Sunday, 23 December 2012

Five Questions I Asked Santa…

Published in The London Word

Christmas is around the corner and my anxiety levels are rising. I’ve promised – yet again – to spend it with the family. It’ll be super-duper to see them. Really, it will. For a few days, I won’t have to do any cooking or cleaning. I will shlep around in my PJs. I will eat as much as I want, and add a dollop or two of double cream to everything. (If everyone else is doing it, the calories cancel each other out.) And I might actually get the chance this time round to rummage in the attic for that missing box of LPs.

Is it heaven on earth? It might be – if it weren’t for all the talking. The one-on-one questions from relatives – How’s that book coming along? Oh, still no publisher? Have you got a proper job yet? Does it pay? – I can just about handle. From years of experience, I’ve realized that smiling, nodding and praising said relative’s Labradoodle, Christmas tofurky, exfoliated chin, and general outlook on life will win me points and get the attention away from me.

No, it’s the general barrage of noise that I’m scared of. The onslaught, an incessant nattering, that starts at 5.30am on Christmas Eve and then continues all day and well into and beyond Boxing Day. I just know that Auntie B will tell that ginseng story again that will include a series of racial slurs cunningly disguised as worldly wisdom. Cousin J will show me his boils. And Uncle T will make me a spread-sheet on all the ways I’m going wrong in my life. And they will do so all at the same time. All in the same ear.

So, when I bumped into Santa the other day in TGI Friday, a little red faced and frost-bitten from all his toy-shop appearances and global warming respectively, I asked him – Why do I put myself through this every year?

Me: Santa, why must I shop till I drop at Christmas?
Santa (with a saucy smile): Because it is the sexy thing to do! Do you know my favourite author, my dear? It is Sophia Kinsella! The woman has made living on a permanent over-draft – with masses of unpaid bills and mounting credit card debt – sexy! If before the Shopaholic series you felt guilty and a little dirty to do all that shopping, now you feel helplessly feminine, charmingly kooky, and flighty – but in an endearing way. And you know how it goes. You’ve asked your mum to tell all the relatives not to buy you presents, because you’re broke (yes, again) and you can’t afford to reciprocate. But, you know, everyone will get you a present. They will say that it doesn’t matter in the least that you didn’t get them anything, but it will! If I were you, cupcake, I’d pop in at Lush on the way out and get everyone some soap. It’s good for the economy.

Me: Is it good for the economy?
Santa (taking a few sips of his appletini): Of course! We must maintain the status quo! Imagine for a minute that Mr. Bank Manager didn’t earn five hundred thousand pounds this year, and you, doll – a writer, did you say? Spiffing! Really, top notch! Here, have a free mince pie, you look a little hungry. Where was I? Yes, if you earned more than, say, seven thousand a year, or if you didn’t have to pay the editor just to publish your articles, and if Mr. Bank Manager didn’t live in a penthouse overlooking Hyde Park, where would we all be? The economy has taken a beating lately, and the government wants us to spend so we can go back to being in denial. It is natural to be in denial. Clarity would only bring us down!

Me: Err, right. Okay, so why must I eat till I pop?
Santa: It beats me how you’re supposed to know when to stop! Once you start with the turkey and the roast potatoes, move on through the extra stuffing to the pudding and the cream, why, you have to come back to the potatoes!

Me: Why must I put cucumber in my wine and egg in my nog?
Santa (now a little woozy): Perfection is boring, my little lollipop. Excess, excess! Celebrate excess!

Me: Gotcha. Then, why must I drink till I – Oh, never mind, I already know the answer to that one…

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hollywood Costume at the V&A

If you’ve never watched even one Marilyn Monroe film, you’re still likely to have a mental image of her in a flyaway white dress, standing above a vent, trying to keep the hem of her dress from travelling up to her neck. This was in the film The Seven-Year Itch. In another Billy Wilder film – Some Like it Hot – rumour has it that Monroe had to film one simple scene more than fifty times. All she had to do was knock on a door, enter a room and ask for a glass of bourbon with those seductive red lips of hers, but she kept getting it wrong. So, maybe she wasn’t the best actress in the world, but Monroe had such strong personal style that it takes only a few iconic accessories – a mole on the cheek, a blonde bob, and a white dress – to perfectly capture her look.

This is the alchemy of a good Hollywood costume designer. In a few simple strokes, they tell a character and a story. Think Ruby Slippers and you are instantly transported to the world of the Wizard of Oz. There were around fifteen ruby slippers created for the film, of which Judy Garland wore several, and the dead witch and the witch of the East wore others. A pair of these notorious slippers are now on view at the V&A, along with iconic costumes such as those worn by Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean), Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet in Titanic), and of course Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.) You can also buy a pair of ruby slipper earrings at the V&A store.

On display are interviews with actors like Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, talking about the role that costume has played in bringing their characters to life. Streep, who remarks on how her strong opinions about her costumes can often make the life of a costume designer difficult, says, “On every film, the clothes are half the battle in creating the character. I have a great deal of opinion about how my people are presented. We show a great deal by what we put on our bodies.”

The exhibition is divided into three sections. The first deconstructs screenplays. It shows us how the simple directions – “he wears a leather jacket, a flapped holster and a brimmed felt hat” – are transformed into Indiana Jones. The second sections deals with the dialogue between actor and designer, and how putting on a costume makes the actor feel like their character. The third – the finale – is a smorgasbord of famous costumes. So, what costume gives you your very own Becky Bloomwood moment? The Bride (Uma Thurman in Kill Bill), Dorothy’s pinafore in Wizard of Oz, or Tony Manero’s white suit (John Travolta in Saturday night Fever)?

