and the size zero/four desire that we are seeing in our culture at the moment is not a desire to be powerless but a desire to be the representation of that ideal. Through weight loss comes consumer power, a sign of wealth and control and though it isn't healthy and the ideal feminine is never attainable, women will continue to construct themselves in line with it.

There is a sense of hysteria around the notion of femininity, in part because many people are scared that its representation signals the end of a recognisable feminism or a change in the cultural landmarks that we are so used to, particularly in fashion. In the 90s the reaction to the strident supermodels, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Elle MacPherson, women with a sense of masculinity about them, was heroin chic. Delicate models like Kate Moss emerged and their size was criticised because it was viewed as an encouragement to anorexia and other eating disorders. The trend has continued and the media continues to view it in the same way but in hand with this is a lack of recognition that femininity is an attribute rather than a rule. Women are not automatically feminine so there is supposedly a danger that they will spend too much in attaining it. That fear fails to recognise our cultural history, that all people have leant their hand to achieving these attributes for most of their lives and that anyone who has seen a face without make up and a body unclothed knows the difference between female and feminine, male and masculine. That difference means that all ideals are ultimately recognisably flawed.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Degraded women has been a subject that has been explored quite viscerally during Milan fashion week. Most of the blogs covering the subject have featured the Nolita anti-anorexia advert, there is an examination of the advert at Back in Skinny Jeans that describes the problems around such an approach, including the lack of backing from any anti-anorexia campaigns. In a sense the ad is worrying, while a lot of people support Isabelle Caro for her decision to post I wonder how she will feel about it in the future, provided she manages to recover from her illness. It feels like it degrades her to an extent, she is someone suffering from something very complicated and she has made it clear, despite being used as an example of a person who is size zero that she has not been specifically influenced by the fashion industry. It has always felt to me that the criticism of the fashion industry has been a convenient ploy that allows communities to avoid discussing anorexia and other illnesses centred on eating appropriately. Food is an intensely complicated issue, most people have worries and obsessions that surround eating, sometimes compulsions arise and no one, absolutely no one can look at themselves in a mirror, photograph or film and see what everyone else can, it is simply too shocking to be confronted by your own physicality when you live only inside your own body. I doubt that this advertising campaign is ultimately going to come to anything when I think about the fashion culture, which is so rarely touched by anything except money and its internal politics.

Then there's the photo shoot that has featured in Italian Vogue. Is it a photo discussion of women as degraded by circumstance or is it a jeering account of how weak they are? It is in parts beautiful but also horrific because it is so reminiscent of how very degrading the actions in Iraq have been. If the women were substituted with men you would have, at times, a celebrated war movie and that's a very telling reading of the culture that we live in because this is a glamorous and degrading war story. It isn't automatically less so because it's a fashion shoot featuring beautiful bodies and clothes. Stories of war must degrade and you can never adequately bring the tale across to people who have always lived comfortably, no matter how horrible moments on film are. So do we command everyone to stop making images and telling stories because there isn't a clear and vocal moral message inherent in pictures or do we let all artists, even fashion photographers explore events that are happening now? The images can be read in so many ways, are these about rape or about women left behind, are they about pain or degradation? It's impossible to tell what the motivation is and even what the story is but it does bring across discomfort, horror and glamour so to an extent it has worked. Finally and importantly this is to an extent a criticism, the photographer Steven Meisel is American, the men are portrayed negatively and are clearly meant to be of US origin.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Picture for a moment Victoria Beckham in Gucci. Emphasis on her breasts, waist and hips, presenting a classic Italian silhouette despite the design probably having been created by Tom Ford. At the end of Milan fashion week 2008 the distinct curves of the Italian feminine strike me. There appear to be geographical differences in the approach to the feminine silhouette. The shape of the constructed ideal feminine body changes in various countries, Southern Europe contrasts with Northern Europe. Designers who are not Italian tend to be heavily indoctrinated into the specifics of feminine fashion.

At this moment the opportunity to review the runway shows, specifically those of the big designers and fashion houses is presented. The urge is to try and find similarities between clothes, try to spot common trends but this year I have been struck by difference. Italy has a very specific type of femininity that comes across on the catwalk. If you imagine the models outlines rather than the you arrive at the point where you have to start considering the contrast in clothing.

