Wednesday
Nov142012

1. The Reincarnation of the Hourglass Silhouette:

In the last few years in both the public, the media and professional contexts the power of a certain va va voom curvaceousness has taken over from women’s previous attempts at being taken seriously by playing down overt physiognomic femininity.  In fashion the first significant moment of this resurgence was the spectacularly successful Roland Mouret Galaxy dress in (2006), hotly followed by Christopher Kane’s bandage dresses and more recently Stella McCartney’s Octavia or ‘Optical Illusion dress’ (2011) that literally draws out the hourglass shape on the body with abstract colour-blocking reminiscent of Jean Arp’s surrealist painting. With these designs, both the press and female consumers have been newly seduced by the hour-glass as the fashionable silhouette of choice. These dresses have the effect of creating curves where there are none (for example Victoria Beckham’s almost  painfully strict aesthetic) and exaggerating and training them pneumatically where they already exist (for example Kate Winslet’s triumphant display of grown-up female power in the Octavia dress at the Golden Globes in 2011).

As a stylist and as a cultural commentator on gender and image, I am aware that the visual game being played out in the new curvaceous or ‘body con’ styling is an old one and it has a distinctively retro mid-century modern feel. The iconic popularity of the character of Joan Holloway (played by improbably physically endowed actress Christina Hendricks) in the American retro Drama Series ‘Man Men’ sashaying across the office floor, as one character puts it ‘like an ocean liner’, ’ has sealed the deal on s-shaped curves as the de rigeur sign of high profile femininity. Gorgeous and affirmative as it appears to be as a cultural image this retro sign for womanhood needs to be picked apart a bit. Because it is always possible that where there is nostalgia and retrospection there is also regression. As women we may actually not be moving on in our newly re-found love for the hourglass silhouette and this might potentially be a problem.

It does not really have to be stated, we all know it, but the visual game being played here is called - ‘DESIRE ME’. . . . and the significant sign of that desire is an apparently random silhouette easy enough to draw with a biro on the back of the toilet door or in fact type on this keyboard. . . not unlike an algebraic equation:

 

)(+;-)= $$$£££

 

)( exists is in sharp contrast to the triangular lines of the sign for woman on the front of the toilet next door - the one that simply says ‘women enter here’ . This supposedly neutral sign appears to carry no desire, no power-play and no sexual economics. Compared to this the hourglass silhouette is whole lot more obviously weighted. . . 

Thursday
Aug302012

'Swish'

Recently I was having a 'damage limitations' conversation with a 40 something client and friend. It concerned a failed wedding dress that had been made up as a toile by a dressmaker (not mine I hasten to add). 'I so wanted to swish you see, and now I am not going to be able to, and there is this great pile of silk that will never find its moment. . . .' When am I ever going to be able to wear a dress like that again? It's all downhill from here,'  she added painfully, as if referring to some sort of irrevocable decline of feminine beauty and potency.

I found this conversation oddly moving because have always been rather cynical about the romantic narcissism of brides with their drive towards the big- fat-fairytale-princess-for-the-day idyll. Why any sane woman would want all eyes turned towards a confection of femininity that is so completely removed from what it actually means to be a woman in 2012 strikes me as absurd (sorry there is my humbug rant but I had to get it out in the open!).  But this real sense of loss my friend was describing was not just financial and sentimental it was somehow profoundly existential. At that moment I did not find her melancholy even remotely self-indulgent. I just wondered to myself how an emotion that is attached to the peculiar characteristics of silk could run that deep.  Later that evening I was bathing my three year old daughter and she was lying back in the water pretending to be a mermaid. 'Look mummy,' she said, 'my hair is all swishy'. I was absolutely blown away. Here was a little girl whose grasp of language is so functional and apparently one-dimensional and yet she understood the onomatopoeic word exactly. She knew what it meant, how to use it and the total physical exhilaration it expressed.