Published at 

Breakfast at Buckingham Palace

So, I had breakfast at Buckingham Palace the other week. I just thought I’d mention it. In fact, I’m thinking that from now on, I’m going to drop this titbit of information into random conversations whenever possible. For example, if anyone complains about the constant rain we’re having in London, I will nod thoughtfully and say, “Yes, but the morning I had breakfast at Buckingham Palace, it was really rather a splendid day!” Or if someone comments on the heaven that is pain au chocolat at Bagatelle Boutique in South Kensington, I will simper and say, “Almost as good as the ones from the Buckingham Palace kitchens, darling.”

The curators at Queen’s Gallery have put together a wonderful new exhibition called The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein, and their series of press views included an intimate breakfast-do for bloggers, and curators’ tours from two passionate women – Kate Heard and Lucy Whitaker – who know sixteenth-century portrait artists better than most people know their nephews. If you don’t think this exhibition is your cup of tea – if your idea of a historical painter is Andy Warhol, and you don’t do higher brow than David Hockney – then I would say, check out this exhibition. The paintings and prints are not only great examples of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century royal portraiture, but they also lead you from Brussels through Venice to London, as you watch the incredible journey of oil painting through Europe.

If you think of Leonardo da Vinci as a pioneer, think again. This exhibition charts the painters from the Netherlands tradition – like German-born Hans Memling (1430-1494) – that inspired the Italian artist and many after him. In fact, da Vinci was the first Master of the Italian Renaissance who painted in oils, a technique that travelled down from Memling, and his teacher Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441). The exhibition brings together royal portraits by court artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) and Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543), and detailed ink-on-paper prints by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). A gorgeous snowy landscape by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, called Massacre of the Innocents tells a story of bloodshed and poverty. The original owner Rudolph II found the pathos of the painting so overwhelming that he had the massacre of children that was depicted in the work painted over.

The curators explain how lucky they are not only to have original paintings by the masters on display, but also a lot of preparatory drawings to show alongside. Kate Heard points to a copy of the Whitehall Mural (by Holbein the Younger) that depicts a bold-faced Henry VIII, accompanied by Henry VII, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour, and says, “Close your eyes and picture Henry VIII, and he will look something like this painting. Remember that we don’t know what Henry VIII looked like. We only know what Holbein tells us he looked like.” These artists were not just painters, but theologians, philosophers, scientists and life-long students of human psyche and morality.

Published at

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Alexander McQueen Goes to Savile Row

Article published on The London Word

It was the arbiter of Regency men’s fashion – Beau Brummel (1778-1840) – that recommended that men’s boots should be polished with champagne and a man should take no less than five hours a day to get dressed. Though Brummel is accused of dandyism, the truth is that he was not a man to favour poppies on his China-silk waistcoat or heliotrope stripes on his peach-coloured britches. No. Brummel’s style was understated. Dark coats, full-length trousers, pristine shirts and a gloriously cascading cravat. Okay, maybe that explains the five hours a day spent in front of a mirror…

Beau Brummel is a nineteenth-century pop-culture icon. He appears in novels by Georgette Heyer, T. Coraghessan Boyle and Arthur Conan Doyle, and he stars in his very own detective series by Rosemary Stevens. Forget fragrance lines by J. Lo. and Nina Ricci. Brummel has his very own rhododendron: the Rhododendron Beau Brummel (does what it says on the tin, I guess). Unapologetically blooming, with what is referred to in gardening circles as a “ball-shaped truss,” the scarlet blossom was hybridized in 1934. Brummel has also inspired a watch, a poem, a line in a musical (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats), and a Billy Joel song.

So, why am I going on about Beau Brummel? Men like Brummel and others of the dandy set, favoured tailors on Savile Row, a street of gentlemen’s fashions in Mayfair that now includes none other than Alexander McQueen – the newbie in bespoke menswear. Savile Row is home to bespoke. Bespoke means clothing that will “be spoken for” by individual customers, so that you get clothing tailored to your style and fit and – from a tailor worth his or her mite – for your personality. Says Sarah Burton of this new move, “It feels like a homecoming.” She says that McQueen started as an apprentice on Savile Row and always wanted to open a flagship store there.

The label has collaborated with Huntsman to produce a Prince of Wales check trouser-suit and a black cashmere overcoat for their first collection. Of course, it wouldn’t be McQueen if the collection didn’t have a sense of pastiche to spice various McQueen paraphernalia – horns and wings and skulls – that grace the premises. Victorian influences include looks that range from dandy to gamekeeper, lord of the castle to various military references. The premiere collection launches in October 2012, and will be showcased in a menswear show in January.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Pre-Raphaelite Supermodels

Mariana, John Everett Millais, 1851

Published on The London Word

A hundred and fifty years before Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, what you might call the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood modelled for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Their timeless beauty, made more luminous by the vision (and no doubt the sexual acrobatics) of the Brotherhood, is now on display at the Tate, in a special survey of the works of the Pre-Raphaelites and their many followers. The exhibition looks at the PRB’s work from the time they formed in September 1848 through to the works of artists influenced by their style and ideology. The exhibition is a delicious prequel to the V and A’s display of the Aesthetic Movement last year.

While the PRB’s hedonistic pursuit of beauty at any cost is well known, it is their worship of nature that is embroidered all through their paintings. At the exhibition, I stood in front of Millais’s Ophelia for a good fifteen minutes, staring at the pathos of Hamlet’s Ophelia, her supplication to eternity, the splashes of colour from the wildflowers that cling to her drowning body, the delicate twines engulfing her gown as she slowly sinks. While the PRB made no bones about the reproduction of nature as one of their main inspirations, what you note in their paintings is actually the blissful harmony of people (well, mostly women) and nature, a match so divine that both nature and humanity are elevated by it.

