Shaken Not Stirred

Whishaw and Craig as Q and 007

Skyfall

If there’s one brand, one film franchise, one name even, that sums up the very best of British creativity and industry (and which holds no relation to anyone of a royal title or an olympian) it is Bond. James Bond. Oh the images are filling my mind and I’m making no attempt to close the flood gates; martinis, Aston Martins, sophisticated black suits. Femme fatales, incredible dresses, guns, blood, Judi Dench, gadgets, the unmistakable theme tune. Fast cars, crazy billionaires, sharks and the hairiest escapes known to man.

It is perhaps serendipitous that I first began writing this post weeks (alright, two and a bit weeks) before the amusement of the Queen’s film cameo at the opening ceremony, where Bond deservedly made the entrance of the century to the roars of 80,000 people. Serendipitous as I had the unplanned pleasure of attending The Barbican’s current exhibition “Designing 007: 50 Years Of Bond Style”. It was, quite easily, the very best I have ever attended.

It was one of those afternoons that wasn’t mapped out and jam-packed with events; my family and I were to see the double bill of the plays “South Downs” and “The Browning Version” at the Harold Pinter Theatre and then take it from there. On exiting someone suggested a leisurely stroll from the West End, down Fleet Street and up to EC2 would offer the perfect opportunity to walk off the false sense of tiredness that descends in the heat of the theatre. It was clearly meant to be as my brother, utilising the wonderful invention that is the mobile phone, booked tickets enough for the four of us as we stood outside the stage door and no sooner had the crowds descended to queue for cabs than we were marching off into the distance.

Now, I am a Bond fan in the way that one whiff of a royal engagement gives way to a nation of crown lovers. I’m not a hardcore Bond brainbox but I’ve always enjoyed the slick Britishness (now I’m really not making sense) of the films and delight in the intricacies of the costume design in particular. Having not watched anything Bond related for a considerable amount of time therefore, the section of my brain reserved for the very best things in life was immediately saturated with the world of espionage the moment I stepped through the double doors into the first stage of the exhibition.

The Barbican had clearly made use of someone trained in the art of creating a practical, memorable and ultimately enjoyable memorabilia exhibit fit for public consumption. The level of detail exercised across the entire display was so scrupulous that upon exiting the final of the three stages of the spectacle (which was held across three floors of The Barbican requiring tickets to be retained and stamped on entry into each new level) I glanced down at my ticket only to smile at the numbers “007″; made up of the three consecutive stamps I had received.

My personal favourite of the outfits on show was Eva Green’s glorious evening dress, worn for her role as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. In contrast, I was appalled to discover that the ragged black dress donned by Olga Kurylenko as Bond’s accomplice Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace was in fact couture Prada and worth several thousands of pounds! On that note, was I the only one underwhelmed by Sévérine, Skyfall’s obligatory Bond girl? Without giving too much away, I like to think that her character was written without any real solidity to enforce the strong theme of the character relationship between Bond and M. Judi Dench triumphed, as did Ben Whishaw as Q who shall be returning to grace our screens in series 2 of The Hour TONIGHT on BBC2 at 9pm. I thoroughly recommend both The Hour (series 1 of which I wrote about here) and Skyfall – both are rich in glamour, espionage and good old-fashioned wit.

Ben Whishaw as Q

Q

The Rise and Rise of the Topshop Cult

Topshop Queues

As I sit here at my desk, drowning in the emotions of Kate Bush’s vocals I try not to think about the torrent of exams I have to face next week and beyond. I know that as long as I do my best then no one can ask for more. The post below was written as a practice essay for English Language, the stimulus being “don’t get me started on”. This style of writing is intended to provoke a reaction in the reader, be it positive or negative. I would rather receive heaps of criticism and know I’d struck a chord – albeit a rather out of tune one – than have my writing shrugged off as lacking in passion. In some ways this is the continuation of my first ever blog post, written two years ago, which discussed in somewhat less detail the many negative aspects of the Topshop experience. 

