Bright young things, old bags, exotica and erotica – a year of exploration

Spring is in the air and this means (amongst other things) some enticing new exhibitions in London and Paris. 

Top of my list is the long-awaited re-opening of the Palais Galliera, Paris’s museum of fashion and perhaps the greatest of its kind in the world.  If, like me you have been following the tantalising glimpses of the basement refurbishment on Miren Arzalluz’s and the Galliera’s own instagram, then you’ll be champing at the bit to know what delights they have in store.  Watch this space.

Meanwhile, back in London I’m looking forward to comparing the arcane monochrome drawings of Aubrey Beardsley with the equally monochrome early portrait photography of Cecil Beaton.  Beardsley’s drawings were considered shocking in the late nineteenth century and still pack something of a punch today.  Similarly Beaton’s early work was influenced by surrealism and, even whilst documenting London’s social whirl in the roaring twenties, his anecdotes teetered on the edge of wicked wit, always managing to stay just the right side to deliver teasing flattery.  Aubrey Beardsley is at Tate Britain from 4 March until 25 May and Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things is at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 March until 7 June.

I’m intending to try to see both on the same day as I think it will offer an interesting comparison.  I might also try to fit in a third show to complement Beardsley’s orientalism as the V&A are mounting a show about the kimono.

This garment offers an interesting perspective on fashion as one of the occasions when an article of national dress, and not a terribly practical one at that, has become embedded in mainstream fashion.  Anyone who saw Elizabeth Debicki in The Night Manager will remember the beautiful kimono she wore (sourced from the glorious Fuji Kimono) as beach apparel, but it remains a form of dress that continues in use in its original form.   

This show spans the kimono in all its incarnations and promises to be a fascinating cultural insight.   See Kimono: Kyoto to catwalk at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 29 February to 21 June. 

Who doesn’t love an accessory? The Fashion Museum Bath offers us a whole year of shoes with their Shoephoria from 28 March 2020 until the 31 March 2021.  If I were a Bath resident, I’d be tempted to enjoy a daily dose of shoe love for the whole year.  With a collection of over 3,000 pairs and dating back to the late seventeenth century, this promises to be a show that will tug on my heartstrings and require some serious restraint to keep me from bursting through the glass.

Staying with the theme, the V&A will offer us Bags: inside and out from 25 April until 31 January 2021.  I have high hopes of this one as the V&A seem to be interested in tapping into the mystery of the handbag and its contents as well as its aesthetic and practical design.  All life exists (sometimes literally) in a handbag and this makes them endlessly fascinating.  From Ernest Worthington’s infant abandonment (‘A Handbag?’) to Grace Kelly’s famous adoption of the Hermes handbag to hide her pregnancy, they are with us every step of the way.

Finally, if the clash between fashion and culture of the 1960s and 70s is more your thing then you will be pleased to know that London’s Fashion and Textile Museum is offering Beautiful People: the boutique in 1960s counterculture from 3 July until 4 October.  If you can’t wait until then, Paris’s Musee Yves Saint Laurent is offering a glimpse of just one of those beauties with a show focusing on YSL’s muse, Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent feminin singulair from 3 March until 11 October.

The endless fascination of fashion is the way that we all use it to communicate and express personality, or as Beaton himself put it, ‘we all have enough of the peacock in us not to be able to dismiss it entirely.’  These shows promise to hold up the looking glass to ways in which fashion has shaped and been shaped by society.  There is an exciting year of discovery ahead.

Manolo Blahnik: shoe heaven in London and Paris

Wall of shoes in Manolo Blahnik’s new boutique in the Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris

Could it really have taken until 2019 for Manolo Blahnik to open a shop in Paris?  The first shop in Chelsea’s Church Street, opened in 1973 and was followed by a Madison Avenue store in New York in 1979.  But Parisiennes have had to wait until now for their own shop.  It was certainly worth waiting for.  The gem of a shop nestled in a corner of the secluded Jardins du Palais Royal occupies the historic site of the Cafe Corrazza, Jacobin HQ in pre- and post-revolutionary France.  The shop has been sensitively re-purposed, the original tiled floor the same one that Napoleon’s feet are said to have trod.