So, if you were a Pre-Raphaelite supermodel, which one would you be? Would you be Lizzie Siddal, the PRB’s favourite muse, immortalized by Millais’s Ophelia, a woman whose life changed one day as she walked out of the London hat maker’s where she worked when she was spotted by the Brotherhood? Her addictive personality, the enormous abyss of longing in her for beauty, self-fulfillment, and for Rossetti’s loyalty make her a haunting figure. She was the perfect muse – while Millais was painting Ophelia, Siddal modelled for him submerged in a bathtub, and she stayed mute as the water slowly turned ice cold. She was a painter in her own right and found a supporter of her art in John Ruskin, though her art never quite matured enough and looks a little unfinished and childlike, all the way up to 1862 when she died of a laudanum overdose at thirty-two years of age. While her own paintings feature at the Tate, it is paintings like Ophelia and Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix that really speak of Siddal’s lingering impact on modern art.

Would you be Fanny Cornforth, another of Rossetti’s many flings? Earthy, sexy and gloriously unself-conscious, Cornforth was a stark contrast to Siddal’s other-worldly, somewhat consumptive looks. Cornforth became Rossetti’s housekeeper after Siddal died in 1862, and had a relationship with him that lasted till his death in 1882. Paintings like Rossetti’s The Blue Bower and Monna Vanna of this red-headed beauty give the exhibition a special sumptuous light, and it is these paintings that helped Rossetti mature from a hankering amateur to a full-blown artist.

Or would you be Jane Morris – keenly intelligent, self-made, of an ambitious and steadfast disposition? Morris – born Jane Burden, daughter of a stableman – taught herself Italian and French, learnt the piano, and developed what were often noted as “queenly” manners. She was married to William Morris, but had an on-again off-again relationship with Rossetti all his life.

Besides these iconic paintings, the exhibition also showcases cabinets and stained glass works by people like Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. While the exhibition is quite yummy, I have to say I was expecting a Tate Pre-raphaelite survey to be full of excess. I thought I’d be running breathlessly from room to room full of panic about not being able to take it all in. There are some works missing like Rossetti’s Love’s Greeting or later works like John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot (1888). Still, if you are a fan of the PRB, the exhibition is not to be missed.

Tate Britain
September 12, 2012 – January 13, 2013
Tickets: £14

Monday, 10 September 2012

Ophelia, John Everett Millais (1851-52)

So, the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition is finally here! Since it is a Tate exhibition, I admit I was expecting excess all the way. Like the Miro and Watercolour exhibitions last year, I expected something like fifteen enormous rooms filled to bursting with PRB paintings, and paintings and paraphernelia from their various followers, leading straight into the Aesthetic Movement, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. I thought I'd be running frantically from room to room clicking pictures and taking manic notes, while hyperventilating about all of the other rooms still left to visit. The anxiety about how much I was missing would make me sweat and later seek therapy. While what is on offer at the Tate this autumn is ripe and sensual as you would predict of a PRB exhibition, it does leave you panting for more. Well maybe that's the point. Still, I expect my full dose of hysetria when I visit the Tate...

Thankfully, my all time favourite Ophelia (1851-52) is on display. No PRB exhibition would be complete without that haunting masterpiece. With Lizzie Siddal as muse and model, Ophelia lays half-submerged in water, vines, rose leaves, wildflowers cling to her neck and hair, willow around her body and slowly drag her under. Like much of PR art, this masterpiece celebrates female beauty but gives it more than a hint of pathos and longing. It makes it one with nature - there is a little robin in the corner, a pink rose by the hem of her dress, she is surrounded by breathless and breathtaking foliage - and while doing so, it also tells a classic tale. Like other PRB work, the painting tells the truth about nature.

It was painted with Lizzie Siddal lying submerged in a bathtub. The artist - John Everett Millais (1829-1896) - got so thoroughly absorbed in the painting and Siddal was so committed to being the perfect artist's model and not interefere in the artistic vision of the painter that she lay in the water even as it got colder and colder to the point that she was shivering uncontrollably by the end of it. It is thought that Millais created the river scene at Hogsmill River at Ewell in Surrey.

Of course, you could say that this painting gives a premonition of Lizzie Siddal's life and death. Siddal was the PRB's favourite muse, but mere ten years after the painting of this classic, she died of a laudanum overdose. The poppies and violets so gorgeously painted in this work perhaps point to Ophelia's - and maybe Siddal's - death and loyalty. And there is a sense of the divine in the pose - the supplicating hands, the calm repose in the face, the fatalistic acceptance, the eternal merging with nature.

Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition at the Tate

Don't miss the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition at Tate Britain
September 12, 2012 - January 13, 2013

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Best of British Ballgowns, V&A

When Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green, in Casino Royale, 2006) walks into the Casino Royale in Montenegro where James Bond is playing a high-stakes poker game with Le Chiffre, all eyes – including Bond’s – turn to watch her in her aubergine gown, with its plunging silver neckline, its sexy little knot at the centre of her chest, and the kiss of the long skirt around her thighs. Lynd is a complicated character. Vicious, cynical and prickly on the outside, with a startlingly black hole of longing on the inside. Her dress – picked by Bond, of course – matches her personality. An unusual colour, an enigmatic V of silver, and a confident hugging of the curves.

Then there is the iconic black-embroidered strapless gown that Sabrina (played by Audrey Hepburn) wears for the Larrabees’ garden party in Sabrina, 1953. Remember that dress? White gloves? Detachable train? Rumour has it that Hepburn, ever the style queen, chose this confection from Givenchy’s S/S 1953 collection. “His are the only clothes in which I am myself,” she said of the designer. “He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality.” This dress, too, has something to say about the wearer – Hepburn, the elegant ingénue, a curious mixture of naïve schoolgirl and pink champagne.