Below are two designs by Marc Jacobs, a ready to wear evening dress and a more casual outfit. The dress is quite diagonal, if it weren't it would have an element of A-line about it. You can see a hip at one side but there's little emphasis of it. There's definitely an A-line element in the shorts but little emphasis on the hips despite their length. The legs of the model are made to look almost continuous, a part of a single structure that is the body.

Matthew Williamson puts some emphasis on the hips, the shape of the purple dresses is clearly influenced by Italian designs but they don't quite have the same bite or emphasis on the waist, the influence is at the thigh rather than any higher.

In comparison are some examples of Spring/Summer 2008 Italian ready to wear designed by Roberto Cavalli, Versace and Prada. The clothes always taper into the thigh and emphasise the waist, almost biting into them.

There are exceptions of course, the Matthew Williamson piece above shows that quite adequately, yet there seem to be two different streams here, working within a set of rules that change from season to season. It is a good guide to what kind of fashion house you would like to buy from, a decision could be made purely on the basis of what kind of silhouette you want. If an extremely feminine construction is your desire than the Italian designers are more likely to provide you with your perfect piece of clothing. The further north you venture the more the A-line becomes the ruling factor of a silhouette, the feminine becomes something different, more focused on the detail and content of the clothing and less on the shape. Italian dress plays more with the structure of the body and less with the presentation of pattern and frill, it is less girly and the trends lean away from the masculine elements of women's garments. Versace plays a little with masculine modes of dress but the vast majority of the clothes still retain the silhouette to some extent, usually by tapering into the thigh and putting some emphasis, however small and seemingly insignificant on the waist. I wonder if this is in some way related to Roman sculpture, the curves of ancient statues, it's certainly a deep vein running through the industry. Regardless of this it's cultural, that isn't really something to be questioned because it crops up in almost all of the Italian Spring/Summer collections despite all of the other trends that are being followed by the designers and fashion houses based in the country.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I had the idea that I would review the fashion sections of the British weekend papers but realised it would take such a lot of time that I rejected it after a bit of thought. It seemed absurd to dismiss it out of hand so after some perusal I picked a few items from two supplements, the regular fashion columns from Saturday's Guardian and an article from The Times.

I really have to start with Alexis Petridis' column from Saturday. I've been reading the Guardian weekend since I was a child so I'm very familiar with their fashion writing and it's never quite inspired me but this specific item was astoundingly bad. He opens on a negative, presumably responding to some criticism: “It seems some writers (I can't think who) don't take fashion seriously enough.” He's lost me with one sentence, I want to read a column about clothes on the clothing page. He insults Galliano who makes consistently original, weird but interesting and sometimes breathtaking clothes because his menswear collection included a “balaclava helmet” and “a knitted kilt with... a vast, distended woollen penis hanging out of it?” I assume Petridis thinks this gives him an excuse not to write about clothes that men who read the paper can wear and instead to write a humour piece in the fashion section. When he goes on to moan that he doesn't know “how this season's jeans are meant to look” it becomes clear that he doesn't know that he's writing a fashion column. I'm not sure if no one bothered to tell him that it was his job to find out what jeans were in, perhaps the assumption is that no one really cares about men's fashion?

I'm not quite as interested in men's fashion. I don't aspire to wear it but when it's functional and aesthetically pleasing, interesting or outrageous I'm as interested as I am in women's clothes. This column tells me nothing about designers, designs or fashion. At the end of London Fashion Week Alexis Petridis tells me almost nothing about male fashion in 2007. He doesn't like Galliano because he can't wear it and he doesn't know what jeans to buy if he wants to be “in”. It's true he doesn't take his column seriously and he writes as if he doesn't like clothes. In distinct contrast my brother loves clothes, he buys them so that he looks good and feels good and every Christmas I buy him vouchers so that he can buy clothes that he likes. I don't understand why Petridis can't describe the clothes that he buys that he likes and explain why he likes them instead of whining about fashion. Presumably people read the fashion section in a newspaper supplement because they're interested in clothes, if they don't then why would they know who John Galliano is? Fundamentally his column seems to be useless, it doesn't help anyone who wants to look fashionable, it doesn't relay any positivity about clothes, it's just a column about the man who's writing it and it shouldn't be in the fashion section.