Now the revolutionaries have been replaced by walls of the most exquisite shoes, many in styles that would have delighted Marie Antoinette herself.  With shoes as delicate as confectionery, who needs cake?

Back in London’s Burlington Arcade, Mr Blahnik has taken possession of a former pen shop to open a man’s shop next to the ladies’ store.  A rainbow of suede brogues now sits on little fold-down shelves that once held a prism of coloured inks.  The till is housed in a pedestal and a steep winding staircase takes you up to discover two more floors of bliss.

Best of all: the mens’ range starts at size 5 (38) which makes them popular with many females who, like me, may adore high stilettos but appreciate even more the comfort of a lace-up.

So now Mr Blahnik bestrides the Channel – whether you are in London’s Burlington Arcade or Paris’s Jardins du Palais Royal you will never be far from shoe heaven.

Les Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris: home of the new Manolo Blahnik boutique

Best of all the Wallace Collection has just extended its Manolo Blahnik: An Enquiring Mind exhibition until 27 October, so there are many more opportunities ahead to view his beautiful creations.

http://www.manoloblahnik.com

Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection: An Enquiring Mind

The Wallace Collection’s current display of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes – An Enquiring Mind – is a show of pure genius.  The magnificent collection of paintings, furniture and ceramics is the perfect setting to highlight the breadth and depth of this shoemaking genius’s inspiration.Most impressive of all is the sensitive and careful placing of each style of shoe to form perfect clusters to complement the art around them.  The notes to the exhibition enlarge on this and the outcome is that there is something to delight the eye whichever way you direct your gaze.

In the East Drawing room, under the magnificent painting, The Riches of Autumn (Jacob Jordaens, 1593-1678) we find a collection of shoes and boots in the richest black velvet , luscious golden satin, beaded and feathered and displaying all the abundance of the season.

The Great Gallery features a teal lace stiletto picking up the colour of the peacock’s tail in Peacock and other Birds (M d Hondecoeter, 1636-1695).  A cluster of pastel satin shoes and mules, delicately laced with pearls and rosettes is the perfect companion to The Infanta Margarita Maria (after Velazquez, 1599-1660), picking up the silk of her gown and her jewels.

There is humour too.  What better to accompany Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier (1584-1666) than a reinterpreted cavalier’s boot, its cuff dropped from knee to ankle.  The positioning of boot and painting suggests the subject is enjoying the joke too.

The high point of the display is the Oval Drawing room – a small room of Fragonard and Boucher paintings that houses a selection of shoes made for Sophia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette.  Here, Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour (1703-1770) presides over shoes that look as light and fanciful as macaroons.  Though Pompadour lived a generation before Marie Antoinette (and seems to have been significantly more politically astute), she would surely have appreciated the power of these shoes to maintain court hierarchies.

Thank you, Wallace Collection for a beautifully conceived show, perfectly juxtaposing painting and craftsmanship.  It is thought-provoking for sure but it also manages to capture the sheer joie de vivre of the art of artisanship, seasoned with a dash of wit.  This is the perfect way to show fashion and we need more like this.  And I need some more Manolos…..

Snap up some Louboutins and Dress for Success

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Fancy a pair of Louboutins?  Or a Lanvin vest dripping with flapper-style beading?  Or perhaps a butter-soft Chloe perfecto in lush olive suede is more your thing?  Then you need to know about Dress for Success and their pop-up shop in Covent Garden’s Neal Street.  It opened today and will be there dispensing gems like these to lucky clients until Saturday 19 August.  Miss it at your peril.
Even better, you can feel good about every purchase you make because Dress for Success is a charity doing wonderful work.  If you’re reading this blog then I don’t need to tell you about the power of clothes to make a person feel confident, strong and ready for challenges ahead.  But clothes can also be a source of anxiety.  We’ve all known the problem of having nothing to wear, despite a wardrobe bulging at the seams and rails buckling under the strain of too many hangers.  But for some women, the problem of having nothing to wear is real, especially when it comes to facing the crucial test of a job interview. Dress for Success has their backs because it not only clothes them but preps them for the interview, boosts their confidence and – once they’ve been offered the job – provides them with a capsule working wardrobe.
So if you’re in London drop into the shop and snap up some Louboutins.  Or even better, donate some clothing or volunteer your help.  As a volunteer for them myself I can’t remember a time when I had so much fun, met so many wonderful people and laughed so much. So beware: you may get much more out of this experience than those fabulous Louboutins.
#DFSlondon
35-37 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London; 11-7pm until Saturday 19 August.