To celebrate the opening of the newly renovated Fashion Galleries, the Victoria and Albert have opened the 2012 summer season with an exhibition of ballgowns displayed over two floors. The exhibition scans sixty years of British eveningwear and features designers like Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen, Erdem, and Jenny Packham. Iconic gowns include Norman Hartnell’s concoction for the Queen Mother, Princess Di’s “Elvis Dress” by Catherine Walker, and dresses worn by Sandra Bullock and Bianca Jagger. Each gown (whether you like the dress or not) has its own unique imprint – for some, this is the stamp of the designer, while for others, it is the wearer that has left on the gown a hint of their perfume.

The Norman Hartnell gown is a full-bodied cream silk, with a multitude of gold-embroidered colonial-style tentacles (a little too Memsahib for my tastes, but who’s arguing with the Queen Mother?) The Erdem is a bird of paradise, with a canary-yellow bodice, and a skirt that Van Gogh wouldn’t sneeze at (actually, neither would the exotic bird. It may actually try to make a nest in it.) The McQueen confection is, as always, a show stealer. A full furry-licious skirt with feathers hugging the bodice, this dress is definitely more glamorous swan than fuzzy chicken. The Roksanda Ilincic is a different kettle of fish. My favourite retro-rose colour, with shimmying bits of lace and silk, this is a stunning pastiche of a cocktail dress – probably not an Ilincic that you can find on Net-a-Porter, huh? 

Alexander McQueen

Victor Edelstein


Victoria and Albert Museum, May 19, 2012 – January 6, 2013
Pictures from Victoria and Albert
Article upcoming in The London Word

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Fashion Targets Breast Cancer

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that ethical fashion, in all its avatars, will become more and more important around the world in the coming years, as we come to terms with the consequences of our choices. When it was just sweatshops that were the problem, a lot of us could turn a blind eye. If it doesn’t happen here or to you, but in a land far, far away, it’s easier to ignore. If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one there to see it, etc…But we are now facing recession (a second recession, though I can’t remember when the first one finished. But maybe I was too busy trying to balance my cheque book.) We are also looking at catastrophic climate change. And if none of this seems like an immediate problem, heck, fashion prices should be enough to make us hyperventilate.

I’ll confess. I like clothes. Kooky colours, prints put together in some odd couplings, the sheen of silk, a riot of flowers – it’s all intoxicating. But the stories behind the clothes – the below-minimum wage paid to workers, the children that have no choice but to sweat away at the loom, the hundreds of thousands that celebrities pay for a diamond-studded sandal to walk the red carpet, the awful working conditions of labourers that will never in a million years be able to afford the buttons they are sewing on – it’s depressing. As Marx said, capitalism is a vampire, and can only survive by sucking on living labour.

So, when I hear about anything to do with ethical fashion, I feel just a little bit better about my love for fashion. Whether it’s Edun – the collaboration between Ali Hewson and Bono that promotes fair trade partnerships with Kenya and Uganda, or a pairing of M&S with Oxfam to encourage people to recycle clothes, or a commitment to local production and sustainable practices by indie brands like Beyond Skin shoes – it’s all good, and I’m hoping, it is more than just a celebrity fad.

And now here’s another way to show a commitment to charitable causes. Fashion Targets Breast Cancer is an endeavour set up by Ralph Lauren in 1994 after he lost a close friend to the horrible c-word. Since then, celebs like Elle Macpherson, Twiggy, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Minogue have given their face and their time to the campaign. Brands like M&S, River Island, Topshop, Warehouse, Coast, My Wardrobe, Laura Ashley, Debenhams and others sell bespoke pieces for the project every year, with at least 30% of the proceeds going to Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

“Buy it, Fight it,” say posters of Georgia May Jagger and Pixie Geldof, who are fronting the campaign this year. Look out for these denim-clad ladies in their street-chic during your early morning commute. This year’s offerings include jazzy festival wear – think woven bracelets and imprinted t-shirts, and one-shoulder dresses, fascinators and teapots for a royal theme. All very apropos for the Diamond Jubilee summer season.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Fashion Collaborations 2012

Published on The London Word

If Snoop Dogg can jive with a resurrected Tupac, really, anything is possible. Cook up any kind of wild pairing, and it seems that 2012 will deliver. First, it was fashion power house Missoni with Target. Then Karl Lagerfeld landed in Net-a-Porter. Now it is Marni and H&M. How can this be, you say! Is the world going mad? Couture lines – hit by the recession – opening their arms and legs to the highest bidder? High street brands laughing silently at their good luck! Whatever next? Primark and Dior? Urban Outfitters with the Queen? Chocolate ice-cream with wasabi…oh, wait, I think that one’s been done already…

July 2012: Yayoi Kusama ♥ Louis Vuitton
So, talking of the Queen, 82-year-old Yayoi Kusama has polka-dotted all over Louis Vuitton’s leather goods, accessories and jewellery this year, to launch a new frothy line that is quintessentially Kusama and yet follows the business acumen of Marc Jacobs. Following on the Young Arts Project (launched in 2010 to give underprivileged youngsters in London a peep into the arts community) and Kusama’s Tate exhibition – both sponsored by Louis Vuitton – the line will be available in stores this summer.

May 2012: Dr. Martens ♥ Liberty
The wild-nature trend of 2012 is clearly having an adhesive effect. Even Dr. Martens – who surely invented androgyny in granny boots – have gone a little floral. This year, they’ve paired up with the mommy of Oxford Street fashion houses – Liberty – to produce a range of baroque-style shoes and satchels. Prints called “Strawberry Thief” and “Martens Flower” bring a carnival air to their classic 3-hole and 8-hole boots. The collaboration hits Liberty shelves on Labour Day.

March 2012: Marni ♥ H&M
When H&M launched their blink-and-you’ve-missed-it Marni line back in March, they gave shoppers wrist bands for strictly policed shopping slots. Twenty excited shoppers were allowed into the Regent Street flagship store at one time – no matter if they had been camping outside since 9pm the previous night – and each had no more than ten minutes to dash in and grab whatever they could find. The hysteria on British and Ireland’s Top Model when girls are let loose at a chippie’s has nothing on the mayhem that ensued. The preppie blazers and spotty frocks were sold out by that afternoon – only to reappear hours later on ebay.

February 2012: Mary Katrantzou ♥ Topshop
If you can spend £5000 on a dress, you can – like Keira Knightly, Jessie J and Alexa Chung – wear unique Mary Katrantzou graphic gear. Her ditsy florals are at your beck and call. Her Rorschach ink blot prints induce acid trips on lonely nights. And if you can’t spend £5000 on a dress? Well, then you can find a Mary Katrantzou dress for $350 at Topshop. And if you don’t want to spend three-hundred pounds on one MK dress either? Sorry, then I’m out of ideas.

January 2012: Karl Lagerfeld ♥ Net-a-Porter
Net-a-Porter – the giant of online retail – went a little Battlestar Gallactica on us this January when it opened its doors to Karl Lagerfeld. It was skewed silver jackets, S&M-style chokers and fingerless leather gloves all the way as the Chanel designer launched his ready-to-wear collection. Eager fashionistas dressed all in black for the day (including oversized dark sunglasses, despite the cloud cover) and waited hungrily in Covent Garden for the launch.

So, that takes us till the summer. As we already know, Stella McCartney has designs on the London Olympics this year. And we’ll just have to wait and see what the rest of the year will bring.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Picasso Exhibition at the Tate

Published in The London Word

If you saw the nature-inspired prints of Mary Katrantzou’s S/S 2012 collection at London Fashion Week and Issa’s silken fabrics, you may be forgiven for thinking that colour blocking is so 2011. Only die-hard enthusiasts of geometric fashion, like Yves St. Laurent, would keep on rehashing those stiff-point collars and pair colours like navy blue and purple, after all.

And you wouldn’t be wrong. The relentless trapezoids and octagons of 2011 – Prada, Celine, Balenciaga all followed where YSL led – have given way to the Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa feel of 2012. It’s exotic birds, clashing swirls, and exploding bubbles all the way this year. And in fact, even YSL can’t help going a little floral in their cruise line.

But if you think geometric prints are a throw back to the 1970s, look further into history. It was just over a hundred years ago in 1910 that the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso first exhibited his cubist paintings in the U.K. The reception from the art community was chilly. Only Picasso could look at a set of orange and yellow triangles and call it The Three Musicians. Only he could reduce nature and character to cylinders, spheres and cones.

Even as the avant-garde went into a fizz over Picasso’s insight into the human condition, the art critic GK Chesterton said of Picasso’s Portrait of Clovis Sagot, “a piece of paper on which Mr. Picasso has had the misfortune to upset the ink and tried to dry it with his boots.” Winston Churchill promised to give Picasso a kick in the rear if he encountered the modernist, and Evelyn Waugh ended letters with the words “Death to Picasso!”

Yet, Picasso’s odd ability to reduce the world into its most basic form continues to inspire art and what many would call art’s cheap younger sister – fashion – today. From Antonio Berardi’s relentless monochrome to DKNY’s horizontal stripes, 2011 runways were a cubist artist’s wet dream. Even 2012 trends with their exotic swirls recall some of Picasso’s later, more African-inspired paintings, like the Women of Algiers series with its interlacing of conical shapes with giant boobs.

Picasso himself took an interest in clothing when he designed the costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s The Three-Cornered Hat or Le Tricorne in 1919. You don’t have to look further than Picasso’s costume for the Chinese Conjurer to see asymmetric blocks of colour. His Le Tricorne (1920) is the perfect mix of Victorian flounces and vertical stripes, while another costume for Diaghilev, with its red-and-black striped skirt and its tiered-cake hat, would not be out of place in a YSL collection.

Check out these and other paintings by Picasso at the Tate Britain this season. The exhibition, though it does not include some of Picasso’s classic paintings of musical instruments, does include a panorama of works by many artists – David Hockney, Duncan Grant, Francis Bacon – who are inspired by the great modernist.

Picasso and Modern British Art
Tate Britain
Till July 15, 2012

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair

Published in The London Word

When I enter Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair, I want to run through the rails of clothing in joyful slow-mo, flinging clothes hither and thither, throwing oversized rings and itty-bitty lace in the air, and basically drowning in an orgy of period goodness. This vintage phenomenon that started in 2005 travels from city to city, peddling delicious Macks, the odd velvet gown from the 1920s, and rare Biba finds that lurk in the depths if you have the patience to look.

The stalls of clothing, accessories, sometimes furniture and other goodies, are a mixture of vintage ware, re-worked knick-knacks and hand-made goods. If you like shopping in charity shops in Kensington or Hampstead, the words “Affordable Vintage” may seem something of an oxy-moron, but Judy’s isn’t kidding around. No matter if you’re more of a goth than a 1950s housewife, or if it’s really Miss. Marple that curls your toes, this gem of a fair will find you rare treats at very reasonable prices.

Kieran Leckey, the Marketing Manager, one of a young and friendly team of dedicated vintage fashion hounds, describes their Bethnal Green Affordable Vintage Fair. “We founded the fair in 2006. It was a HUGE hit, one of the first London fairs. Daisy Lowe and the Pierces even used to come shop. But cut to 2012 – soooo many vintage fairs out there. We wanted to shake things up. York Hall in Bethnal Green is a gorgeous venue and we wanted to create an event where people could stay all day.” So they created “an east-end haunt” with music and cupcakes where committed shoppers can spend an entire Sunday just hanging out and sorting through the racks. What Kieran doesn’t say is that York Hall gives the fair a long, warehouse kind of venue, very hip, very retro, and very quintessentially vintage.

Judy Berger, the founder, says that the fair was born in Leeds through “love, lust and a little frustration. I had nothing to wear and vintage was through the roof!” The fair now sources vintage traders from all over the UK and checks all the stock for the affordable and the wearable.

If clothing doesn’t knock your socks off, then check out the vinyl and the taxidermy and the stocks of furniture. The Kilo sales give you a bagful of clothing at just £15 and Spitalfields Market hosts the fair every month. Don’t forget to check it out on April 7th and 9th. In honour of the 2012 Olympics, fashion scouts will be handing out medals and vouchers to the best-dressed customers!

Old Spitalfields Market
65 Brushfield Street
E1 6AA

Sunday, 15 April 2012

How to Dress for a Job Interview OR What Not to Wear to a Job Interview

Karl Lagerfeld, Net-a-Porter

The question of how to dress for a job interview seems apropos in these days of redundancy and generic all-round panic about losing your job, your mortgage, and your mind. Of course, you might be one of the many who look at this article and say, “Job interview? What job interview?! *Add suitable expletive.* I’ve applied for a hundred and twenty-seven jobs found on Gumtree, Craigslist, Monster, TotalJobs. I spend all my time on these sites, twitching like a crazy person on amphetamines. The incredibly complicated application forms fill me with fear and loathing. And I haven’t been invited to one single job interview!!” In that case, what are you doing here? You need to read How to Get a Job Interview, and also perhaps The Twelve Step Plan to Ending Your Addiction to Applying for Jobs.

Here are some general rules for what to wear and how to look when you’re applying for a job. Remember, in the end, these are just rules. Feel free to ignore them all. If you’re Lisbeth Salander, do go in with punk haircut, gothic make-up and a tattoo on your neck. If you’re Dr Gregory House (why has that show come to an end?! Why God, why?), then go ahead and be rude to everyone you meet. But unless you’re the bee’s knees of your profession, you can’t afford to do that.

Dress for the job
Imagine this scenario. You’re interviewing to be a fashion blogger at a trendy start-up and you show up in a black pin-stripe suit, black pantyhose, neat pumps, and a briefcase. You may lose them even before you’ve started. You could carry off a vintage suit (ideally some crazy colour, in velvet), with cream-coloured polka-dot tights, and kooky sandals, but a conservative outfit here won’t really work for you. Same if you’re applying to be a customer-facing secretary in the City, and you show up in jeans. Guys, a fitted suit work best. So, think about the job you want. And that may be the only rule you need to follow.

Personal style
If you’re determined to wear that pinstripe, say, you’re a banker or an accountant (get a different job! Just kidding…), then add a personal touch. An oversized necklace, colourful pumps, a colour-block dress, a cool tie – do something that doesn’t look like you’ve just stepped off an assembly line in Canary Wharf. That assembly line exists, I tell you. You just have to travel on the Jubilee Line at rush hour to see its produce – everyone looks exactly the same. It’s like being in the Matrix.

Talking of over-sized necklaces, avoid clunking it up. Bling is not a bad thing, but you don’t need the necklace, the dangly earrings, the chunky bracelets, the too-cool anklet you picked up in Rajasthan, and the three rings on each finger. Choose a signature piece of jewellery, and keep the rest understated. And I’d avoid the anklet, in any case. It wouldn’t work with your polka-dot panty-hose. (Wait, I’ve lost track of which outfit we’re discussing here…)

Avoid the Katie Price or Lil Kim look, please. This is true about all times, and not just for job interviews. Be clean. Take a shower. Please don’t look orange from your cheap tan. And don’t do too much make-up. A little foundation or powder, a bit of mascara, a light layer of eye-liner or eye-shadow, lipstick that’s not drawn outside your own pair of perfectly beautiful lips (oh, and ideally one that doesn’t cake and give you lipstick globules), that’s all you need. Don’t weigh down your face. Keep it groomed and radiant. Do your usual eye-brow wax or whatever, so that you’re not trying to cover up your moustache with your soy latte the whole time. Guys, keep that facial hair under check.

Avoid flyaway, frizzy hair. Avoid hair extensions. Avoid home-grown bleaches. Comb and condition your hair so that you don’t have a spontaneously-erupting dreadlock sticking up at right-angles to everything else. Keep it clean, keep it looking organized. Avoid running in, looking sweaty, red and out of breath. Don’t do the over-gelled look, boys, please. And please look for dandruff on your shoulders. Keep it low maintenance when it comes to hair, in case you don’t get the chance to do the last minute run to the loo once you’ve arrived for your interview.

You can get away with bare legs if the weather is really, really hot. Otherwise, a nice pair of translucent tights works well. Keep an extra pair in your bag in case of accidents. Boys, avoid bare legs and pantyhose. For shoes, pumps are the usual favourite. Open-toe is acceptable. Boots can work depending on the job and the weather, but pumps, or loafers (for men), are better. Don’t go in with scruffy shoes or smelly feet.

Can you be sexy?
Unless you’re interviewing to be a hostess at a gentleman’s club, the answer is no. No peeking, frilly bras or overbearing cleavage. No itty-bitty skirts. No see-through tops or shirts whose buttons pop open if you breathe. Try not to cross and uncross your legs the entire time. Don’t lean over and fondle anyone. Don’t keep licking your lips and playing with your hair. This is a job interview, not a seduction.
Other than that, wear some light deodorant. Be friendly, polite, honest and confident. (Unless you’re Lisbeth Salander – in which case, I love that you’re reading my article.) Always, always arrive a few minutes early.

Published on The London Word

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Designer Fashion at Chic&Seek

When I hear the words ‘designer fashion sale,’ it makes me feel a little hysterical. I know that a visit to such a gala will make me giddy with longing for the beautifully styled couture on display from brands like Prada, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood, but I will come back from the sale empty-handed and spouting Marxist theory about the general awfulness of the capitalist machinery, and how we are all just brain-washed by the fashion world.

The online store Chic&Seek may be an answer to my woes. The second-hand designer-wear is cherry picked by the founder Tara Nash-King and is a mix of the uber chic with the cheeky urban. You are just as likely to find an unusual Burberry number with a renaissance counter-image embedded in it (£175), as you are to discover a frivolous bit of Bon Point fur ($65), or a Diane von Furstenberg geometric-patterned silk shirt (£100). You can either be a modern fashionista and shop online, or if you can’t bear not to touch and feel and smell the clothes, then you can make an appointment to check out the one-of-a-kind pieces.

Nash-King admits that the idea for the website and home-grown business came out of a dissatisfaction with ebay. Her early vision was to create a store that displayed the clothes in quite a standard way, but then after a small launch party in her home became a major hit with her friends, she turned her home into a store which could show off her choice ware to advantage. Nash-King graduated with a degree in Sociology, and later worked for Anya Hindmarch, who she calls an inspiration. The jazzy colours and style of Hindmarch’s online store have treacled their way into Chic&Seek.

“The prices are between 50-80% off the retail prices,” says Nash-King. “I know they are still high, but if you are used to designer prices, they are also fair. Each week new pieces are allocated to the Make an Offer section. You can email a secret bid for pieces in this section and grab yourself a real bargain.” Nash-King is busy organizing a giant pop-up sale on March 16 at the 20th Century Theatre in Westbourne Grove to raise money for The Rugby Portobello Trust. This event will host more than thirty stalls, and will feature quirky events like a tarot reading and a Proseco bar in the evening. Go anytime between 10am and 8pm to check it out. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

London Fashion Week Sneak Preview

Ada Zanditon Collection
Check out my London Fashion Week Sneak Preview at

London Fashion Week: Feb 17-22, 2012

London Fashion Week Sneak Preview

Ever since the house of Alexander McQueen announced that they would model McQ on the London Fashion Week catwalk in February 2012, this too-cool-for-school label has been the talk of the town. Designed for the fashion-savvy young customer, at more affordable prices than McQueen’s kooky couture, McQ is set to trend on Twitter this coming week, as plaid signatures and seaweed-like goth frocks strut down the ramp. Creative Director Sarah Burton promises that the collection, the highlight of the LFW Monday round-up, returns to McQueen roots – street-style with great fabrics and cuts.

This announcement came hot on the heels of Stella McCartney’s promise to feature her Olympics-inspired evening-wear collection at LFW (this Saturday). Having dressed Kate Winslet’s luscious curves in a red Octavia dress (where swimming gear meets Betty Boop) for a Paris film premiere last year, not to mention several A-list celebrities like Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon, McCartney is planning to set the track on fire this summer as Creative Director for Adidas Team GB.

But these are only two of the names on the fashion hotlist. Daniella Issa Helayel, who finally established herself on the fashion map in 2010 with The Engagement Dress, and whose name popped up in fashion mags second only to Sarah Burton’s last year, brings her slinky wearables and her Ascot-chic to LFW on Saturday. The catwalk event features her Brazilian love for colour and her trademark figure-kissing silhouettes. Does anyone else think that her Sp/Su 2012 Collection looks like it is designed exclusively for Kate and Pippa?

Meanwhile, Mary Katrantzou launches her colourful and girly Longchamp and Topshop lines this month; Henry Holland brings us his House of Holland collection that he says is inspired by a mating of Mork and Mindy with the Tour de France; and Vivienne Westwood goes metallic after featuring all of last year in a Kensington Palace spectacle called Enchanted Palace. Then there are the usual staples: Burberry, Mulberry, John Rocha and Jasper Conran.

Don’t forget to check out LFW off-the-catwalk events. The Good Fashion Show on Saturday brings twenty-five eco-fashion designers and a fair-trade market to London House, while Ada Zanditon’s mating of urban fashion with bio-mimicry and seahorses will be shown on screen at Somerset House on Friday. The British Fashion Council hosts the International Fashion Showcase all month, and The Christian Aid Collective puts together a masala of live graffiti, dance and deconstructed ethical fashion in a mid-month extravaganza at a secret location!

Don’t miss the fashion ton that will undoubtedly grace the front row at LFW – though it is possible you might only see an occasional nostril twitch from this lot, with a surfeit of air kissing and uber-serious note-taking thrown in for good measure.

Look at the full schedule of delights at and check The London Word blog and Twitter updates for the latest news, gossip and pictures. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cabinet of Dreams

Published on London Festival Fringe

Is your girlfriend the kind of woman who suppresses a yawn when you hand her a bouquet of red roses on Valentine’s Day? Does a box of chocolate hearts make her smile politely as she chucks them in the back of the fridge? You get her a scarf (yet again – making it a grand total of sixteen so far), or worse, a generic tube of Body Shop body butter, and she stashes them away to re-gift to her girlfriends. In all probability, then, as February 14 approaches, you are starting to look a little red-eyed and twitchy. Fear not. Women’s Aid and advertising giants Grey London may have just the ticket for your tree-hugging, soup-kitchen-loving girlfriend.

Take a walk through Soho and discover a little gem of a concept store on Noel Street. Domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid are giving you the chance this February (until Valentine’s Day) to visit this store front that houses a 3D installation of quaint bell-jars – some chocker-block with chewy sweets (A Portion of Spoilt Rotten, by Suck and Chew), others that house tiny Doll’s House type characters reading a book, enjoying a quiet moment together under a wintery tree and a romantic lantern (Some Old-fashioned Romance, by Marie-Louise Jones).

You can text the number written next to your favourite gift, and donate a little to Women’s Aid. Your girlfriend will receive her virtual gift via a text, telling her that you care about the very real problem of domestic abuse. The shop front includes interpretations and illustrations by London’s top artists, like Rob Rylan, Kyle Bean, Fred Butler, The Last Tuesday Society, and others

One in four women experience some kind of domestic abuse in their lifetime. As Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive for Women’s Aid reminds us, relationships based on abuse can often look perfectly innocent on the surface, but can revolve around a cycle of controlling behaviour and gift-giving. Women’s Aid work tirelessly to change national policy, raise awareness, and give advice and counselling to women in need. Give them a helping hand this February by buying a gift that really matters. 