Above Alexis Petridis is Jess Cartner-Morley's column. She begins by talking about fashion concepts and I can certainly get behind her as she welcomes Lanvin's introduction of zips into high fashion. “When stylish women have been be-ribboned to the point of Little Bo Peep, fashion has tired of the look and moved on to zips.” This is a significant change on the catwalk and as she remarks it's rare for any haute couture designers to use zips on their garments. Unfortunately there are two problems with this article; She suggests that Amy Winehouse is crazy because she wears straps in different colours at the same time, something that is quite in line with the trends of the past year. She then goes on to suggest that the entire front row of the Lanvin show had botox injections very recently. I could do without this kind of insidious social frowning in a fashion column. Clothes are cultural constructs, which means that to criticise celebrities and fashionistas for their cultural construction is to miss the point of analysing fashion. It doesn't make the writing more accessible or more interesting, it just betrays a journalist as having a bias towards one group or another, in this case a bias towards the middle classes and the centre ground. My interpretation is that Jess Cartner-Morley thinks Amy Winehouse is a crazy member of the lower social classes and the women at Lanvin, with all their money will necessarily freeze their faces just because they can. She's engaging in cliches, indulging herself and her readers because it's uncomplicated and easier than discussing the complexities of fashion, clothes and the deeper meanings of our dress codes.

I really think that fashion writing in the Guardian needs an overhaul. If it has to continue I wish they would drop the constant jibes, the belittlement and start treating it either as a good, in depth consumer section about clothing on the high street or as an artform. Around this time of year there's plenty of scope for that as fashion week after fashion week takes place and haute couture lines start to appear.

I chose to look at a feature article in The Times. It's a piece on women's clothing, specifically sizing by Melanie Rickey. It's a bit more sensational than it needs to be, this is a standard subject that comes up in women's magazines and style supplements every now and again and it doesn't really need to focus on vanity. It's quite a technical article and I appreciated that, there's a lot of discussion about measurements in different shops, the way they differ so that a size 12 from M&S is larger than a size 12 in Topshop. The biggest problem is that she doesn't seem to understand how measurements actually work so she discusses the difference between a 10 and a 12 in shops and seems to desire standardisation. That would mean that a lot of clothes wouldn't fit anyone. My waist and hip sizes when taken together are different to other people I know who are vaguely the same dress size as me because my proportions are different. If every shop sold exact size 10 trousers at a standard size than most people would need to have their clothes made for them. Oasis is lauded because all of their trousers use the same measurements but I have tried on a size 10, 12 and 14 in Oasis and none of them fit me because I don't fit the ratios that they work to. This is alluded to in the article but it takes Rickey a long time to get there and that means she doesn't get to the crux of the problem, that sizing needs to be less general and more specific. Despite the flaw the article was at times quite practical, I learnt a lot from it and I appreciated that.

There's only one other thing that is really questionable about her article from a social perspective and that's when she criticises the choice of a store to sell size 6 clothing while commenting that “the designer world is harsher on larger women.” Some women are small, some women are big and some of them can do absolutely nothing about those things, they're just big or small. Women should have the choice of small and large clothes in every part of the fashion industry, it would make for a happy and more satisfying world.

In conclusion I didn't really manage to make a comparison between the two newspaper supplements because the pieces were so different. What is abundantly clear is that fashion writing in the cultural sections of our papers is riddled with cliches and critical statements about people's bodies and choices. It leads me to think that fashion journalists haven't been reading around their subject. There is so much work on the way that clothes work psychologically, practically, historically, sociologically with people's bodies and the best way to avoid using stereotypical statements about culture is to read some of the academic work that is rigorous and enlightening in relation to these issues. I know people who encounter the same problems when they read about music and films, the writer allowing their pre-conceived notions about class, race, gender and all number of things to intrude on the art that they're discussing. Often this passes as light hearted banter or humour but I already like the subject and when people write about it I want them to express their like, their love. It's a problem with talking about culture, your subjective perception of it always intrudes but I wish, with all my heart, that people would just write about clothes and fashion with an open mind and an eye for aesthetics and if they don't like something it should be because it's a top that doesn't appeal.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

“The end of haute couture's symbolic preeminence has as its corollary the loss of its clientele.” In the October edition of Vogue there is an article on haute couture in conjunction with the exhibition currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is much discussion surrounding the loss of handmade, fit to client garments as common. The emphasis is turned away from the growth of industrialised, ready to wear garments that have allowed all people to dress well in interesting, exciting clothing and although that's usually my focus I find the mourning of couture as a large industry easy to understand. It is right to mourn the loss of couture but foolish to forget the benefit that led to it becoming less common and unfortunately to couture becoming more expensive. Writers like Gilles Lipovetsky, who wrote the sentence quoted above for The Empire of Fashion do not forget such things. Beauty should be available to all people, not just the rich or the famous who wear such dresses to film premieres and award ceremonies. Haute couture will never be accessible to the majority of us.