Topshop, like other popular retailers, can be easily defined by its clientele – those who shop there – and its target market – those the brand would applaud for stepping over their threshold. The Topshop Girls (or clones, depending on how strongly opposed to the chain you are) can often be seen congregating on patches of grass in the centre of University Campuses; blackberries clutched in one hand, ‘Topshop Make Up’ bags dangling from the crook of their other arm. Don’t think I’m getting on my high horse – I have a blackberry and it’s incredibly useful – but I don’t utilise it as a fashion accessory.

One of these individuals will have been entrusted with the act of selecting a suitably skimpy floral outfit which the remainder of the contingent will have been required to observe before clothing themselves in a variation of the same ensemble. In a nutshell, the more items purchased in a shop with a name beginning with the letter ‘T’ the better (just to clarify that’s Tiffany & Co, not Tesco – too easily confused, I know). It’s female peer pressure which channels itself into a bizarre spectacle of consenting uniformity; a sad but nevertheless honest reflection of some corners of today’s society.

The cunning sales technique employed in every Topshop from Oxford to its giant flagship store on Oxford Street has no doubt been the most profitable idea to emerge in the last twenty years (apart from Google and, erm, Apple but that’s by the by). Grown women morph into wild animals upon the arrival of a new collection and God forbid Kate Moss collaborates with Topshop again or she’ll have the blood of many a shopper on her hands; death-by-stampede. The alpha male of last season’s Limited Edition capsule wardrobe is indisputably squabbled over; the statement Christmas party dress which was probably held up on the pedestal of Topshop Boutique until it’s price was slashed.

Not even the instincts and rivalry displayed on the plains of the Serengeti could match the ferocious scenes of fracas on Boxing Day morning when the fashion food chain really comes into play… The top predator is the thirty-something marketing manager who replaced potentially child-shaped holes with clothes several years ago and who stops at nothing to gain internal workplace promotion – even if it means a four-figure yearly wardrobe. The primary consumer is the proactive student out looking for a bargain which she’s likely to achieve given that she is welcome to a ten percent discount when using her NUS card. She’ll know what she’s here for but will lack that scary, “in at the kill” attitude others possess.

The producer on the other hand is, very aptly, the expectant mother or mother with baby in tow. I would advocate the plastering of warning signs all over the entrance to the shop in a heartbeat, bearing the message “KEEP OUT unless you are willing to lose an eye for an eye(catching cardigan)”. To summarise: Topshop is unsafe unless you are a) trained in the art of combat, b) the owner of a pair of particularly pointy elbows or c) very, very determined to purchase something your were too much of a cheapskate to last month.

On a more serious note, I know that I am not alone in having been embarrassed by the sizing Topshop deploys. I see myself as a healthy teenager and, although I’m not a stick insect, large I most certainly am not! It therefore worries me that, being the size twelve or fourteen in Topshop that I am, there are girls out there shimmying into size sixes. We can joke about how they should be given the benefit of reduced prices considering how little fabric the garments they buy are created from, but I can see how little things like this could lead to allegations of encouraging eating disorders of anorexia – irrespective of whether or not the brand actually is.

I could have ended up a Topshop girl if it wasn’t for the guiding hands of several people who pulled me away from the bright lights of the Manchester Arndale and down the un-crowded streets of the Northern Quarter – the vintage Mecca of the North.  Whilst I acknowledge the act that we can all be permitted a couple of pieces in our wardrobes I feel very deeply that we are, as a nation, in acute danger of getting sucked into a vicious spin-cycle of lazy, over-priced and clique-induced fashion. I know that the day when I feel a thrill when handing over any amount of money in Topshop will signal that it’s high time the men in white coats come and drag me away. I’ll probably be wearing a slogan t shirt reading: “I left my soul at the sales desk”.

Do Magazines Maketh The Man?

The magazine section in my local Sainsbury’s can, I find, be a minefield (metaphorically of course – unless there’s a special “celebrity” wedding edition of Hello just out). I am perpetually baffled by the categorisation of magazines; always weighing up whether I’m simply over analysing the psychology behind the situation of the publications or whether there’s an underlying sexist issue to be found lurking near the kiosk counter. For once, I’m sure the latter has happened. It turns out that Sainsbury’s have dispelled the need for a specialist “technology and gaming” section, or words to that effect anyway, in favour of lumping premier film magazine Empire and other such volumes in with the likes of Nuts and FHM.

Apparently, the “Men’s Lifestyle” banner now covers a broader spectrum of journalistic works; that is to say, not just magazines featuring girls who are paid to be photographed practically naked and whose covers are shielded from the eyes of young children and anyone else who doesn’t want surgically enhanced human flesh forced upon their retinas. How very inclusive of them. NME and Empire were but two magazines which were unfortunate enough to suffer the humiliation of being classed as such.

Not only do I feel a deep-rooted sense of annoyance bordering on anger about this, but I felt rather uncomfortable at the time when I wanted to employ my periodic flick through Empire preferably in an environment which didn’t include titles which have to have their covers censored in the form of being covered up when on display in shops. Surely Empire, the world’s leading source of film coverage, isn’t classed as a male orientated publication? I have one friend in particular – my personal knowledge fountain of all things cinematic – who would be mortified if she received raised eyebrows or disparaging looks when indulging in movie reviews in our school library as she is apt to do (I’m ransacking the uni prospectus shelves by this point, but there you are).

Granted, magazines covering a broader spectrum of interests – such as Shortlist, sister publication to the also free Stylist - are visibly geared to a male audience, although this certainly doesn’t stop me devouring it. The fact that Stylist is its female counterpart, though the two overlap in many areas, means that everybody effectively has access to the same information. In the case of Empire, however, both men and women are interested in its content and this should be recognised by the purveyors of the publication; after all, it is in their interest to market items such as magazines to their advantage to sell as many as possible. Even from a purely monetary profit it is obviously more lucrative to ensure the reading public have the optimum access to magazines across every interest and genre.

Female orientated publications can also be described as guilty, with their plethora of fashion and beauty-saturated volumes. It could be argued, though, that this is allowable as these magazines feature almost exclusively women’s fashion and beauty and articles intended for a female audience. They could quite easily direct males with just as strong an interest in fashion to men’s magazines such as Esquire and GQ which feature a decent amount of it and male versions of Vogue, though we regrettably don’t have a British version (though that may say more about Britain than the fashion industry).

When we reach the rather murkier territories of entertainment and technology, the line is often a little blurry and can results in gender stereotyping. Nowhere is this more prevalent then on the shelves of any good newsagent. There’ll be women’s lifestyle and fashion all together, then the hobbies and interests and then the men’s lifestyle, technology and current affairs all shoved together. That’s another one; I always have to dive into a herd of men peering into gaming and computer pages to search out a copy of Total Politics which seems to be permanently hidden away from the masses, as if its content were some great secret of national importance. Indeed the politics of magazine selling strategy is certainly beyond me!

Great British Schooling Tradition

“Where They Are Just And Loyal”

It always struck me that, of the four illustrious Hogwarts houses, the fair students of Hufflepuff never had any glory or recognition bestowed upon them. Everyone hated Slytherin, apart from the Slytherins themselves who all garnered a sinister pride from their membership of the House that had produced the highest number of, shock horror, dark wizards, the Ravenclaws all seemed a snobby bookish lot and the Gryffindors, well, everybody loves the Gryffindors. Gryffindor is Harry and Ron and Hermione. It’s the Weasleys, it’s Neville and his toad Trevor, it’s the Fat Lady and that perpetually roaring fire.

Can you imagine what it would be like if your school was structured in the same way as Hogwarts? I’m not suggesting the council install a starry ceiling or programme staircases to sporadically change direction, but how would you feel if you and your peers were divided up into four houses; separated by colours and mottos and even living space? For a long time the tradition of schools having “House Systems” has been thought of as only for those attending the most prestigious of schools or those who want to mark themselves out as institutions of heritage and history. You only need to flick through the opening chapters of any of  the Harry Potters or Enid Blyton’s “The Twins of St Clare’s” or the “Mallory Towers” series to understand the quintessential Britishness of these such systems.

It isn’t so much the fancy regalia of cloaks and hats proudly bearing the crest of a founder or the novelty of being, to use a rather strong but apt word, segregated into dormitories and common rooms with the people who bear the same stamp of affinity as you which those of use who aren’t or have never been part of something which offers such certain stability in exchange for loyalty and honour find attractive. It is the togetherness of it all; the team spirit, the camaraderie, the feeling of belonging to something, to someone, to many people in fact. Kinship is the most honest way to describe house systems at their strongest and most enforced, although there is most certainly a spectrum of the importance of these systems in the life of a school. I have been in a house, at Primary School, where they assigned the three primary colours and green (green being classed as a secondary colour is one of the few facts I remember about year seven Art) to the names of four explorers. Let’s see how many I can remember…

Sharman, named after Helen Sharman was the yellow house, or ‘group’ as it was sometimes referred to. She was the only female featured and I remember being disappointed to be in Sharman being clueless as I then was as to her ground-breaking role as Britain’s first astronaut in Space. My older self now feels proud to have been devotedly acquiring ‘points’ to be drawn up on our house noticeboard which would win the whole house prizes if we were to win and in doing so honouring a female pioneer in the Scientific world. Unfortunately my school didn’t award a ‘House Cup’ and promptly lay on a spectacular feast for us if we were victorious. Fiennes (as in Ranulph) was up there too along with Captain James Cook and another – I forget who. To this day I still wonder who made those crucial decisions as to the names of the houses we represented!

Outfit Snapshots:

  • Mustard chinos: New Look
  • Electric blue shirt and turquoise nail polish: H&M
  • Blue cardigan and turquoise silk scarf:  a Vintage Fair
  • Blue suede shoes: Clarks
  • Grey cashmere socks: M&S
  • Hufflepuff badge, blue beret, gold Accurist watch, brown leather satchel and Ray Bans: All Gifts

Primavera, Printemps, Spring

It isn’t often I play the part of a tourist in my own region, but today has been one such day. Sometimes it’s revitalising to get out there and appreciate where you live, wherever you are. This post was supposed to be a debate on gender stereotypes, entitled “Pink for a girl, blue for a boy”, due to the array of contrasting pink and blue in the outfit featured above, but after reading Libby’s post Spring Light I felt it far more apt to talk of my first experiences of the Spring of 2012.

Today I have witnessed the opening of beautiful daffodils, experienced the sheer pleasure of feeling the sun on my skin, seen children running and playing as the golden light glints off their hair and truly enjoyed the beginning of this season. For me, Spring symbolises new life, new ventures and optimism for the future. I hope the sun has shone down on you today and that this glorious and unexpected weather lasts. It reminds me of last April – that month of the most anticipated wedding of the decade – when we were graced with blue skies and warm, breezy days. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that this isn’t just a ‘spell’  and holds out until the Diamond Jubilee. I’ll be celebrating twice as enthusiastically if it does!

Outfit snapshots:

  • Navy blouse = Charity shop
  • Scarf clip = Church Fair (this is the sister piece of the brooch seen here from the 1950s collection!)
  • Shorts = Forever 21
  • Tights = Next
  • Shoes = Clarks (can be seen in more detail here and here)
  • Hairband = New Look

Dorothy Meets Glastonbury

Being able to pick a single item out of my wardrobe and team it with a collection of other mis-matched purchases to create a unique outfit is perhaps my favourite aspect of my love affair with fashion. This is what I imagine Dorothy (she of Wizard Of Oz fame) would wear to attend the Glastonbury Festival, although she’ll have to be patient as the next time thousands of people will be greeted with open arms on a Somerset farm won’t be until 2013; the fields need to recover and what with the Olympics going on Britain doesn’t have enough portaloos as it is!

I digress. Anyway, this is a modern-day Dorothy. She’s done away with the blue and white Gingham in favour of a more masculine take on the festival look: a charity shopped men’s Levi’s shirt cinched in with a handed down black and gold buckle belt. Dorothy is still a feminine dresser at heart, however, and can’t resist accessorising the rather industrial denim with a vintage gold brooch she picked up at a jumble sale in the Emerald City. She was reliably informed by the lady on the stall that the brooch formed part of an extensive 1950s collection a wealthy elderly lady who lived locally had owned before she passed away and that the jewellery had been donated to the sale by her family. On hearing this Dorothy also purchased a rather ornate scarf clip with which she will probably adorning another outfit in the near future.

The blue tights (an ancient purchase from New Look) were necessary as although the festival takes place in the South of England, it is important to remember that this is still England and therefore the weather is extremely unpredictable. Despite wellies being advised, Dorothy just couldn’t bring herself to part with her ruby slippers; although Toto was regrettably resigned to remaining at home in Kansas. Unfortunately this means Dorothy won’t convincingly be able to once again speak that immortal line “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more”. The red shoes pictured above aren’t Dorothy’s favourite ruby slippers – her prized pair are under lock and key at home, guarded by Toto, meaning this pair are standing in and were bought only last week from the Henry Holland collection at Debenhams.

All photographs were taken by me using a Canon 500d and all are copyrighted to me. Please do not reproduce without permission and credit from alexandratherese@ymail.com.

Is Fashion Frivolous?

Alexander McQueen AW 2009

Alexander McQueen AW 2009

A blank post with the title “Is Fashion Frivolous?” has been lying unwritten in my drafts page for months now – all the while simmering away in the back of my mind where it has formulated into something vaguely publishable. The title of this post is a question I have toyed with, mulled over in my mind as seasons have come and gone and the fashion world has changed all around me. We all know that fashion is a glamorous, difficult, cut-throat, money-making industry – where people come in and out of the media spotlight faster than you can both discover and remember their name. Some snub it for being purely a business – jumping on the band wagon of a certain Oscar Wilde who was famed for saying “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we have to alter it every six months”.

There are those who think themselves ‘above’ fashion, those who don’t want be a part of it, those who can’t afford to alter their wardrobe every six months and those who just couldn’t care less what the ‘new black’ is. But then there’s those who think it’s frivolous. There are many definitions of the word but the one that struck me as being suitable in the case of people using it describe their opinion of fashion was this: “Of little or no weight, worth, or importance; not worthy of serious notice”.

Well. Isn’t that a kick in the teeth for the fashion industry.

Not that the majority of people within the industry would be too perturbed by it though – they’re too busy running up sketches for next season’s runway shows and have far more important things to be getting on with than criticising the people who deem fashion as something pointless and unnecessary. They may not have the time – but I do. Because fashion isn’t worthless – it’s incredible. It’s a showcase of truly unique art and is itself a creative art form, encompassing the work of designers who spend painstaking hours perfecting the intricate details of their collections. These people are intelligent, confident, hard-working people who have the ability to send a whole industry lusting after a single sheepskin leather jacket from a single Fashion Week show (Burberry AW10 anyone?).

I always read Alexandra Shulman’s Editor’s Letter in Vogue with interest because let’s be fair, she has to, in around 100 words, sum up all the major events of the fashion world that have happened since the last issue and are going to happen before the next. A lot can happen in a month in the fashion industry, which leads onto the problems facing print publications now information is so readily and freely available on the internet. In one letter which really struck a chord with me Shulman referenced the Libyan Crisis which first came to the attention of global news audiences last February in the context of it being an event which made reporting on what heel height would be ‘in’ this summer risible in comparison. Her words were not written out of spitefulness, however, and instead showed the rest of the world that she knew really well that fashion wasn’t the be all and the end all of life. What fashion is, is a medium of creativity and an art form by which people everywhere can express themselves whatever their age gender or budget.

Fashion is inclusive. Fashion is escapism.

Fashion isn’t frivolous.

Too Many Charity Shops?

As is often the case, an article from a Wednesday issue of The Times prompted me to pen a post, this time about the nation’s need for charity shops. Wednesday is fashion day in The Times, and more often than not Fashion Editor Laura Craik voices her opinion on the contemporary issues of clothes shopping, which on Wednesday November 2nd 2011 included her article entitled “Charity shops may be ubiquitous but they are not the British high street’s biggest enemy”. Craik opens with a proclamation that she is “someone who feels short of breath if she spends too long in a shopping centre” – something that I am sue many of us can relate to.

Even in the depths of Winter one could frequent a British mall in nothing more than a pair of hot paints and a crop top such is the dizzying height of the temperature felt once hurried through the automatic doors and into a world of materialism. At least charity shops provide a cosy, more personal kind of materialism. Indeed, the sums of money exchanged – be it for a skirt or a set of cake forks – are often so small that without the fact that the money is going to a good cause the amounts would seem insignificant compared to the joy at finding the perfect item hidden away in a corner.

Another point that Laura makes is the issue of rows of empty shops on local high streets everywhere. The age of true high street shopping may be over – I won’t deny that I find Amazon a Godsend – but surely it is better to have these shop windows filled with rocking chairs and wedding dresses and cheerful volunteers than lying unused and neglected; lowering the appeal of an area. The friendly logos of Cancer Research and Save The Children (other charity shops are very much available) provide a refreshing break from the all-too-familiar rows of clothing chains, banks and independent jewellery shops that nobody ever goes in. If the alternative is yet another Poundland (RIP Woolies) then I’d much rather have a charity shop thank you very much.

Personally, I find the welcoming sign of a brightly lit Oxfam a comfort when exploring a new village/town/city. Not only do I know that I can be guaranteed to find a book/lp/hat/jumper that I can’t bear to be parted with and so consequently end up buying, but I can do it safe in the knowledge that the few pounds I have happily parted with aren’t fuelling fast fashion enterprises and are instead helping some of the poorest people in the world. The charity shopping process is one of give and take: the donating of unwanted clothes/furniture/household items gives communities an opportunity to assist one another as well as the cause of the charity, whilst the buying of donated goods keeps the charity going. The bi-products of this process are of course that we can all de-clutter our houses and when that’s done stock up on new-old items. It truly is a win-win-win situation.

An aspect of charity shopping which I fee is sometimes sidelined in these debates is the fact that for some, charity shops are the main source of clothing, shoes, books, music, furniture and other household items – whether out of necessity or lifestyle choice. I don’t pretend to be well-versed on the current economic situation, but surely the “climate” (as seems to be the word most often used to describe it) calls for sources of good quality and affordable goods for people to buy – both of which can be found in charity shops.

On a finishing note, I just want to reference one of the best lines I’ve ever heard on television. It was (predictably) from Ben Whishaw, playing Freddie Lyon in The Hour who said in justifying his hoarding of newspapers; “one day they’ll have their use”. I take the same approach. Clothes are the same, and though they may not be useful to us, surely they will be to someone else, which is why we should give them a second life instead of affirming the stereotype of the youth of today partaking in fast fashion consumerism. Let’s take the same approach as Freddie, and I challenge anyone to carry it off with quite so much panache.

Catwalk

  

I went to a fashion show the other day. A fashion show with a catwalk and models and flashing cameras and women craning their necks to get a better view – BlackBerrys in one hand, Chanel 2.11s in the other. True, it wasn’t Burberry or Prada – it was a local charity affair – but it still had the same buzz of excitement that is felt (I expect) at the London shows. There was the anticipation of outfits to come, the collective intake of breath when a pair of truly high heels teetered their way down the catwalk, a fixed smile on the face of the wearer with just the slightest traces of excruciating pain and absolute terror visible on their otherwise flawless face.

I viewed the show from two angles simultaneously: between the hilarity of watching middle-aged middle-class women air kiss each other whilst exclaiming “Dahhhhhling I haven’t seen you for an absolute age” (although maybe I’m exaggerating a little – being northerners not everyone was quite so, well, you know what I mean), and the sheer thrill of marking out my territory in the photographers area before snapping away for the entire show – my new Canon 600d flashing for all it was worth – I felt both out-of-place and completely at home.

At one point the models began posing directly at my lens – clearly mistaking me for one of the real press photographers when in fact I was only there to have a play around with my snazzy new camera and try to figure out what setting I should be taking catwalk photographs on(!) – and at that moment I felt so elated, as if, even for a moment, I was a real photographer taking photos at a real show. Of course I wasn’t – but it certainly felt like it for about ten seconds. I don’t suppose anyone goes from being a keen amateur photographer to being signed for Vogue editorials overnight – it’s all about practise and making a name for yourself in the business. I don’t even know whether I want to become a photographer; I know I definitely want to write and be a “cultural critic” as one of my teachers put it the other day, but I suppose photography and journalism go hand in hand so who knows?

One thing that is definitely true, however, is that I absolutely love my new camera. It has really inspired me to shoot more often, which is perhaps the reason why on a four-day school trip I took over six-hundred photographs! I haven’t progressed to street style yet, mostly landscape scenery and natural shots of friends, but when I do I’ll be sure to look for inspiration from several of my favourite bloggers: Jill of Street Style: Pics By Polka Dot, David of The Nyanzi Report and Dvora of Fashionistable. On a final note, I have chosen to include these images of the show, purely of shoes, as the first of what I hope will become a steady stream of images to document my photographic journey. Some are blurred, out of focus or simply bad shots – but they are my first, and hopefully not my last, attempt.

 

Fashion: It’s a Global Thing

Vogue Paris

Vogue Paris

When most people holiday in a foreign country they usually like to spend their time “soaking up the culture”. You know; food, drink, landmarks, the faffing around with a phrasebook if you don’t speak the language. I don’t claim to be much different, although the past couple of years have seen me add a new “to do” to my holiday sight-seeing list: fashion. It is easier to forget when you live in a country where pretty much anything goes how different countries and cultures have different expectations about dress and appearance. Since my last post on the new film adaptation of Jane Eyre (did any else watch it since my review? If so, what did you think?) I have had the pleasure of visiting France, Belgium and Spain – three of the nearest countries to the UK distance wise (I think!), and my my how different their attitudes towards clothing are…

First things first, I noticed a considerable lack of pattern, prints and garments with writing on them during my visit to the countries mentioned. Not many people go in for visibly branded clothes which makes quite a contrast to the land of Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, Superdry t-shirts and Jack Wills hoodies I’ve become accustomed to living in, but it also means that there are many more independent boutique-like shops who stock various different known or relatively-unknown brands. It is really rather enjoyable to be able to walk down a straight without recognising the name of a single shop and not knowing what delights are being held upon its rails instead of getting the feeling of being looked down upon by the signs of high-priced, mass-produced brands bearing down at you as you embark on a shopping trip.

Secondly, tailoring and the cut of a garment seem far more important than current colour trends. There seems to be a uniform of jeans, heels, fine wool/cashmere sweater and blazer in western Europe (excluding the British isles), with lots of black, grey and navy. Neutrals seem far more popular than outlandish, flamboyant outfit colour schemes, and they appear far more chic and “oh this? I just threw it on” than the painstakingly pieced-together looks we are perhaps more used to in the UK. I think it’s why I have always thought people from other European countries, France in particular, to look just so much, well, cooler than we Brits. They seem to have their own fashions, their own rules, and yet somehow it works. Collectively as a nation (and I know there will be exceptions, but bear with me) they buy for quality and cut rather than for a quick fashion fill of whatever is in season, or whatever brand everyone else is wearing on non-uniform day.

Thirdly and lastly (for the moment anyway), on the continent fashion defies age. Women don’t get to fifty and think that they can’t keep up with the trends any more so there’s no point in even trying; instead they’re right in there in the queues in Zara and Mango (yes I was in Spain by this point), alongside the teenagers and twenty-somethings, the students and the young professionals shopping for new work-wear wardrobes. The great thing is, it’s normal over there. Women in their fifth and sixth and even seventh decades are still out there in the shops, embracing the changes in fashion and being a part of that change themselves. We really should take a leaf out of their book instead of palming off our grandmas with the M&S Classic Collection “elegant, understated and stylish…the perfect balance between fashion and comfort”. I hate to say it, but all that range offers is elasticated trousers and the same blouse in twenty different shades. I appreciate that not all women whether over a certain age or not want to be in fashion, but surely we should give those who do the opportunity to express themselves without feeling “too old” for a certain design or cut.

I truly hope that when I reach a sophisticated age I shall still be as interested in the fashions of the day and still feel comfortable purchasing clothes in the same shops of girls a quarter of my age. Spain has mastered it, so why can’t we?

Penelope Cruz Spanish Vogue

Penelope Cruz Spanish Vogue