Friday, 28 May 2010

Do young women dress badly?

There is, despite the efforts of the fashion industry and media, a chasm between who they feel encapsulates style, elegance and individuality and those that the public, i.e. us, admire. The chasm is being mined by a series of robust excavators. There is the older woman, the alternative woman, the cynic, the individualist, the eccentric and the downright doesn’t give a crap woman. All out there, at the cliff face. But it has ever been so. We get the abridged version of glamour. For every Marilyn, Ava and Rita there were a horde of heavily promoted starlets, well known in their day but now forgotten. No doubt they irritated the hell out of our grans. I know my mother’s retort to what my louche great uncle would have described as ‘dolly birds’ mentioned in a recent television 60’s nostalgia fest was “well we never thought much of her”. It goes beyond fashion, whilst I lament the execrable taste of todays teens, fortysomethings certainly hated my Gothtastic teenage appearance in days gone past.

You might describe me as biased, being an, ahem, older lady but at the moment it is the women, rather than the girls dressing with pzazz. This despite the fact younger girls have the lissom looks and slim limbs. I suspect it is because their role models, as pushed by the media are so lacking in flair. Perhaps also a lack of distinctiveness about the noughties has led to a great deal of nostalgia but the nostalgia is being poorly translated. Will Lady Gaga and Cheryl Cole be theSiouxsie Siouxs and Blondies of the era when today's teenagers are 40? the jury is most definitely out.

Just to be contentious I am going to list a few women who impress me. Not necessarily beautiful but just a bit memorable. Completely personal. But I would be interested to hear other impressions, if only for further confirmation of the fact that the media are getting it wrong or alternatively that I am just an opinionated old bat! Certainly I am no style maven myself but then again I am not plastered all over magazines. I am also going to select a few media favourites who not only leave me cold but mildly infuriated. But I will start with the 'I likes!'

Eva Green. Not very famous and doesn’t appear a lot on the red carpet but when she does...well just look at the picture above. Particularly notable is Ms Green's approach to posing for the paparazzi. I always seem to remember her photographs. She has this velvety, vampiric slippery thing going on. Along with Kristin Scott Thomas she looks comfortable wearing haute couture. If Ms Green was less attractive she would still, I suspect carry her clothes comfortably and I get the impression that a stylist is not imposing their will upon her. Grown-up Goth glamour.
Lily Allen. A contentious choice but whether she is choosing them or not I like most of the stuff she rolls up wearing. Full marks for resisting tat, being prepared to wear daft wigs and happily accepting bags of stuff from Chanel. In fact her French school girl look is very chic. And I also like that heavy fringed daft spaniel look.I also applaud is her rejection of fashionable skankiness

Marion Cotillard. OK, she’s French and now has the entire raft of French designers at her delicate fingertips. But again, it is that quirkiness, I have seen a couple of pre-fame photographs and she had that tendency then. Her clothes don’t always look fantastic but they are often interesting. Note in the picture above she is prepared not to have big blown out hair.

Camila Batmanghelidh. For colour, verve and those head dresses. This is a woman who has her style and despite being very busy with Kid’s Company keeps it up simply because she likes it. This knocks spots off of the faux trendy ethnic accessories donned by Trustafarians. Clothes that make you want to know the wearer.

Cate Blanchett. If you look closely she is not a 'pretty' beauty but a striking woman. And yes whilst her clothes veer on the blandly tasteful side they suit her and are often accompanied by surprising accessories. Seems when things go wrong the stylist has had a hand in it. But often this lady does look really elegant in the old school tense. Tilda Swinton has an element of the same kind of strong minded simplicity in her clothing.

Lulu Guinness.

Daphne, Jasmine and Lulu Guinness. Must be something in that family brew. Tranny heels and skunk hair, little forties dresses and a casual formality and handbags, red lips and pretty little suits. Spending their Guinness fortunes in a way quite unlike the Hiltons..

Jasmine Guinness

Now for the others…

The Olsen Twins. Cadaverous junky looks juxtaposed with expensive purposely – bad hair. Forgivable if you are Courtney Love but not if you are..well I am not sure what they are. Probably nice girls…but the clothes, and the posture! Someone should nail a couple of Dictionaries to their heads. As a Gothy type I appreciate the about to die approach to looks, but it requires a little romance and poeticism...

Alexa Chung. Yes I know I pick on her, but her clothes are ugly, and dull, and ill fitting and yet she is the fashion icon. All the boys had her hair cut in the 70’s, a scruffy non-hairstyle redolent of David Cassidy exiting a wind tunnel.. Her boyfriend is cute, but he doesn’t get anywhere near the attention she gets. He’s smarter too. Not difficult. Her recent rant was that US television doesn’t know how to handle gutsy independent women. Of course not, not the nation that spawned Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Oprah.

Gwyneth Paltrow. That chilly blonde farm girl beauty needs sharp masochistic tailoring but this actress for some reason makes even the most directional clothing look bland. And those horrid clumpy shoes. Sadly she has taken to wearing Stella McCartney’s dreary shapeless designs. Could probably rock a modern take on Grace Kelly but won’t because everyone would notice (so what?). Specialises in ugly shoes.

Female R&B divas. Oh and Cheryl Cole who is an R & B wannabee diva. Is it down to Lady Gaga? This explosion of trashy angular Ming the Merciless outfits, look at Rihanna. If not this approach it is porno spangles. It goes with the mad gospel style sub Whitney warbling. Those old skool hip hop girls looked a lot more fun. Mind you in those days they were not just the whipping girls for rap singers sordid imaginings. Pfah!