I am watching The Secret World of Haute Couture on BBC4 and it opens with women discussing the wonder of wearing a dress that fits like a second skin. Those types of dresses are complete outfits, you wear no underwear because it is built into the dress. They are often boned and it takes many fittings to truly build a costume for a woman. Only lucky women with huge amounts of money can afford such luxury, internationally there are only around 2000 clients.. It costs approximately $100,000 to purchase a dress. Haute couture has to be made in Paris and it is rare.

Karl Lagerfeld talks about his experience of falling in love with a Christian Dior outfit as a child. He sketches clothing designs with ease, talks about the dreams that give him his best ideas. The women and men in the atelier have the most astounding abilities in their hands that are so precise and skilled. They are artists, creating unique, wonderful pieces. Coco Chanel criticised haute couture in a 1953 issue of Vogue: “I am no longer interested n dressing a few hundred women, private clients; I shall dress thousands of women. But... a widely repeated fashion, seen everywhere, cheaply produced must start from luxury.” It is interesting then that Chanel with Lagerfeld as its Artistic Director is buying up ateliers in order to ensure their survival and the continued presence of haute couture. I do not think it is a mistake to preserve an artform but I understand why Coco Chanel wanted to broaden her influence, ensure that thousands dressed well and importantly she backed up her statements and ignored the copying of her couture items by others. While designers like Paul Poiret tried to stop copies, Chanel appeared to do nothing in this area.

While I am tremendously jealous of the women who can afford these items and a part of me disapproves of this inequality of dress, the fact that very, very few people can afford to purchase haute couture clothing, I do not want this artform to die. My feeling is the same where other arts are concerned, I don't think painting should die because prints are available yet I cannot afford to purchase paintings. Mass production remains a current innovation in the span of history, it allows us to own interesting things yet couture should not die in the face of that, even if it is limited for good reason these days.

At the end of The Secret World of Haute Couture I watch as the journalist who has been interviewing women who buy these unique, original garments finally tries on a coat. Her stance changes, her shoulders go back, she feels beautiful and that is lovely to see. The power that clothes have to bring out all the best things about us into our physicality at times feels unmatched. I hope that one day I will have the same opportunity and will feel that second skin.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I’ve been trying to write about charity and fashion for the last few days but I keep moving into the topic of consumerism rather than clothing. The two issues are entwined with each other, particularly in the case of Red, the charity founded by Bono and a number of other people. His work with Red is a perfect example of the move towards ethical charities that work within the consumer market and use fashion and celebrity as a means to an end. Gap, American Express and Apple all produce items that allow sales proceeds to go to the charity and appear to be engaging in these activities to show that they understand these problems while going about their daily practice in every other area. Bono also has other ties with ethical fair trade consumerism and the fashion industry.

Charity and fashion is a complicated subject because the vast majority of questions that arise from it can only be directed at individuals. The motivation behind fashion and celebrity involvement with these issues is often unclear, it’s rarely explained in interviews and the cause tends to be the focus. It can be argued that individual’s motives don’t matter and yet it would probably bring it home that people live in a global rather than local environment. Charities need to make money, people don't give enough on the street, they often don't stop for people with clipboards but they do use American Express cards, they buy T-shirts. Generally if people are getting something they'll give something. Everyone who gives to charity admits other people need help but they're exercising their judgement about who to help, I don't necessarily think the right to choose a cause is realistic, would prefer it if funds were more centralised but we live in a society that currently needs charitable donation. Every tool may as well be used to achieve those donations.

The first real utilisation of the fashion industry in charity circles that I can recall was the big PETA campaign. Most people in the western world will be able to recall either seeing one of the anti-fur ads featuring a supermodel or if not then reading about the campaign. There has been a huge amount of criticism of models stating that they were anti-fur and then wearing fur years later on the catwalk. I don't have to approve of my workplace and its actions to work there, very few people actually work in line with their ethics so it's difficult to criticise without talking to a specific model about their motivation.

