Thursday, 29 October 2009


"We think back through our mothers, if we are women"
-Virginia Woolf, A room of ones own

Today Radio 4 Woman's Hour, which often tickles my ever so geekish, yet feminine fancies, hosted a special programme on fashion. Fantastique! A number of thrilling subjects were broached, each of which Im sure I will regurgitate in my own inadequate way at some later point on this blog.

What really struck me about the program, was a theme which each of the guests kept returning to: their mothers. Justine somebody, who has written (one of the many) biographies of Coco Chanel, said that she thought fashion was so popular because it relates to our 'eternal search to understand your mother'. This idea really hit home for me.

It is not exaggeration to state that the way I remember is through clothes. Clothing for me is a sensory experience and nothing brings back the sensation of being a littl'un quite like the memory of watching my mother get dressed for a night out with my dad. I can hear the brush comb through her hair, feel the red velvet jacket and smell the chanel no 5. Its an almost unsettlingly powerful memory.

I wonder then, if the fact that many women turn to fashion as a means through which to 'understand their mothers' could in fact be read as our attempt to understand femininity in general. I think it might. T B C.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


I read recently an angry piece of writing in the observer magazine, which lamented the release of the 'American Fashion Cookbook'. The writer, yummy-mummy Rachel Cooke, argued that the fashion industry had no right to be simultaneously sending 'starving girls' down the catwalk whilst crystallising their love for cakes and treats in this book (which includes a collection of recipes from US designers such as Caroline Hererra and Izaac Mizrahi).

Both industries, cookery and fashion, are towering 'cultures of consumption', which have escalating popularity among the middle classes today. Both carry connotations of luxury; excess; money. The pairing does not seem as unlikely as Cooke proclaims.

But, there is something alarmingly vulgar about this collaboration. Britain's greedy fad for cookery programmes, cookery books and celebrity chefs is far too senseless and lacking in moderation for my delicate fashion disposition. Our industry is more controlled and restrained in it's passions. It doesn't surprise me that the american fashion council have banked in on the rise of the two trends. Cupcake sellers in London have been also doing so for a long time. But I dont think it should be encouraged to develop any further.

No, a designers place is not in the kitchen, but not for any reasons associated with size zero. Rather, us fashion types value a certain subtlety, delicacy and restraint which is incompatible with anything that includes the words 500g butter, eggs, milk and flour.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Leaping tiger

"History is the subject of a construction whose setting is not homogenous, empty time, rather a setting filled by the presence of nowtime. So for Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with nowtime. The French Revolution understood itself as the recurrence of Rome. It cited ancient Rome the way fashion cites the dress of the past. Fashion has a sense for the actual present, no matter where it moves in the thickets of the past. It is a tigers leap into the past. Only to find itself in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands."

Thesis XIV, Walter Benjamin

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Opium of the people

If fashion is a kind of religion, (and it wouldn't be the first time someone has compared the two), it awaits salvation at the other side of an economic depression.

Through the bad times, the industry gets it's saints. Who can forget the magnificent moment of the Marc Jacobs grunge collection which gave fashion a second coming enough to sustain our belief, well, until now really?

So, we're waiting. Except that we must accept that we could be waiting a long time and when it arrives it may not be recognisable at first. It certainly wont be this year. None of the grad shows from 2009 showed any of the originality or vision present in the McQueen/McCartney years of tough times and heroin chic. The central st martins ma show was good, it was fine actually, but the creations were variations on christopher kane/marios schwab. all too familiar. it all could have been adapted and toned down to be sold in topshop unique.

Another sign that the zeitgeist is not quite ripe enough for a complete rebirth is the current vogue for 90s grunge. Before we get to a new scene, we have to tire completely of the old, but at the moment, the old looks pretty good (which is why the above pic looks so good). If the recurrence of double denim (gap just dropped an a/w collection of this) isn't a symptom of fashion's need for a change, then i dont know what is.

We must have faith for a bit longer.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Magical fluff

Couture week has been and gone and I haven't written nothing. I've been very busy reading though. I swear to god that one of the worst effects of this recession has been the way in which it has corrupted the reviews of even the more refined of the worlds fashion press. Fashion journalists couldn't help but write about couture without the arbitrary discussion of how it was 'coping' with the recession.

Its as if the world's fashion journalists suddenly become hardened marxists, adopting an uncharacteristically cold attitude to the 'necessity of couture'. Since when has anything in fashion been 'necessary'? To take the couture out of fashion would be to deflate everything about it that is beautiful.

With a tiny minority of people able to place orders at the end of the week (mostly fat old russian ladies from what I gather), I guess it is not the element of fashion that keeps the industry directly afloat. But couture is the ultimate escapist fashion fantasy. I am well aware that it is the fantasy drawn in the image of capitalism, but it is also the point at which fashion and art, high culture and drama start to chime together in a moment of pure perfection. To sit in the front row of this exhibition must be pure bliss. To then follow this with a boring review based on something as unsavoury as the financial crisis is a waste of everyones time.

