Search This Blog

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The gift you can guarantee won't be re-gifted? A really stylish book

Jeans, classic shirt and lots of bangles for C'mas style- and why not?
Chanel muse Ines de la Fressange shows how it's done

It was the late Phyllis Diller who said the thing she didn’t like about the office Christmas party was having to look for a job the next day. Looking Our Best has learned over the years to stay a safe distance from the communal party bucket of mulled wine; possibly the most hair-raising experience was once witnessing a former colleague tipsily grabbing scissors and cutting the telephone flex on the reception switchboard,  post party on the night of 23rd December. For some reason, it didn’t seem all that funny come the subsequent 2nd January inquest. 

Although austerity has curtailed the works' parties,  there will always be an Aldi mince pie and glass of Lidl plonk to welcome  festive merry-makers at LOB Towers. As for sharing those other age-old traditions such as putting so much thought into a gift for that special someone that you’ve left it too late to buy it, there are always books. Real books to read on paper, that is,  not on-screen.  And while buying online is all very practical, one of the pleasures of this  pre-Christmas madness is taking time out to browse your favourite bookstore where you are sure to find something to please the woman who has everything – or indeed, the woman who has nothing. 

First off is a new publication one of LOB’s ultra-stylish pals has drawn her attention to: The Killer Detail (published by Flammarion in both French and English). The authors,  real life couple François Armanet and Élisabeth Quin, are well known journalists in their native France, and, as can be seen from their photo here, can talk about style with some authority and confidence.
Don't forget the French Dressing: François Armanet and Élisabeth Quin
Fifty-year old Quin does not dye her grey hair; for an interview to publicise the new book, the New York Times quotes her as wearing
“a short black Vanessa Bruno dress, a black Balenciaga coat and black Prada motorcycle boots."  Mutton monitor, be damned.

Still with La Belle France, LOB was the lucky recipient a couple of Christmases past of Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange (Flammarion).  Ines was a former Chanel model and muse – which probably tells us all we need to know. She wears those little boucle jackets, Breton striped tee shirts, skinny cigarette pants and flat pumps with nary a hint of French cliché.  She can even wear a string of pearls without looking like a Sloane. The book includes her top Paris addresses for shopping – both designer and vintage.
Vive la accessories a la Ines

Although no longer a catwalk fixture, Ines (56) is currently brand ambassador for Roger Vivier (check out her video shopping diaries). She has also teamed up with Japanese label Uniqlo for a new collection coming out in Spring 2014, no doubt injecting their bright fun clothes with a dash of her own easy elegance.

When it comes to DVD’s as a gift, anyone, whether interested in style or not, will be intrigued by Bill Cunningham: New York. This documentary is a must see because of its endearing central character.  LOB must confess that she was unaware of this eccentric 80-something-year-old photographer until this film (directed by Richard Press) was screened in cinemas in 2012. Clad in his blue utility jacket (as worn by Paris bin men), cycling through the streets of Manhattan on what is his 29th bicycle (the previous 28 all stolen),  the sprightly Bill shoots using film (not digital) for his regular New York Times features on the city’s most individually stylish citizens.
He's just our Bill

Way before the younger fry thought they invented street fashion, he was taking candid shots showing how people dress the way they do, and what it tells us about human nature.  The mighty of the fashion world contribute to the comments in this charming film, including Anna Wintour:  “We all get dressed up for Bill”.  But while lauded in high society, this modest man does not surround himself with celebrity, and the trappings of glamour, living instead a frugal, simple life in his modest flat and eschewing restaurant dining and lavish receptions.  Near the end of the film there is a surprisingly moving insight into what makes Bill Cunningham tick. In a world of tinsel and sequins, the seemingly trivial world of fashion can have its poignant moments too.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Jingle Beads Rock

I'd like to make a statement ....

Mr LOB is a lost cause when it comes to the whole ‘down with the kids’ thing. This morning, he asked the boy ‘What’s all this stuff about Miley Cyrus and fracking?’. The conversation went downhill after that. But, having been hitched to moi for over three decades, Mr LOB does have a handle on the commoner phrases and clichés in fashion lingo, such as the LBD. 
All together now: Gold plated chains, charms and purple crystals
LOB has been giving thought to her own (not so) Little Black Dress of late, given that  the Yankee Candles are now reduced to a fiver in the shops – a sure sign that Christmas is way too close – and the invites, allegedly,  to dressy-up dos will be winging their way as we speak to LOB Towers.

As in most households, the budget for the purchase of any new Christmas party wear is once again headed towards a big fat zero.  Time, then, to dig out the good old reliable black frock and indulge in that pursuit of the sartorially skint – accessorising. 