My desire to write about charity has been motivated by The Fashion for Relief campaign espoused by Naomi Campbell. It is perhaps the least complicated example of the fashion industry raising money for people in difficult circumstances. Its methods of raising money are quite straightforward and less branded than most of the recent charitable causes that I've mentioned, despite a T-shirt design by Christopher Bailey, the Creative Director of Burberry, however the lack of involvement of huge monolithic companies makes it easier to think about from a moral point of view. It seems like the simplest thing on earth to use fashion to make people's lives better and yet in a sense it doesn't create awareness. Very few people like the speech that comes before a concert or the ethical advice that is printed on a CD sleeve because it mixes art, pleasure and guilt. If you acknowledge the cause it takes the art and fun away to an extent, if you don't acknowledge the cause you're wilfully ignoring the origin of the product. In a sense it also makes ethical work out of the ordinary when the ethics shouldn't be something that need to be emphasized. Designers, labels that make so much money should be sourcing their products and working in such a way by default.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I find the clothes designed by Diane Von Furstenberg intensely boring. Often when you observe designer's clothes they're incredibly characteristic of the person, you can see what they like, what drives them to design. My favourite designers, not because I want the clothes necessarily but because they are consistently awe-inspiring and full of personality are people like Galliano, McQueen, Demeulemeester because to an extent they're dancing to their own tune. This is exactly the opposite of my impression of Von Furstenberg.

Diane Von Furstenberg seems to copy clothes and styles from other places without adding any of her own flair. Her ability to make outfits so anonymous is probably a strength in selling but from an artistic/creative perspective it's not interesting.

Here are two photos from her A/W 2007-8 collection and I just don't see anything unique in them, you can't fix on the shoulders so they're not truly of the '80s but the clothes still strike me as period clothing. They don't display any kind of contemporary reference to draw you in and they're extremely conservative:

Conclusively she's got to be the designer I am most bored by because it's not that I don't like her clothes, it's not that I find them interesting but wouldn't wear them, it's that they honestly don't grab my attention.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It frustrates me when fashion magazines and television shows start talking about typical body shapes: "this woman is a pear, this woman is an apple". People don't necessarily fall into those categories, if you're tall and have hips, small breasts but hold your fat primarily on your stomach, particularly at the front than what are you? An apple-pear-combination? It's an incredible generalisation, to emphasise that all top heavy women are top heavy in the same way and the same solutions are possible. It's a practise that isn't carried out in reality and moreover it's an easy way to make mistakes

Clothes have to be individual, there's no point going out and following rules, people need to look in the mirror, try umpteen pieces of clothing on and then observe why they do or don't work. If people don't have the eye for that, the capability to judge what clothes are doing to their bodies than there's little that can be done. The number one rule is never try on anything you can't afford, expensive clothes are far more pleasant and it's an unpleasant shock to put on cheaper outfits later. Unfortunately material is everything and I can wear a long T-shirt from Warehouse but not from Dorothy Perkins, something I sadly have knowledge of now.

Friday, September 21, 2007

There's a slightly patronising article about Duro Olowu in this month's edition of UK Vogue. Luckily I don't expect anything else from the fashion magazine, which has always been aimed at people who either don't have to budget to buy food or do have to budget but will ignore Vogue's absurdities (because they're excited about the very existence of Duro Olowu. I am excited.) Other magazines might interview Olowu but in all likelihood I would have to get past images of flourescent leggings and fashion models clutching religious icons or vinyl records* to find him. Visual pain or Vogue pain? At least the latter gives me an impression of the fashion world rather than the world of faux-cool.

Olowu has just opened a boutique on Portobello Road, he designs clothes that feature beautiful prints. Not only that but they're cut exquisitely and they make these amazing silhouettes that verge on textured, very angular with corners that jut out all over the place. The combination of the shapes and prints really draw me in, Jigsaw had some clothes recently that I was very drawn to, busy natural prints that contrasted and almost clashed with each other and Duro Olowu's autumn/winter '07 collection appealed to exactly the same part of me. Even his plainer clothes are beautiful and affecting, here's something that I think would appeal to everyone:

Now on to Paul and Joe. These clothes remind me of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, perhaps some other programmes from my childhood as well. They look extremely English, are often voluminous in unexpected places and I wouldn't expect to like them but I really do. The purple dungarees are definitely my favourite, there's something really appealing and approachable about them, they look like a piece of clothing that would be really fun to wear and everyone needs clothes like that. Clothes to play in that don't make you look too young but inspire simple enthusiasm all the same. I think they hit on something really good because fashion is so often so terribly serious and pious, even the more extreme couture that is unusual and extravagant is rarely just good fun and there's always room for joyous garments!