Afterwards I reached for the OED:

swish: n,  1 A hissing sound, as of a slender object moved rapidly through the air or an object moving swiftly in contact with water; a rustling sound, as made by silk; movement accompanied by such a sound. 2 a splash of water on a surface. 3 a cane or birch for flogging; a stroke with this. Also a cane etc. for keeping off flies. 4 an effeminate male homosexual US slang. 5 Cricket; a rapid or careless attacking stroke. colloq

swish; a, smart, elegant, fashionable.

swish: v,1 (Cause to) move with a swinging motion, esp. so as to make a swish or a hissing or rustling sound; (cause to) make such a sound.  2 Flog (especially a schoolboy). 

So there you have it: 'swish' is a word absolutely loaded with notions of gender, and a certain set of qualities associated with it. It is connected with sensual pleasure, social and aesthetic perfection as well as effeminacy and pain,  most especially when it is played out in a too harshly 'masculine' context (swish just isn't cricket). 

Swish is elevation into a superhuman state of grace. When you swish you experience sensual pleasure that is entirely for its own sake, unselfconscious and without guilt or shame -  it is like the exquisite, innocent, sensuality of a child - narcissism before morality got to it and made it sour.  To swish is to be so much more than just sexy.  Swish is satin unraveling from the bolt; it is 'The Girl From Ipenima', ' a Ginger Rogers spin and lunge', 'Garbo's face emerging from velvet blackness',  the toss of Bartot's hair. To swish is be fluid, free and weightless like a mermaid in the sea; a siren  - utterly seductive  - but also seduced by an almost indescribable beauty and elegance of motion. Swish is the exhilarating experience of self caught by a wave - a pure moment outside of the always potentially clumsy human body. Swish transcends the corruption of age and the banality of day to day conflict and responsibility,  - it is orgasmic in a peculiarly feminine oceanic way. It is as ethereal as the wind over a wheat- field. To swish is to be glorious, gorgeous and 'Divine' no wonder it has such an intimate relationship with the cane. Swish is powerful, an irresistible force of nature.

My newest project is to learn to swish a little more on a daily basis - it suddenly seems as essential as cleaning ones teeth! 

 

Monday
Mar152010

On Jeans . . .

Having prided myself on my ability to put a client in the most flattering and stylish jeans, this season is presenting me with something of a nightmare because designers of jeans (like a lot of fashion designers and retailers at the moment) have decided to bypass what is banality of the merely ‘flattering’ and enter the realms of  the extreme, the androgynous and the downright ugly. For example the ‘Boyfriend’: baggy of crotch bum and thigh, high of waist and narrow of ankle (intended to be worn above the ankle and rolled up) or on the other the entirely overt ‘Jegging’ which is basically a denim legging by a trendy name and is in effect to say so tight that every bulge nook and cranny is on display think Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease and you’ll be getting there. I have even seen jeans in the form of Hareem pants. This is all very different from the engineered Levi’s of the 90’s (don’t chuck them they will be collectable) which look rather tame by comparison.

 Lets face it if you are around 40 or older (no matter how fantastic your figure) and don’t want to look like a batty old hooker or a terrible saddo who never left the eighties behind I would tend to avert your eyes from the jeans section at TopShop and Selfridges unless you can be sure to get someone trust worthy to help you. Because the 80’s are definitely back and booming along with black 501’s, acid wash, dip dye and tie dye, distressed ‘Bros’ rips etc. If you are 40 plus that means you may well have done all or some of this the first time round.  No wonder business is booming for Boden amongst the 35-50 age bracket there are few sane and sexy alternatives on the high street. Now I am not saying that older girls can’t look cool in what’s supposed to be ‘cool’ if it fits with their unique and unwavering sense of their own style. But let’s face it if you are 24 and skinny you can look sexy in virtually anything and if you are older you just don’t are on very precarious fashion ground if you don’t get it right!

 So here is essential jeans know how for the sane and sexy woman over 35:

 Leg Shape:

  • If you have a boyish body shape immaterial of your height you have the ideal shape for jeans that are straight leg or skinny.
  • If you boyish but have a flat bum choose pocket detail with curved or angled stitch detail. If you have a protruding bum choose straight line stitch detail or minimal pocket detail (so your jeans don’t scream ‘ here is my bum, please look at it’).
  • As a note Jeans with no pocket detail at the back are hideous on everyone! Patch pockets on hips make you look broader on the hip than the hidden frogmouth pockets on most jeans.
  • Slim jeans look best with heals ballet pumps or converse type trainers avoid chunky shoes or trainers (unless you are a trendy under the age of 25)
  • Petite women with shorter legs should always press their jeans along the front seem it lengthens the leg visually and makes you look taller and more leggy.
  • More pear shaped ladies should wear bootleg shaped jeans fitted on the hip and thigh and flaring from the knee.
  • Ladies who also have heavier legs, most of whom in my experience tend to find jeans problematic, need to go for a fuller flare cut like a 70’s style trouser (also always pressed along the front seem Gloria Vanderbilt style).
  • Flaring jeans look best with platforms and wedges and this helps to lift the trend factor as well as the bum cheeks

  Waistband Height: A below the waist jean (rather than a hipster down on the hip bone) is preferable for ‘pears’ because the line cuts the bum in half at the back. But beware the lower the waist the more builders cleavage will exit the jeans when you bend or sit and the more potential there is for muffin top at the front. Additionally the craze for very low waisted jeans is over and if you want to look modern then the waistband needs to go up a bit especially on fitted jeans (many will find this a relief).

 However you can use hipster/highwaisters strategically i.e. If you are long in the body compared to your leg length keep the waist high and conversely if you are long of leg and short of body definitely wear hipsters or you will look like Simon Cowl with your jeans starting under your arm pits.

 The boyish utility style has to look deliberate and when done well and styled appropriately can be worn by all shapes and sizes of women.

  • A bootleg classic jean that is supposed to but doesn’t really fit on the bum won’t do the same job at all.
  • Fuller slouchier jeans (work wear style) with a straight baggy boyish shape (‘Boy Cut’), jeans with an oxford bag type leg in softer denim sometimes stone washed are the best jeans to wear with chunkier flat shoes brogues (v trendy) trainers, Berkenstocks, Crocks etc
  • UGGS and cowboy boots, look terrible with wide baggy trousers and need to be worn over slimmer styles. If you wear the former with bags you look like a Yettee and if you wear the latter you look like a line-dancer (in fact it is difficult to avoid looking like a line dancer in cowboy boots and jeans so unless you feel confident with the on-trend-cowboy-look I would tend to play it safe and steer clear altogether).
  • Do also make sure that utility styles are not too hectic i.e. with masses of pockets and straps on the thighs and calves.
  • Combat and cargo styles are OK on boyish shapes if the designs are not too hectic.

 Fabric: Stretch denim is good because it holds you in. But if the denim is too thin and soft it will cling and pucker on your thighs and crotch which is incredibly ugly and tarty. I tend to think that denim, unless the shape is very slouchy, should be quite substantial.

 Colour:

  • Black and grey denim fades badly (unless you are constantly redying them) and make you look like a punk or a goth with the slightly grubby connotation that carries with it. 
  • White denim made a big come back this summer. All the basic rules apply here but if you are over a size 14 keep them soft and in the leg.
  • Coloured and printed denim is difficult to get right with an overall look (blue goes with everything). Tread carefully you can look completely ridiculous unless you have a stylist on call every morning.
  • Very Pale denim very trendy last summer ( keep it for the summer) is nice on fair women. I prefer a 70’s bleached look for older clients that 80’s versions.

 Dark uniform colour denim is the smartest and potentially the most flattering. It is also best and easyest for ‘dressing up’.

 Denim with an aged wash and lived in feel is the most informal and practical and suits everyone, but avoid harsh and artificial looking ‘whiskers’ (i.e. faded stripe marks) around your crotch area!! And similarly avoid artificial fade effects on the front of thighs and the worst of the worst on the buttocks! SOOOOOOOO Bad!

 Decoration: A sophisticated and stylish woman over the age of 40 should also avoid rhinestones studs and appliqué, unnecessary quirky stitch details crazy pocket design’s etc. That means most (but not all) of the Rock and Republic range and (sorry) V. Beckham jeans as well as half of what is available at River Island and miss Selfridge.

 Label Snobbery:

  • Fit and quality of cloth is not necessarily indicated by the price of your jeans so don’t necessarily assume your designer denim will automatically be better fitting or longer lasting.
  • Do buy jeans from Next or M and S or Boden if the style and fit works for you and your body but remove all labelling inside and out and don’t tell!
  • Never buy jeans that scream ‘I paid £200 for these’ (and I was obviously conned).
  • Do buy good quality ethically produced clothing wherever possible.
  • Never buy jeans from Primark.

 

Wednesday
Jul222009

Hegemony is a Hideous style statement.

'A man of true style should be noticed for who he is not what he wears' is a statement that is all too easily misinterpreted. It does NOT mean that what he wears is of no consequence. Quite the opposite in fact. But what he wears must describe what he is . . . seamlessly.   This is a challenge for many men for whom translating their 'inner me'  in visual terms is even harder than it is in verbal ones.

Its not that men are lazy as such, but that a certain indolence is the sad but inevitable result of the establishment of the Suit as the sine plus ultra  if acceptable male dressing. In fact the trouser suit is arguably  the single most significant visual sign of male power that the western world has to offer. Despite being constantly tweaked it is virtually fashion proof - no wonder it has had more longevity than any other sartorial form.  A good suit maketh a man especially in the public space at work and on high days and holidays but the rest of the time he can feel free to bum around in fleaces, canvas cargos and holey rugby tops without lessening his stake in the world . . . . . UUUUUUUGH Hegemony is a Hideous style statement!

It must be said that the trouser suit is (conceptually and aesthetically speaking) a beautiful thing and an icon of modernity akin to the light bulb or the silicone chip. BUT the down side of men being provided with this precious and historically weighted object and thereby 'told' how to dress in order to look smart is the complete dearth of visual/ sartorial imagination and the almost total repression of creative pleasure in dressing up that has resulted in the brains of 80% of the male population of Great Britain and probably 95% of males across the Atlantic. The general conservatism of the Esquire 'Best Dressed Men List' is merely another example of this. The list is a full and frank demonstration of the extraordinary but true fact that a man's individuality has to find its expression in the details (sometimes microscopic ones) of his tailoring.

I am sure I will come back to these musings at some later date but I have to confess that I have been much preoccupied after having been set the challenge of reviewing what I freely confess is the heavy female bias of my style icons list. The criteria that make a man a style icon seem so different to those of women and relatively few of my male clients and acquaintances will actually admit to actually having one or even having thought about it.  They look baffled when I ask them whose style they admire.

 

But for some the truth or dare response is a lusty confession that is immediate and unashamed especially after a few drinks at a dinner party. ‘Lenny Kravitz’ offered one media pundit, with great enthusiasm I would LUUUUUUVE to dress like him. ‘Paul Weller’ offered a ‘director of menswear’ almost swooning with admiration. My own dear other half whose, style I admire enough never to dare interfere with, will always say Steve McQueen in a short sleeve sweatshirt in the Great Escape is his pinnacle of sartorial cool.  But then he also always cites Jules Holland and Prince Charles (interestingly they are good friends I have been told) as men who know how to dress.

 

I have my theory about this – because being his partner I guess I can pick apart the poor man's sartorial predilections in public:  Jules Holland is cool because he knows how to translate a chappy well tailored look into something a little more ‘rock and roll’ (but not too much) that suits most men and keeps them looking slick once the sartorial and physiognomic ‘challenges’ of middle age creep in. Prince Charles, is cool because he still manages to retain a certain stealth eccentricity within the bounds of his unwavering British traditionalism and even more painfully unwavering ‘good taste’.  This is a balance that other men of limited wealth and limited taste can only dream of achieving.

 

I conclude that all three of these men - McQueen, Holland, Windsor, - are unique versions of a sort of unassailable masculinity articulated through ‘a certain style’: . . . tough, smooth, gentlemanly men’s men whose clothes describe 'who they are' . . . well within the mould of a traditionally tailored masculinity but subtly rebellious with it.

 

Anyhow here are the provisional results of my research: An Icons List for Clients and blog followers alike to pillage from.

 

Sartorial Aesthetes and Decadents: Beau Brummel, Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp, Andy Warhol, The 18th century Macaroni, Henry Holland.

Androgenes (subset of latter): Boy George, David Bowie, Eddie Izzard, Kurt Cobain Noel Fielding (of The Mighty Boosh).

Debonair: Terry Thomas, Brian Ferry, Cary Grant, Graham Hill, Jules Holland, Noel Coward, PDiddy, Peter Wingard, David Walliams, Roger Moore (as Bond).

English Gent (subtle variation of latter): Robin Hood, Sir Frances Drake, David Niven, John Steed, Alan Wicker, Frank Muir.

Easy Maestro (its all about the music honestly):Nigel Kennedy, Rufus Wainright, Lenny Kravitz, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Nick Drake, JayZ.

Greatness having Been trust upon them: Lapo Elkann, Prince Charles, Tom Ford (crown prince of fashion), Henry VIII, Prince Albert of Monaco, Guy Richie (always now madonna's Ex).

Immaculate (Male) Authority: Giovanni Agnielli, Barak Obama, Humphry Bogart, Sean Connery (as Bond), Michael Caine (The Italian Job).

Rebels Without a Cause: James Dean (obviously), Marlon Brando, Chet Baker, Elvis Presley, Joe Strummer, Ian Curtis. Mark Bolan.

Romantics: Lord Byron, Adam Ant, Jimmi Hendrix, Prince, Russel Brand, Mick Jagger, Johnny Depp.

Urban Cool: David Hemmings (in Blow Up), Jean-Paul Belmondo, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Starsky and Hutch, Paul Weller,

Refuseniks: Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Marco Pierre-White,

All American: Robert Redford (As Gatsby) any Ralph Lauren Model, Brad Pitt.

Wednesday
Jun242009

Dr. DressMe asks who’s your ‘Style Icon’ ? 

As we at DressMe like to demonstrate, there are positive ways of exploiting the potential of a style icon in the construction of a signature style .

Samantha Cameron, the wife of the Tory leader David Cameron has confessed to Harpers magazine that her fashion ‘alter ego is Gwen Stefani’, ‘Not that I ever dress like her’ she comments ‘but in a different life. . .’ Never fear Samantha were you my client  I would never suggest that the Tory party’s ‘first lady’ actually appear at her next photo-call wearing combat trousers and a bleached beehive. But it is SOOOOOO tragic to have such fashion fantasies and never be able to do anything about it!!!. A well judged injection of Stefani’s style ethos into Cameron’s look might give her (and David) a boost on all fronts. 

 In fact Samantha Cameron shares her ‘Stephaniesque’ aspirations with a surprising number of DressMe lady Clients (all perfectly sane and intelligent women). The difference is that every DressMe client gets to express their ‘inner icon’ . . . stylishly and in a way that is unique to them.   

 Of course anyone can get the immediate - ‘I am a totally unnatural blond but I am what I am and I get what I want’ - feel good factor by singing Madonna ‘Material Girl’ or ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ (lets face it who actually can sing a Gwen Stefani lyric?). . .BUT getting the power-blond-and -loving-it look right without looking like you have a severe a case of premature BetteLynchitis is a REAL challenge  so be warned!