Lacroix has a saviour, thank god. One of the few to exist purely in the world of couture, he is a curious example of a designer whose collections have never been able to be dissolved or diluted into ready-to-wear. To work for a project in which perfection is the aim is an admirable existence. As Nietzsche, I'm sure, would have said, its all 'magical fluff'.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The exalted father

Sometimes reading fashion as a coded expression of attitudes and beliefs can be a bit disturbing. I have previously alluded to this in my fearless expose of the horrifying popularity of military fashion. I am now going to draw your attention to the Freudian secret in which an examination of the modern woman’s wardrobe says that we all fancy our fathers. Let me explain.

There has been a lot of hoopla made about the fact that fashion has got ‘tough’ over the past year or so (you know- /blazer/doc marten/brogue/lumberjack shirt). Alexa Chung wrote an article for this month’s British Vogue claiming that modern girls were seeking protection, toughness. Indeed, there has been a soar in popularity for all things ‘boyfriend’ of late. The androgynous look too (see Uniqlo/ American apparel et al) has been a major hit. Of course, Alexa and Vogue need not have pointed this out to me, I have been thinking about it for quite a while. Except that my deeply disturbing analysis wouldn’t get printed in Vogue.

Three possible explanations as to why women wear men’s clothes:
1. We love our fathers and our new way of dressing is some kind of subconscious expression of our desires. This thought first struck me with full, horrifying force when I was speaking to Chloe Sevigny about her new collection for opening ceremony, which consisted of a range of menswear adapted for women. When I asked her why she thought that she liked to wear men’s clothes she told me “I always loved the way my dad dressed”. I’ll say nothing more dear chloe. (see here for my published article on this
2. We are deluded. We think that wearing the clothing of ‘the stronger sex’ will imbue us with some power (which is not only deluded, but stupid too). We think that people won’t think of us as pretty little silly girls, but tough and gutsy.
3. It’s a ‘dualistic’ act of subversion, where we are mixing things up and challenging perceptions of what it is to be female- “Look im wearing mens shoes and a big baggy mens shirt, but im actually really pretty and girly”. The toughness of the clothes only exaggerates our femininity. It’s kind of a counter-culture cool, trendy way of mixing with gender stereotypes, only to reinforce them even more.

I don’t know which is worst. Probably the fancying your dad option, cos that’s kind of embarrassing. Of course, I would have to add that this line of thought could never be applied to women’s tailoring, which is a different kind of thing altogether and is about as close as fashion has ever got to uttering the ‘f’ word: feminism.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The Hours

I’m pretty much a morning person. I love the sense of purpose to the way people dress in the morning- it is so honest and full of promise. What we decide to wear in the morning reflects our days agenda, which is why I think work wear is such an important part of the wardrobe.

There is something very positive about people’s appearance in the morning- the time and consideration that has gone into the decision for the day ahead. Each outfit is hung with a sense of pride and preparedness. By the end of the afternoon, the shirt sleeves may be rolled up, a scarf or tie removed and hair ruffled a bit, but in the morning our clothes have a dutiful quality, ready to serve us well for the rest of the day.

This is what I think to myself anyway, on my journey into work.

Living in France has made me appreciate this all the more. No-one does chic work wear like the French. Its amazing. I find myself filled with inspiration every morning, confirming my belief that the way we dress is really no laughing matter. In France, clothes are treated with the maturity, respect and sophistication they deserve. A woman’s wardrobe is no playground- there are real issues to be considered.

What we wear in the evening is more open to abuse. It’s less constrained by this sense of functionality and I sometimes think that this makes it more vulnerable. Under the cover of darkness, people feel a bit more daring and adventurous, which is fun, but the clothes lose their dignity and well-meaning. We are less respectful to our clothes, hitching things up and leaving buttons undone. Evening wear is about attitude and spectacle.

The worst of all is the morning after the night before, when in spite of our best efforts, the fun of the previous evening drapes clumsily across our morning attire, we look like shit.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The minute and the future

I love Karl Lagerfeld. Here are two quotes, which actually reinforce my own wonderful opinion (see Lieux de memoire) and prove that he exists on a higher intellectual plane than any of his contemporaries. he is really thinking about fashion.

"Only the minute and the future are interesting in fashion- it exists to be destroyed, if everyone did everything with respect you'd go nowhere"

" I don't want to think about heritage. I'm not interested in heritage. The way I consider Chanel heritage is the way someone who has earned a lot of money spends the money. You have to play with it, which is what i do".


Thursday, 28 May 2009

War is an ugly thing

Another major trend to be constantly re-used and recycled on the catwalk and in fashion editorial is 'military' style fashion. Designers reel this look off so often that I wonder how some of them havent got repetitive strain injury.

I am basing this on nothing more than a general 'feeling', but am pretty sure that most of the British public dont really like war and dont really want to join the army. This is why I cant understand why a revoltingly large proportion of the population get feverishly excited by the presence of 'military fashion' every bloody season. Im no hippy, but the words 'military chic' actually send shivers down my spine.

Nothing strikes the fear of god in me like the image of catwalk models marching down the runway in military jackets and riding boots. Many designers actively evoke this image of 'the last bastion of british imperialism'. I nearly fell off my seat at the militancy of Paul Smith and Jasper Conran's catwalk shows this Feb (but I guess this is positively toned down from the days when their shows were actually held in the Chelsea barracks).

Moreover, and this is the really important thing, the military trend is one I genuinely call into question aesthetically. Take away the ideology behind it and its actually pretty ugly. It is yet another example of the way in which military culture permeates our society to the point were people still get pathetically excited at the concept of war. I think its called a 'pleasure culture of war' by historians, but no one has ever turned to the catwalk for evidence of this.
Miltary outfits are designed to intimidate and threaten. This is quite a disturbing trend for a modern girls look.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Lieux de Memoire

A thought hit me this morning (wham!) as I picked up my new copy of Vogue Paris. The front cover read 'New look forever', which, of course, refers to the infamous collection by christian dior which supposedly injected femininity and fun into women's wardrobes.

This got me wondering if fashion could be accurately read as a 'commemorative' act, which constantly re-works previous glories and references the past.

Pierre Nora and Maruice Hawlbachs are these french writers who proposed the idea of 'collective memory'. This refers to shared attitudes and seemingly implicit values which are held by a group of people (generally a nation). These attitudes, or 'memories' dictate how we think about the past, which in turn, plays a strong role in dictating how we think about the future. Then, when nations 'commemorate' the past, such as in big national celebrations, such as Bastille Day, they seek to shape the public's attitudes to their state and national culture.

If we apply this rule to fashion (and bear with me here), a definite fashion 'collective memory' can be exposed.If we think about fashion followers (!) as a group or collective (i mean here, Vogue readers for instance), then a collective fashion memory would sound a bit like this ('Coco Chanel- mother of the sophisticated woman's wardrobe- white/pearls/women's tailoring- mais oui! breton shirts- how chic!!' or '1960's fashion was just so liberating- mary quant- mini skirts- how sexy and fun!').

In actual fact, this is of course a very condensed and shallow opinion of what was actually (naturally) a long period of varied and diverse fashion. Fashion historians neatly categorise and thicken the narrative of fashion history into short segments, which can be easily digested and vivdly remembered among the public memory. Nietzsche and Foucault took major issues with this role of historians (though they didnt actually refer to fashion historians). They argued that the role of the historian should be to relay the truth to intellectuals and not try to interpret or simplify the past for the unintelligent pubic's digestion.

Fashion week 09/10 actually serves very well as an example to my thesis. The 80s comeback on the catwalk was relayed by fashion journalists to the public as a very defnite reference to our current economic climate etc etc. The re-invigoration of the shoulder-pad was a repetition of past fashion success applied to what seems to be a similar economic context to the 1980s. Designers seemed to be sayin- "Look how crap things were in the 80s, i mean, we all wore shoulder pads and thought that was ok, but then boom! the 90's took off and we all became rich again. Have faith. Our time will come when we will look back and laugh at these collections again, whilst sipping champagne".

Fashion historians reviewed the collections as Pierre Nora or Michel Foucault would have predicted: by making grand interpretations about what these clothes said about the recession. And some of them did it with great sincerity and no sign of irony.

Tradition would have it that the main mission of most major fashion houses is to constantly alter and adapt the winning formula they found once upon a time (yes- you Valentino!). A collection such as this can however be reviewed quite comfortably for journos. No-one likes an unpredictable designer, since they mess with the trajectory of fashion's unquenchable thirst for nostalgia. (Like, hello, Giles, what were you thinking in being so original?!)

I better stop here before I go a bit mad on this thought.

So, thought for the day: fashion is commemorative and the role of the fashion historian/journalist perpetuates this fact, since they use fashion and it's reinterpretation of past triumphs to make positive statements about the future. capiche?

Monday, 25 May 2009

Poverty, Passion and Persistence

Passion Persistence and Poverty

Fashion fills my head with exciting thoughts about social concepts and cultural theories. A cultural history student and a fashion intern, this blog is where I will see one through the other. Unashamedly niaive, I want to write about fashion as if I have borrowed the thinking cap of a great intellectual.

I want to look at collections, styles and trends and think about them as a manifestation of an idea, passion or cultural concept.

I’m going to use this blog to put down my ideas, so that my thoughts can become fully formed opinion and so I can stylistically improve my writing.

I like to think quite deeply and romantically about fashion and if I go to far, well, that’s kind of the point.