The benefit of any LBD is that it’s very timelessness allows for an on-trend update. As all you stylish readers will know, one of this season’s strongest looks for bright young things and mature wimmin alike is the statement necklace, or collar necklace.  Designed to dress up daywear when worn under shirt collars, or over sweaters, these detailed pieces of jewellery also refresh and bring sparkle to the plainest party or evening dress. Swarovski crystals, pearls, glass beads, semi-precious stones,  on their own or all together, are fastened with chains, or a length of velvet ribbon for a vintage look.
She has some neck:   Danish model Helena Christensen

A favourite of LOB’s is costume jewellery label Pilgrim, who feature some of the most appealing statement necklaces in their current collection.  Founded in 1983 by Danish duo Annemette Markvad and Thomas Adamsen, they first started off by selling their designs at festivals.  That hint of the bohemian endures in their designs, having appeal for both Lana del Ray generation, and those of us who still remember the free spirit style of Stevie Nicks. 
'Is there a nick in that glass?' Stevie rocking the big necklace look back in the 70s
Necklaces are priced around the €50 mark, with stockists in the larger department stores, such as Debenhams. 

So, while a pal of LOB’s insists that we grown-ups should now avoid wearing black, even as partywear, the addition of an abundantly detailed statement necklace or jewelled collar counteracts any hint of sombre old lady.  It also draws attention to the face,  away from the waistline.  And that’s always a good thing at Christmas….  

 All jewellery by Pilgrim

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Beautiful Era of Fashion as Art

Paris 1913, and the fashion magazine of choice for the city’s bright young things was the Journal des Dames et des Modes. A century on, us lucky Dublin dwellers have the opportunity to see what was so inspiring about this short lived publication. Costumes Parisiens: Fashion Plates from 1912-1914, currently running at The Chester Beatty Library, showcases the exquisite prints that illustrated the magazine during those last years of what was known as the Belle Époque.

Edith Dunn – already a renowned collector of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings before she became the second wife of Chester Beatty – persuaded her future husband to acquire the Journal, among other fashion periodicals.  Many of the almost 150 prints bought by him are now on show in the Library that bears his name and are testament to how these illustrations were the interface between fashion and art. The work of artists including Erte, Georges Lepape, Louis Barbier and Paul Iribe featured prominently in the pages of the Journal, indicating that fashion was an important element of the whole decorative arts movement.

What do these charming prints tell us about how the fashionable women of a century ago dressed?  Back then, the most important accessory for a woman enamoured of haute couture was a wealthy husband, or papa, linked on her arm. According to the Library’s research, the ladies-who-lunched during that pre-war period could spend thousands of pounds per month on the latest fashions. Chester Beatty’s first wife, Ninette, is reckoned to have spent an average of $850 a month in 1910 on the family’s wardrobe, with even the servants decked out in specially designed livery. 
Bakst's costumes for Ballet Russes
As for the garments, the most fashionable silhouette of the Belle Époque was a flowing, draped line which was radically different from the  corseted, restricted style of the late Edwardian era.
Paul Poiret, the first couturier to use draping in his designs, remarked that the exaggerated 'S' shape of the late 19th century made a woman “look like she was hauling a trailer.”  He took credit that his empire line dresses “freed the bust” and negated the torture of the whalebone corset. 
There are four actual garments on display in the Library's exhibition which show not only that draping (often with small pieces of lead in the hemline to make dresses hang beautifully) but also the intricate beading and embroidery worked into luxury fabrics such as silk and cashmere.   During these years just before the tragedy of the Great War, wealthy women would have changed their clothing three or four times a day. A short black and white film which forms part of the exhibition shows a young woman in her boudoir getting dressed. The grandest occasion was most likely a trip to the opera or ballet,
and the exotic evening fashions paid more than a passing nod to Diagilev’s Ballet Russes which had arrived in Paris to great sensation in 1909. 
Along with Leon Bakst’s costume designs for the ballet, there was also the influence of even farther East, in particular, les Japonais. 
Japanese posters, which had wrapped many of the object d’art shipped in boxes from the East,  had already inspired many of the post-Impressionist artists with a seemingly more simple approach to drawing and painting. The most recognisable inspiration in  fashion terms was the kimono.  Basically constructed from rectangular pieces of embroidered silk or satin, the kimono was not only worn  as an indoor garment in it's original design, but also became the desired shape for what is this writer’s favourite garment of the Belle
Époque – the opera coat.  Because columnar evening dresses were of flimsy silk or muslin, it was necessary to wrap up for an evening out in one of these coats – also known as cocoon coats – which were often fur lined.  That kimono shape of inverted triangle – broader at the shoulder and tapering down to a narrower hem – is also apparent in the fashionable coat shape of winter 2013 (referred to recently in The Guardian’s fashion pages as ovoid), but in a much shorter version.

What hasn’t changed either is that the biggest buyers of haute couture these days remain the extremely wealthy with a loaded husband or father in tow– currently, Saudi wives and princesses. But for anyone with an interest in fashion’s ephemeral history, or just needing to escape the noise and bustle of Christmas shoppers on the city streets, a visit to the Chester Beatty’s Costumes Parisiens is a calm, informative haven.  And totally free.

Costumes Parisiens continues at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2 until 30th March 2014