 

The DressMe philosophy is that all dressing is a sort of performance it just depends what role you choose to play today! As Rue Paul once said (excuse me if I misquote) ‘we are all born naked the rest is drag’. So in this spirit I am posting a list of fashion icons (non comprehesive of course) which may be pillaged from freely. I have divided it into user friendly categories. . .

 

Happy dressing up !

The Immortals (after whom there is only caricature): Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Russell , Marilyn, Cydd Cerisse, Ava Gardner, Mae West, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Garbo, Sophia Lauren.

The Contemporary Caricatures: Dita Von Tise, Gwen Stefani, Kirsty Allen, Amy Winehouse, Jenny Éclair, Kelly Osborne.

The Fictional Babes- Closely related to the above only two dimensional: Betty Boop, Jessica Rabbit, Laura Croft, Cruella De Ville, Morticia Adams, Penelope PitStop, (these ladies definitely had a ‘look’ going)

The Hollywood Royalty: Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeeta-Jones, Jennifer Anniston, Nicole Kidmann, (are you bored yet??)

Les gamines: Jean Seaberg, Edie Sedgewick, Leslie Caron, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Annie Hall, Juliette Binouche, Louise Brooks.

The Royals: Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, Queen Margrete II of Denmark, Queen Rania of Jordon, Princess Letizia of Spain

Aristocratic: Trinny Woodhall, Jasmine Guinness, Kristen Scott Thomas, Wallis Simson, Princess Margaret (particularly on Mustique), Margot Ledbetter (suburban version of latter)

Elegance incarnate: Isabella Rosellini, Catherine Deneuve, Billy Holliday, Coco Chanel, Jean Moreau, Jackie O (American equivalent of Royalty)

The Rock Goddess: Marianne Faithful, Anita Pallemberg, Patti Smith, Chrissey Hynde, Janice Joplin. Tina Turner. Blondie, Sade, Dianna Ross, Siouxsie Sioux.

The Golden Girls: The Flake girl, Claudia Schiffer, Maria Sharapova, Meg Ryan, Cameron Dias, Michelle Pheiffer, Elle McPherson, Gwyneth Paltrow

The Power Blonds: Margaret Thatcher, Babs Widsor, Madonna, Honor Blackman (as Pussy Galore), Faye Dannaway (as Bonnie Parker)

The Trend Setters: Kate Moss (now a high street brand and thus cynically cashing in on the her admirers with the kind of tat she would never normally wear in a million years), SJP (made being confused fashionable and let us all relax about not wearing matching shoes and handbags), Jennifer Anniston (remember that hair cut but can you picture the clothes?), Now Alice delal and Alexa Chung.

Growing Older elegantly: Judi Dench, Germaine Greer, Helen Mirren, Angelica Houston, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Anna Wintour

The Romantics: Lillie Cole, any Land Girl, any pre-Raphaelite painting especially ‘Flaming June’, Jenny Agutter, Helena Bonham Carter, Nicole Kidman before she became a blonde and (see Hollywood royalty above), Kate Winslett

The, Eccentrics: Isabella Blow, Zandra Rhodes, Vivian Westwood, Tilda Swinton, Bjork.

The Refuseniks! Carol Thatcher, Princess Anne, (power to their unselfconscious refusal to conform to anything that remotely resembles fashion)

The ones your daughters will think are cool - probably (and anyone over 35 and not a reader of Grazia will have to Google to know what we are talking about). La Roux, Peaches Geldorf, Sophia Coppola, Kirsten Dunst. Maggie Gyllenhall, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Hudson

The Men’s Men (who ladies may also think are acceptable examples sartorial elegance) Clive Owen, Judge John Deed (AKA Martin Sheen), Giovanni Agnelli , Sean Connery, Jools Holland, George Clooney, Jude Law, John Steed, Jean-Paul Belmondo