Is HRH the Prince of Wales the UK’s best-dressed Prince of all time?

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Benson & Clegg, displaying the Prince of Wales feathers proudly in the window of their picturesque Piccadilly Arcade shop

 

 GQ Magazine posed this question in a wonderful piece in July 2012 paying tribute to the Prince of Wales’s unique style blend of the traditional, the flamboyant and the slightly eccentric.  The Prince is not the first of the Windsors to be noted for his style.  His great uncle, also Prince of Wales and later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, was famous for his flamboyant style, sporting plus fours, Oxford bags and daringly fat-knotted ties (the ‘Windsor’ knot has something of a racy reputation in certain circles). The Prince’s father, George VI displayed a rather more traditional approach though in every photograph, comes across looking at ease with his style.

Prince Charles’s own style seems to meld influences from both his forbears, as well perhaps as his own grandmother, the Queen Mother.  This is not at outlandish as it might sound.  The Queen Mother was closely associated with pastel colours – a style she evolved over time but especially during the Second World War.  Dark colours could have seemed too sombre at a time when keeping national spirits up was a priority and death and destruction a daily occurrence and pastel colours also made her visible when out and about in public.  The Prince today frequently combines traditional tailoring, often in the pale grey Prince of Wales check, with pastel colours in shirt, handkerchief, tie and socks.

He also occasionally uses his dress to express his great interest in ethnic culture, religion and society.  This can be close to home, for example he launched the Campaign For Wool in 2008 and champions the use of native British tweeds and tartans.  In an episode of the British Sunday evening slice of rural life, Countryfile, HRH was interviewed against a backdrop of hedge maintenance at Highgrove, wearing the ancient field jacket he uses for this work.  It had been patched so extensively that it was almost impossible to discern its original lines.  Clarence House later revealed the original manufacturer to have been John Partridge, a Staffordshire firm and that the jacket itself had been bought around 15 years previously.

The Prince’s taste for the unique also embraces global influences. In 2014, London’s Garden Museum hosted an exhibition of fashion inspired by gardens.  Though it boasted a couture Valentino gown, it was the Prince’s gardening coat that stole the show.  Strictly speaking it is a Chitrali, a full-length robe worn in the mountains of Pakistan.  To the Western eye it resembles a rather grand dressing gown but the genius of this garment is its combination of practicality with statement style.  Sufficient on its own to signal the wearer’s individuality, it makes it the easiest garment to wear and endlessly adaptable whether it is layered over shirt and suit trousers, casual clothing, sportswear – anything.

 Though we may never know who made the coveted gardening robe, thanks to the royal 20160805_175659warrant system we do know who makes the majority of the Prince’s wardrobe.  Warrant holders may display the words “By Appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales” and distinctive three feathers badge.  The companies must fulfil strict criteria to qualify and, in the Prince’s case, an additional requirement to meet a code of good environmental practice. Scroll to the end for the list of warrant holders to the Prince for clothing and accessories as of August 2016.  It is an impressive showcase of British manufacturing and artisanship. The list of warrant holders changes every so often and can be found at https://www.royalwarrant.org.

James Lock & Co, supply hats and caps, from formal styles like regimental headwear and top hats to leisurewear like tweed caps.

Lobb 20160805_175918remains a family business tracing its St James boot-making history back four generations.  The Prince has been a customer since 1971.  Tricker’s of Jermyn Street also hold a warrant from the Prince for shoes and as the proud owner of a pair of decade-old Tricker’s brogues myself I can attest to their indestructible qualities and utter comfort.  I’m currently eyeing up a pair of their black ghillies for my next purchase.20160805_180258

Anderson & Sheppard is the Saville Row tailor that makes the Prince’s familiar double-breasted suits, including those in his signature ‘Prince of Wales’ check.  They also made him a double-breasted herringbone tweed overcoat that is still a familiar fixture in the Prince’s winter wardrobe, almost thirty years after it was made.

Turnbull20160805_180531 & Asser of Jermyn Street hold the Prince’s Royal Warrant for shirt-making

List of the Prince of Wales royal warrant holders for clothing and accessories as at August 2016: Anderson & Sheppard Ltd (Tailors), Saville Row; Benson & Clegg Ltd (Buttons, badges, military neckwear), Jermyn St; Burberry Ltd (Outfitters), London; Corgi Hosiery Ltd (Knitwear and hosiery), Carmarthenshire, S Wales; Daks Ltd (Outfitters), Old Bond St; Dents Ltd (gloves) Wiltshire; Ede & Ravenscroft Ltd (robe makers), Chancery Lane; Frank Hall Tailoring (Tailored sports clothes), Leicestershire; G. Ettinger Ltd (Leathergoods), Putney Bridge road, London; Gieves & Hawkes Ltd (Tailors & outfitters), Saville Row; J Barbour & sons Ltd (Waterproof & protective clothing), Tyne & Wear; James Lock & Co Ltd (hatters), St James St; John Lobb Ltd (bootmakers), St James St; Johnstons of Elgin (Estate tweeds and woollen fabrics), Morayshire; Kinloch Anderson Ltd (tailors & kiltmakers), Edinburgh; Malcolm Plews (Military tailor), Bexhill-on-sea; R.E. Tricker Ltd (shoemaker), Northamptonshire; Turnbull & Asser Ltd (shirtmakers), Jermyn St; Wendy Keith Designs (Shooting and kilt hosiery), Cornwall.

High Heels at work: towering ambition or hobbling progress?

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As a life-long Manolo fan, I have always nursed a desire for a pair of his classic Mary Jane stilettos. Recently I went to the shop and tried them on.  They looked wonderful – one of the most elegant and beautifully balanced shoes I’ve ever experienced – but as I gazed at them in the mirror I knew that I could never buy them.  I just could not walk in pin-thin heels of this height.  Regretfully I handed them back.

I suppose shoe love has blinded me to the possibility that they could be used as the dark instruments of compulsion or oppression. This month a petition to make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work has attracted over 140,000 signatures in the UK.  This means that the 20150604_180518government must provide a response and that the topic can be considered for a debate in Parliament.  We should see the response and know whether it will be debated in early July.

Even as a dedicated fashion obsessive and shoe lover, to have the topic of high heels at work actually debated in Parliament seems extraordinary to me. In fact my only brush with shoe regulation was in my school days when a strict height limit of one inch was applied to heels and enforced vigorously, much to our chagrin.

What interests me about this debate, though is choice of the high heeled shoe as the target. I have recently been thinking about high heels at work in the context of two very senior women with whom I’ve worked.  In each case, their signature fashion item was very lovely, very expensive and very high heels.  They did not just wear their shoes, they displayed them almost as a badge of rank.  The reaction amongst females varied from admiration to disbelief that they could walk comfortably all day but in both cases each woman was completely comfortable and mobile in her heels (there is little that is uglier than a woman limping down the street in a pair of shoes she cannot walk in).  The reaction amongst males tended to focus on the heavy stride the heels produced.  This signal of the wearer’s approach and impending intent to do business then cued frantic paper shuffling and activity. 20151121_112843

The wearing of high heels at work is also interesting as a trend right now. We had the excesses of the platform sole combined with super-high stiletto a decade ago.  That was succeeded by a return to flats in ballerinas, embellished slippers, mules and sneakers.  Now at last we are returning to an elegantly balanced shoe, ranging from cute kitten heels to sleek stilettos.  These are the kinds of shoes that women like Miuccia Prada never stopped wearing and looking marvellous in.  They recall the glamour and sinuous movement of screen stars like Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth.  They are a wearable but elegant shoe and they instil a sense of occasion.  When I wear shoes like this, I feel different – more feminine but also in-charge and ready to perform.

Of course, there is a downside, most obviously in the aching feet or twisted ankles that stiletto heels can inflict. So as with all things, moderation is the key.  Undaunted by my experience with the Manolo Mary Janes, I have recently added to my collection a lovely pair of his sling-backs with a comfortable rounded-toe, and a slightly sturdier mid-height heel.  I love them even more because I can wear them and keep a smile on my face.

This unusual debate in the UK is an interesting reminder that clothes assume the meaning we give them – whether it is a veiled head or a stiletto’ed foot, clothing can send powerful messages about its wearer that will be perceived in different ways by beholders. One woman’s torturous heels are another woman’s object of aspiration. So find the heel that works for you and enjoy them.

Fashion is communication but it is also fun.

London Flaneuse (1): St James

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Where is good to go in London right now? With this question in mind, here is a selection of London itineraries mainly aimed at the visitor to the capital who has an interest in fashion.  Most are based on my own wanderings, lucky finds and old favourites.  They will appear in a series of posts, with places grouped into a walkable itinerary around a specific area of the city recommending sources of culture, food and retail therapy.  Here we start with a suitably Dickensian zone: St James, the area between Piccadilly and St James Park in the W1 postcode.

This is London clubland, most originally for gentlemen only and the area reflects this with its wealth of gentlemen’s outfitters along Jermyn Street, Piccadilly and the arcades that run between them.  Always a lover of masculine style, pairing tweeds and paisleys and other prints, I find these fascinating and inspiring.

Start your journey at the eastern end of Jermyn Street where it branches off Haymarket and walk west. Though it runs parallel with Piccadilly, it is a much quieter street and features some legendary names of English menswear: Hilditch and Key, Pink, Turnbull and Asser for shirts; Church, Lobb and Trickers for the most luxurious handmade shoes and boots.

20150919_111055I could wander up and down this street for an age, but about halfway down it, stroll down one of the arcades leading north onto Piccadilly to check out two really exceptional bookshops.  First there is the Rizzoli bookshop with its floor-to-ceiling racks of the most gorgeous picture books and accessories.  If, like me, you just want to soak up some of the atmosphere, there’s a café-bar where you can order a coffee or a glass of champagne to accompany your browsing.

More traditional is Hatchards, a historic bookshop that is all woodpanelling and slightly wonky stairs.  Check out the author signings they have planned – many of the most famous authors will appear there.

Next door is Fortnum and Mason, probably the most beautifully quaint department store in London.  Though it is famous for food (and deservedly so), check out the ladieswear before you leave – they often stock lesser known artisan labels and always have a beautiful selection of hats and other accessories as well as a temptingly presented array of scents.

Almost opposite F&M, across Piccadilly, is Burlington Arcade, home of some of the most fabulous jewels in London.  Don’t leave without sauntering through it, checking out the shop windows, each one more tempting than the last.

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A little further along Piccadilly a right turn will take you into Dover Street, home of the Dover Street Market where you will find an eclectic selection of fashion, including Comme des Garcons, Celine and Sacai.  This is not the home of the traditional and it makes an interesting contrast in this otherwise classic area.

Heading back South towards Piccadilly, you will find yourself facing the Ritz hotel.  You may well be tempted to go in – don’t fight it.  There is one more corner of St James to explore though, if you can manage to suppress the urge to collapse with a glass of champagne and this is St James Street itself, running from Piccadilly at its northern end to the Mall at its southern.  Here you will find Lock & Co – a hat shop with a wonderful selection of both the classic and the fashion-conscious.  The staff know their business and here you can be measured up for your topper, whether you are looking for an off-the-peg or a bespoke hat.

Next door is the equally atmospheric Berry Bros and Rudd, a wine shop like no other.  The tiny, creaking, wood-and-claret scented warren of a shop sits above miles of cellars housing thousands of wines. Despite this plenitude, the staff can advise on them all, whatever you are looking for.

Close by, in Duke Street, you will find culture of a different kind in the many private art galleries.  My favourite is MCA Gray, specialists in fashion illustration.  Last September their Irwin Crosthwaite show was a revelation and next year they are planning a show of Rene Bouche 14-20 September 2016, timed to coincide with London Fashion Week.  It promises to be a feast for the eyes.