Cabinet of Dreams
The FrameStore, 9 Noel Street, W1
Until February 14, 2012

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Ethical Designer: Ada Zanditon

If you want to know what a mating of Yohji Yamamoto’s theatrical deconstructions with Biba’s retro-chic would look like, check out Ada Zanditon’s Sp/Su 2012 collection Poseisus. But Zanditon’s collection goes far beyond this improbable mating to bring in the added element of sea horses. Yes, I said sea horses. Odd, elfin creatures called the Short Snouted Seahorse and the Spiny Seahorse that can be found in the Thames give the collection an underwater, mermaid-like feel, and create structures using one of Zanditon’s pet techniques – bio-mimicry.

Bio mimicry creates human-made structures, and aims to find solutions to human-created problems, by mimicking biological processes found in nature. This gives Zanditon’s work an intensely organic feel. The fabrics in Sp/Su 2012 look as if they have a life of their own. As if the print is nestled in the fabric, rather than imprinted on to it. An off-shoulder monochromatic dress with this under-the-sea feel could well be worn to a nightclub, but look again. A white fin flaps down from the waist and deconstructs the Friday-night-on-the-town feel of the dress. In other numbers, splashes of fuchsia bring to life swathes of white chiffon that Aphrodite would happily wear for her emergence from the sea.  

Zanditon is an out and out Londoner. Having trained at the London College of Fashion, she quickly made her way on to London Fashion Week schedules, and is at the moment busy preparing for London Fashion Week in February, 2012. Each of her collections starts with a scientific or architectural concept. The Sp/Su 2011 collection titled Pyramora was inspired by Egyptian pyramids and threatened coral reefs of the Red Sea. Geometric shapes – and we saw a lot of those in 2011 – and bronze pillars create sculptural sheaths, with organic corals sprouting from the shoulders, or growing all the way down the front of the dress. Over a cup of Fairtrade tea, Zanditon’s favourite topics for conversation may well be the bacteria found in Arctic ice and nature’s favourite processes of evolution.

But Zanditon is not just a cerebral chick. She is attempting to put her money where her heart is – in finding sustainable and ethical ways of making her art. She has been awarded the Ethical Fashion Forum Award for her commitment to eco-friendly fashion, and a British Fashion Council eco-fashion mentoring fellowship. She supports charitable causes like The Seahorse Trust and The Bat Conservation Trust, and is a member of the Fairtrade Collective. To take it further, all her consciously-sourced fabrics use dyes that are free of cancer-causing AZO.

Check out her creations at, as Zanditon works hard at creating art while preserving the bio-diversity that is constantly under threat on our planet. 

Article upcoming in The London Word

Ethical Designer: Beyond Skin

Do the words vegan footwear make you clutch your hair in despair? Do nightmares of outrageously comfortable shoes that look exactly like pixie ears pass through your brain? You don’t want to join the banana-skin-eating brigade, you say? Beyond Skin vegan shoes may just change your mind. Maybe you won’t become a raw-food Nazi overnight. And maybe pepperoni pizza will still beckon of a Tuesday evening. But Beyond Skin pumps are more feminine and flirty than Deborah Kerr. And more sexy-assassin than The Bride. (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.)

The Beyond Skin story is one of survival. It’s what your grandma used to say about success. Talent is great and all, but perseverance despite setbacks is what will get you there in the end. For Beyond Skin, the vision to produce cute vegan shoes that harm “no humans, animals or small children” began in 2001. The idea was to produce the shoes locally in the U.K, supporting local industry and enterprise and featuring ethical business practices. But it was two years before the small team even found their first factory - which went bust soon after.

Two defunct manufacturers and many demoralizing years later, a family-run factory agreed to produce their shoes, and Natalie Portman took their label to the first step in its long-term vision by wearing Beyond Skins to The Golden Globes and in the film “V for Vendetta.” A boutique line of high-end, designer footwear called Sui Generis was born, but the team quickly realized that in order to offer wholesale, relatively affordable shoes to a wider clientele than Natalie Portman, they would have to consider manufacturing options outside of the U.K. Now their wholesale line is produced in Alicante, Spain, and Beyond Skin is based in Brighton.

Says designer Natalie Dean, part of a small and friendly team of young people, “We do not use any animal products in the creation of our shoes. All our production is in Spain and all our materials are either Spanish or Italian and sourced as close to the factory as possible. Our focused eco fabric is Dinamica, which is made from 100% recycled PET plastics (water bottle lids), is fully sustainable and so durable it is used by Mercedes Benz and Jaguar for their high-end interiors.” Dean, a veteran of the music industry, and Heather Whittle, a graduate from Cordwainers, have run the label together since 2005.

Dean is inspired by Anita Roddick, who shared Dean’s commitment to the environment, and was the founder of the sustainable practices of The Body Shop and a passionate supporter of The Big Issue and other charitable causes. Other inspirations include strong, politically-awake women like Katherine Hemnett, who is famous for her business ethics and her political t-shirts (think Wham!, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go), and Blake Mycoskie who produces Argentinean-inspired TOMS shoes and is known for giving a free pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair that he sells.

Visit for news of Beyond Skin lines, and check out their winter sale that includes Joanie – a ballet slipper in red faux-suede; Vixen – uber-trendy wedge over-knee boots; and lush and sparkly Sirene pumps. Their Spring line is on sale soon, and Beyond Skin are soon taking their ethos into producing other accessories. Don’t miss them at PURE, London, in February, 2012.

Article coming up in The London Word