*clearly to some vinyl records are religious icons

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gareth Pugh is featuring on almost every fashion blog and in a lot of literature surrounding the fashion weeks at the moment. It's quite interesting because his clothes were completely unavailable until Liberty started to stock them this year. He's really loved because he makes clothes that approach pure haute couture in style if not process. You can take a look at part of his Spring/Summer 2008 collection here.

Interestingly the Liberty website's International Collections page features two of my favourite designers, Ann Demeulemeester and Duro Olowu.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I wanted to talk about vanity. It's a word that is often incorrectly applied, as if care and attention to appearance was conceited, a negativity or character flaw rather than a response to our culture. Joanna Entwistle says very reasonably in The Fashioned Body that "dress or adornment is one of the means by which bodies are made social" and if you hold onto this idea conceited vanity becomes an abstract concept rather than an attainable reality. What appears to be vain is in fact someone who is intent in society, attempting to socialise through their bodies and to socialise their bodies as well. People who appear vain are often very socially engaged, conscious of social rules whether they are inclined to follow or rebel against them. "Dress is the way in which individuals learn to live in their bodies and feel at home in them." Slight observation of the way people dress and the way that they interact is particularly interesting, social engagement and pristine clothes generally go hand in hand. People inclined to extroverted behaviour are often more carefully adorned.

Dressing is an act of creation, it is possible to create personalities that you can use to face society through dress, women in high heels stand and in some cases behave differently depending on their shoes. Clothes create feelings within ourselves that we can then express outward again and that is because adorning yourself is to dress in social fabric as well as simple material.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where has tailored summer fashion gone? It seems that women's clothes are polarised more heavily by the seasons every year. During the Autumn and winter months it's easy to find sharp, textured and heavy clothes, materials that hang from the body in interesting ways, creating shapes that flatter the human form. Summer arrives and suddenly all of the tops cling to the least attractive part of the body, in my case the stomach, as if the fashion industry expects everyone to drop a stone and spend all of their spare time in the gym or running around the streets like newly born lambs. With the extremely hot sun on your skin making sweat slowly appear on your face it's difficult to feel attractive anyway, unfortunately even those criteria weren't fulfilled this year, there was little sun, less heat than expected and as a result the illusion of attraction formed by moderate heat and even the swelling, clammy sweat that makes you feel ugly whatever you're wearing were absent anyway. Who wants tight, stomach hugging clothes in chilly weather? Our other options, the dreaded smock dress, tops that pretended at an empire line while failing to be made with empire friendly fabrics and belted tops that absurdly often have the belts in the wrong place to look even moderately good. Very little opportunity to wear other styles existed for anyone who couldn't spend a fortune, it doesn't matter where on the high street you looked this year, every affordable shop was doing the same thing. Summer fashion in 2007 was unsatisfactory. What is the point of capitalism and the choice that it espouses when every store is trying to catch up with every other store? A little variation would be welcome in 2008, hopefully someone will strike out to make clothes that are a little different, a bit interesting and a lot less formulaic.

Will Autumn/Winter be any better? Well the answer is yes, autumn and winter fashions invariably look better on anyone above a UK size 8. In cheaper shops you can find clothes that conceal all of the bits you want to and expose all of the other bits and you can pick and choose in a price range that the vast majority of people can afford. This year the high street seems to be continuing along lengthy lines. I've noticed a few tops around that fall to mid-thigh (based on the catwalk, McQueen, Allegra Hicks); Too shapeless to be dresses, a large, stylish belt works for people with good waists, the rest of us do best to ignore clothes that hang like curtains from our shoulders. There are some jumpers that will work for my body shape, cowl necks are a particular favourite and I've already seen a few adorning the shelves of my local Dorothy Perkins. It's difficult to complain about the skinny jeans that seem to be continuing on, they seem to suit everyone, making even the flabbiest thighs appealing because they generally use a pleasantly heavy material. Tailored trousers are reappearing as the autumn fashions start to appear, satisfying flattering on all of our legs and deep rather than acid colours are more prevalent than they have been over the past four or five months. The change in season is once again a relief to anyone who is sick of the 80s flourescent shades that have been omnipresent for the past two summers, I'm looking forward to wearing deep reds, browns and ivories again and shedding the Whamtastic horror that has haunted me.

Now if only a shop would rip off some Ann Demeulemeester (my eternal favourite) I would be really happy: