Woody Allen style: his top 10 gifts to fashion


With Racked magazine describing Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively as retro fashion goddesses’ in Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, set in 1930s New York (though filmed in LA), I thought it was time to look back over some of the best fashion moments in his back catalogue.  So here’s a list of the top 10 looks from the Allen oeuvre that really inspired me.  What would yours be?20160517_193702

  1. No.1 has to be Annie Hall (1977). A paean to 70s NYC boho style.  Ruth Morely was the costume designer who worked with Diane Keaton.  Ralph Lauren was the source for some of the clothes but you also get the feeling that there’s authentic Keaton style in here too and that is what makes it look so natural and easy.
  2. Play it Again, Sam (1972).  20160517_194544One of my favourites and Diane Keaton again, this time rocking a series of more WASP-ish looks as the model-wife of a financier.  I particularly love this beautifully-fitted jacket.  Her beach outfits are pure Jackie O.  The costume designer for this one was Anna Hill Johnstone.20160517_195404
  3. Manhattan (1979).  Keaton again but this time the look is more dishevelled – the blazer less tailored but the dark denim razor sharp and long over her shoes.  With his styling in this film, Albert Wolsky is leading us into the 1980s.
  4. Allen’s20160517_195748_001 period pieces also need recognition here and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) has some gorgeous sun-filtered white lace and broderie anglaise gowns, courtesy of costumer Santo Loquasto and worn by Mia Farrow and Mary Steenburgen.
  5. When it comes to a white cotton petticoat, 20160517_200631no one wears it better than Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona (2009) and the pairing with a vintage black flamenco dancer’s hat was an inspiration.  On this film and on others more recently, it is costumer, Sonia Grande we have to thank.
  6. 20160517_201057Grande was also the source of the wonderful style in Midnight in Paris (2011).  There is so much vintage fashion to love in that film but my absolute favourite is the beaded yellow flapper dress worn by Marion Cotillard.
  7. At the opposite extreme is Mia20160517_201542 Farrow’s brassy styling in Broadway Danny Rose (1984).  For me, this illustrates perfectly one of Diana Vreeland’s maxims that the opposite of good taste is not bad taste but no taste.  A little bad taste in an ensemble goes a long way and I loved Jeffrey Kurland’s transformation of Farrow into a mobster moll.
  8.  Sq20160517_201912_001uarely in minimalist territory is Interiors (1978), a cloud of soft greys and camel cashmere, khaki shirtwaisters and gorgeous coats that look like a Ralph Lauren advertising campaign.  Joel Schumacher was the costumer and managed to nail the style of a design aesthete perfectly.
  9. Jeffrey Kurland’s20160517_202851 costumes for Bullets over Broadway (1994) gained him an Oscar nomination and rightly so.  Dianne Wiest dominates every scene as a grande dame of the screen in a succession of art deco ensembles.  I wanted all the clothes on her back.
  10. 20160517_203852Kurland actually won a BAFTA best costume award in 1987 for Radio Days (1987) and in it he shows us the full range of 40s fashion from full-beam Hollywood glamour to tea dresses.  The gowns are drop dead gorge but even the ordinary daywear possesses a certain distinguished quality one rarely sees today.

Thank you, Woody and your wonderful costumers.  You are a constant source of inspiration.

Knitting inspiration


Though I shrink from saying it, it is never too early to be thinking about Christmas presents but this is particularly true if you want to do someone the unique honour of handcrafting something for them yourself.  A good friend did this for me last year and it was one of the most special and treasured gifts I’ve ever been given.

Paola is a Deputy Head Gardener.  She is passionate about organic and sustainable agriculture and understands the value of our natural resources.  I asked her if she would be willing to share what led her to give such a special gift and how she did it.

This was such a beautiful present – what gave you the idea?

It was actually your blog entry about Vintage Fashion
(https://nellvoyager.wordpress.com/2015/11/) that gave me the idea for the mittens.
“When vintage clothing of this quality and preservation is available, why settle for a mass-manufactured high street buy of dubious quality and origins? Even better, what if that piece came with a story and a few mysteries of its own?”
That struck a chord. The Christmas season was coming up and why indeed settle for a mass-manufactured gift when I could make it unique? I was in a winter knitting spree, so I started searching the internet for patterns of vintage accessories. There are plenty of free patterns out there, really for every taste and need (a favourite website for me is Yarnspiration.com), but this was a rather particular item I was looking for.

Had you knitted anything before?

I started knitting as a kid, when I would work with my auntie or my mother, doing the actual knitting, while they would put the pieces together, to fashion, well usually it was a cardigan. It was the 80s and the yarn was as horribly synthetic as could be, and we only used pretty basic stitches, but I must say it was solid technique foundation. I dropped it in my 20s, and only started again last year, under the influence of a young friend’s newbie enthusiasm.  My technique was rather rusty and when I found a pattern I was happy with, I realised it was much more complicated than expected, and would require knitting in the round (that is all in one piece without seams) which I had never done before.

How can you learn to do it?

My go-to place for all kind of information is Google. First of all I found a list that explained all the abbreviations in the pattern that I could not understand. Then I investigated knitting in the round, and bought first circular needles, but finally settled for double pointed needles, as I found them much more straightforward to use. There are plenty of videos that explain how to use either on YouTube, I practised with some easy-pattern knee-warmers, and once I was confident enough I looked for suitable yarn. Usually the pattern tells you what yarn to use, otherwise you have to adapt the pattern to the yarn you have available, by gauging the correct tension. This is one of the most difficult things to get right and I am not sure I’m too good at that yet! But this particular pattern did not suggest a brand yarn, and I found some gorgeous cashmere, merino and silk blend that I thought would be perfect: so I set about figuring out the tension as the first thing.

How long did it take, how difficult was it and was it FUN?

Eheheh… it was great fun, but I must confess I lost my patience here and there, when I could not get it quite right. The way I find it easier to manage complex patterns is to expand it on paper, row by row, and then tick it through, so I always remember where I left off, even over a number of days. In this case it took me three weeks from start to finish: the evening after work a couple of hours at least; longer at weekends: it is a labour of love. At least at the beginning, it is often the case that you end up undoing more stitches than you would wish, which is specially annoying because the yarn frays with it. But the satisfaction of holding in your hand (or, in my case, taking a picture and posting it on Twitter) your own creation is invaluable!

What else have you made?

This winter I made several presents: a shawl, a matching hat and scarf, a gilet, knee-warmers. Then crocheting caught my fancy (it makes perfect finishing for knitted pieces, which is how I got into it, then got tempted by how easy it felt compared to knitting) and I made a couple of baskets.

What are you planning to make next?

With the approach of spring, I couldn’t resist the call from the garden. Horticulture will take all of my spare time throughout the summer, so the knitting kit has been put away in the loft. I have boxes and boxes of yarn, ready to come out in the autumn – I love
yarn: all the colours and textures! My computer is keeping a database of patterns safe and ready for when the weather will push me indoors. In particular, I have a bear cowl pattern that I have been wanting to make for a while and now that I have learnt some crocheting, I will finally be able to start on it!

Now that’s what I call inspiring.  Paola is a gifted and fascinating lady.

Meeting the milliner




As we approach the summer season’s racing and weddings, spare a thought for the couture milliner, for whom each gilt-edged invitation spells another sleepless night.  Recently I was lucky enough to encounter Rosie Olivia at London’s University Womens’ Club and she gave a fascinating insight into the life of a couture milliner.  The rather exceptional Olivia has supplied hats for members of the royal family – Zara Philips is a client – and is running her own successful couture millinery business at the tender age of 28. Her story is one of determination and utter dedication.

After starting out as a fashion student, she switched to millinery when offered the opportunity to intern first for Stephen Jones and then later for Philip Treacy – the two titans of couture millinery in the UK.  After graduating with a First Class honours, she won a grant and mentor from the Princes’ Trust Enterprise Programme that enabled her to set up her own business.  She credits her two internships for giving her essential commercial experience that helped her navigate this successfully.  Five years later she still runs the business alone but is now considering taking on an intern herself.

Her work ethic is formidable.  Working on her own, she alone is responsible for fulfilling all her orders, whether she is working on a couture basis with a client or producing a range of stock for a department store.  Sometimes she works through the night.  As you might expect, she is driven and dedicated.  She produces around thirty hats in each collection and will be designing them a year ahead of putting them on sale, often in the ‘down time’ when not producing, doing PR or running her business.

One gets the impression that Olivia almost regards designing as leisure, the fun activity to reward the slog of admin.  Even so, sixty designs a year is a lot, so where does her inspiration come from?  Sometimes it can come from client collaboration.  Olivia much prefers her client to commission a hat before choosing the rest of her ensemble.  It gives her the freedom to begin by finding the right basic shape to suit her client’s hair, face and jawline and then to design the hat around it.

If not a client, sometimes inspiration comes from the trimmings themselves and Olivia clearly has a unique flair for this.  As she talks about designing, she cannot resist running her fingers over a confection of coral-coloured ostrich feathers adorning a beaded ivory beret.  It is perfect, a highly tactile mixture of contrasting textures that work perfectly together.  As she strokes the feathers, I start to feel the stirrings of covetousness.


A hat that lovely needs no reason for its existence.  Perfectly conceived and balanced, it draws the eye to the wearer’s face, flattering and highlighting.  It is at this moment I understand completely why a couture hat comes front and centre when planning a special ensemble.

Rosie Olivia sells direct from her website as well as through some London department stores.  If you are in London and would like to meet a milliner too, then your luck is in.  On Wednesday 25 May, the ladies at Atelier Millinery will be holding an Ascot Preview evening from 6pm to 8pm in their Soho shop when you can try on the hats and enjoy a glass of fizz.  Harrods are also holding a ‘Meet the Milliner’ event on 28 and 29 May in their first floor millinery salon when top milliners will be present to give their style advice.  There is no excuse to be inadequately hatted in London this summer.

Need help with a hat?


If you are approaching the summer season and its many hat opportunities with trepidation, you could do worse than model your style on Bette Davis, shimmering in Now Voyager above.  Bette could carry off a hat with spectacular style.  Even if we can’t all be Bette, as you approach this summer’s racing, weddings and other hat-worthy events, here are a few guidelines that might come in handy.20151129_104849

First work out what you need.  Unlike a bag or a pair of shoes, a hat is an intensely personal accessory – more akin to choosing a hair style or pair of glasses.  So your choice of milliner matters and they are all different.  If you are starting from scratch, go to a shop where you can try a wide variety of styles from a range of milliners.  Harrods has a rather fabulous millinery salon and will be hosting a Meet the Milliners event on 28-29 May – an ideal time to drop in and find out what suits you.  Fortnum and Mason in London’s Piccadilly has an enviable selection. Atelier Millinery, a jewel of a shop nestling in a tiny Soho square always has beautiful stock and if you visit their Ascot Preview on 25 May 6-8pm you can try on hats with their experts and a glass of fizz.

Key questions to consider include:

  • size of hat – the crucial thing is keeping it in proportion with your height and shape;
  • with or without brim – I love a big brim and on a hot sunny day it helps to shade your skin but big brims can get in the way and be a bit overwhelming;
  • the best angle and positioning for you – usually hats work best sitting directly over your hair parting, brims work best when angled in line with your jaw line (check out Bette above);
  • your hairstyle – it is usually best to tone down hair and leave the hat to make its statement.

Then find your milliner.  There are many out there and many of them operate as sole traders, producing small collections but also working on a bespoke basis for clients.   You may find some of their work in department stores but most prefer to sell direct from their websites, showrooms or sites like Etsy.  Here’s a brief selection of my favourites covering a fairly wide range but it’s a tiny sample of what is out there so do explore.20160509_192200

Rosie Olivia – her hats are easy to wear and style and you will probably have seen them in the newspapers adorning the lovely head of Zara Philips; her current collection features mostly brimless or small-brimmed hats with feather and bead trimmings in some sparky colour combinations.

Rachel Black – statement hats that manage not to overstep the line into becoming overwhelming with some very flamboyant big brimmed styles.


Piers Atkinson – quirky is the best way to describe these hats; a kitten face on a toque, my little pony features, and Kawaii-cute features that would appeal to any Harajuku girl.


Rachel Trevor-Morgan – milliner to HM the Queen: enough said.20150817_122746


Benoit Missolin – Parisian style melded with London coolness, veiling tends to be a strong feature.


J Smith Esq. – romantic, always eye-catching and highly unusual.

Tina Giuntini – a specialist in 20s, 30s and 40s styles to unleash your inner Lady Mary.

Think about your hat in the context of your whole ‘look’.  Don’t be tempted just to pull out a dress and then colour-match a hat to it. A hat is a statement item and should be your starting point.  Get your hat right and everything else will fall into place around it.  Its not for nothing that in the early twentieth century milliners like Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin were regarded as stylists and ultimately evolved into couturiers. So start with an idea of what you are looking for based on the points above.  Talk to one or two milliners and test different styles and colours and then work with them in building the outfit around the hat.


Work with the rules.  Whether it’s a country wedding where you need to take care not to upstage the bride and other principals or Royal Ascot where a formal set of rules apply, make sure you understand any restrictions before you start.  The essential hat rule for Ascot is that hats MUST be worn and must have a solid base of four inches or larger.  There are also additional rules applying to clothing.



Finally, enjoy your hat!  Wearing a hat is like walking onto a stage – it draws attention and demands performance.  Be ready for that and embrace it, inhabit that version of yourself, play the role and have fun!


Two new ways to get your Gucci fix


Ever since Alessandro Michele’s first Gucci collection I’ve been in love with everything he produces.  After years of ‘normcore’ and minimalist fashion, he is clothing us in lush abundance drawn from an array of artistic influences including nineteenth century orientalism, the Pre-Raphaelites and the wonderful still life paintings of the Dutch school of the seventeenth to eighteenth century.  Recently I spied one of his pink gold pleated lurex dresses with fur-trimmed sleeves at an event in London.  The lucky lady wearing it literally outshone the whole room.  It is not hard to see why these clothes sell so well and retailers struggle to acquire enough stock.  If you’ve been frustrated, make sure you are ready for Net-a-porter’s Gucci capsule collection of 20 items from phone cases to evening gowns that will launch on 12 May. Previews of the blousy cabbage roses prints drawn from English chintzes look as hotly desirable as all Michele’s previous work.

Either by accident or design, London’s National Gallery is currently devoting its Gallery 1 to a Gucci-esque show of some truly gorgeous Dutch school paintings.  They also have a programme of related events including watercolour and flower-arranging workshops for the creative and some fascinating-sounding lectures on tulip-mania and the language of flower-painting for the curious.

If you are in London and, like me have been inspired and enchanted by Michele’s Gucci, then do not miss this.  The works by the appropriately-named Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch are truly a visual feast.  Just don’t wear your Gucci to go there – you might fall under suspicion of trying to smuggle out one of the precious canvases themselves.