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Speaking of which, you will need to re-fuel if you managed to resist the temptations of the Ritz. For an informal meal thoroughly in keeping with the atmosphere of the area, you cannot beat Davy’s Wine Bar, underground in what appear to be caves, under King’s Street.  For a more formal or a celebration meal, there is only one place to go: Le Caprice in Arlington Street.  It is discreet, elegant, welcoming and always of an assuringly consistent quality.  If you have completed this walk you surely deserve a suitable reward?

The Portobello Pop-up not to be missed

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The Graceful Goddess vintage fashion pop-up shop at 199 Portobello Road in London is midway through its two-week residency and is proving to be quite a crowd- pleaser – in the time I was there last Saturday morning, there was a steady stream of visitors, some literally stopped in their tracks whilst driving by.

So what is drawing the crowds?  What makes this pop-up so interesting is the combination of three vintage dealers sharing the space, each with complementary collections.  There really is something for everyone here, whether you are an haute Chanel goddess, a McQueen glamazon or a Gucci geek.

As you go through the door you are faced with a couple of gorgeous Chanel 2.55 quilted handbags, with a rack of classic Chanel jackets a few steps away, and also a rather gorgeous pair of tweed knee-high boots.  Many of these items have provenance, having been owned by celebrity-clients or fashion industry insiders.  This is typical stock from buymywardrobe.com and very tempting it is too.  A friend is currently searching for the perfect, classic Chanel jacket and I have urged her to visit this shop ASAP.

20151121_112818There is also a great selection for an edgier taste, including some wonderful McQueen tailored dresses and a sprinkling of Alaia, including a very unusual black “ringmaster’s” jacket.  I also spotted a lovely 80s Yohji Yamamoto red and white oversized jacket – very now but also a piece that would not date.  Much of the McQueen stock comes from Graceland, a vintage business run by stylist, Grace Woodward.

20151122_161450For those of us with a more eclectic eye, there are some truly beautiful vintage pieces from earlier decades, including some wonderful original Yves Saint Laurent – I spotted an original “le smoking” tuxedo suit and a very lovely pale blue mohair coat.  There is a rack devoted to evening gowns, so this is just the place to come to shop for Christmas parties too – I fell in love with a glittering Oscar de la Renta full-length shirt-dress (see picture) and a dramatic black velvet and white satin Malcolm Starr gown.  These come courtesy of Wilma Mae Basta’s Gathering Goddess vintage emporium – a source of really beautiful and highly unusual pieces.  You can be sure of finding things here that you will not see anywhere else: a 30s sequinned cape and beret, previously property of an Argentinian glamazon; or an exquisitely-made 40s slip in ivory satin and lace.

20151121_112843Then there are shoes – Manolo Blahnik and Charlotte Olympia among them; handbags; and jewels.  In short, this shop promises to solve your Christmas present buying for any female friend.  Though if you are anything like me, you will enter with the best intentions of shopping for presents and emerge with a few (ahem) presents for self…..

The Graceful Goddess closes its doors on Sunday 29 November, so be sure to visit 199 Portobello road before the goddess has left the building.

Manolo: the ultimate book

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First we had the summer mania for flats, sandals or espadrilles with ankle laces and now the trend continues into autumn with shoes inspired by the ghillie brogue.  Inspired by a Scottish Highland dancing shoe, in their original form they have a practical purpose: enabling the shoe to dry more quickly and the laces to remain mud-free.

Manolo Blahnik’s version is unlikely to experience the rigours of a highland trek but could be entirely suited to dancing.  Earlier this month Rizzoli published what may be the definitive book celebrating Blahnik’s shoe design genius: Manolo Blahnik: Fleeting Gestures and Obssessions.  It is a treasure of a book, including perspectives from fans and collaborators ranging widely from film director Pedro Almodovar to Cambridge Professor, Mary Beard.

There is even talk of a documentary to follow – can we be that lucky?  Blahnik’s screen persona (seen in an installation at the recent Shoes: Pleasure and Pain show at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum) shows him to be a natural, projecting his ebullient enthusiasm and huge character as if he were talking face-to-face.  Manolo, the documentary?  Now that would be something to dance about.