Labour cabinet ministers. Yes I know it is not their job to look stylish. But what with pudding bowl haircuts and badly cut suits they are not representing their core working-class voters. Why not sharp suits, heels, red lippy and a ‘shut up Tory boy’ stare? Anyway I thought it was unfair, int the interests of equality, to entirely concentrate on slagging off the youngers!

Well that’s my list in a nutshell! I’d love to hear if anyone agrees or disagrees or would like to add others. I personally know lots of intimidatingly stylish women of all ages. It’s a purely personal, and admittedly a shade bitchy opinion from someone who is not a great exemplar of fashion itself. But I am sick of being told how to look like people who look like crap. Especially as with ageism in mind they now sometimes tag on ‘at any age!’

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Graduation..Butler's Wharf Chophouse.

Very bitty week for me. The big event was my Graduation ceremony. Without wishing to sound flash it is my third so I know the general idea. As usual there was the scrum to pick up gowns and mortar boards from Ede and Ravenscroft. These were supposedly made of 'deluxe' polyester and were, up close, very shabby. Academic gowns are both uncomfortable and for most women profoundly unflattering. My previous educational establishment sought to alleviate this by making us monastically monochrome and had no truck with squares on heads. Indeed squares on heads do not enhance most faces. I had a photograph taken by the professional photographer, the result made me look very fat (even in a black cloak) and she had coaxed a facial expression out of me that expressed nothing more than a bad case of constipation. The pictures taken of me by the bearded one were better although in several of those I have a lamp post coming out of my head!

London Guildhall: Graduation venue.

Do I have tips on wearing a gown? yes. They look stupid with cocktail dresses, a shirt with buttons is essential and high heels are a good idea (full marks to my friend Helen who wore a lovely bright red pair). Oh, and academic bods, walking through a beautiful building in a formal procession: I know you are terribly important but IRON your gowns!

But a fun day and a big "congratulations!" to my fellow graduands.

After the event we had lunch at the Butlers Wharf Chop House. Not a new restaurant, but I feel it is too easy to get caught up in the endless new openings on the London restaurant scene. They in fact have a very good value lunch, 3 courses for £26.00 which for the location and the food is a steal. Sadly the sun had gone in by the time we arrived but on a sunny day there a very few restaurants in London that can compete with it for views. Straight out across the Thames and right in front of the enduringly pretty Tower Bridge. It is the perfect place to bring parents visiting from the sticks.

The Chop House's schtick is British food, an ex Conran eatery this is naturally presented through the lense of Sunday Supplement food design. Condiments and sauces are served in those little twee preserve jars and our asparagus was placed on a completely erroneous piece of paper, on a wooden platter. The family matriarch pointed out rather tartly that good old fashioned china would have been more elegant and functional. The food however was pretty good. The asparagus and oysters consumed as a starter were excellent, the meat dishes, as you should expect from a chop house were tasty and the desserts which included Yorkshire Rhubarb and ginger ice cream were tasty. In fact tastiness and decent proportions were the most obvious components of the meal. The bread that arrived with the starter and continued to be offered was excellent and the one bit of unripe rhubarb was promptly replaced. It is worth pointing out a fit for purpose wine list. These can be rarer than hens teeth. This list was well chosen, our white, a Chilean Chardonnay I think, was lovely and slipped down our thirsty throats a little too easily. In short the lunch was extremely good value and the view hard to beat.

Chop House balcony with view of bridge.

Did I say it had a nice view?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

S*T*O*P P*R*E*S*S*

Red Legs in Soho will be participating in a new Website venture soon. Watch this Space!

Orizu hats

You may recall that I mentioned Orizu millinery, who have a stall at the Upmarket, in the old Truman's Brewer 11-5 on Sundays. They looked very well made and the little 40's tilt with the cherries is tempting me.

The Hat maker herself can be contacted at:

Warning: Guerlain Rose Eternal no 161 might be discontinued!

It is sometimes a quandary, when you default lipstick is red, red and redder, what to wear on those days when pillar box shades are too much but you know there is no way YOU are going to be caught with something nudey beigey glossy and blah on your lips. Guerlains Kiss Kiss lipsticks are rich in pigment and more mattish than they seem in the tube. They are also highly scented which I like but some don't. Shade 161 Rose Eternal is a lovely mid blue pink with a piece of red pizazz still loitering in the mix. It could authentically be a 1930's or early 1950's shade and despite being a wearable daytime shade has enough colour to match any style of clothing, except perhaps denim, beige and casual cotton. Perhaps this is the reason that a sales assistant warned me it might be on the way out, something she didn't understand. So if any of you wear this shade, best stock up just in case!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Clarks shoe shop review.

Clark's reproduction 1920's shoes, note the ridge of rubber on the soles.

Many of us have a long relationship with Clarks shoes. How many of us had our unwilling feet stuck in that plastic and wood slidy contraption which would always reveal, to our mother’s horror, supernaturally accelerated footsize growth?. I think stepping into Clarks automatically made your feet swell. I hated the shop as a kiddie. Shoes were boring, and if there was a pair that wasn’t boring that was the pair your mother would reject. This was usually because they were an interesting colour, featured sequins or were decorated with super-heroes. Now shoes are as cheap as chips and todays kiddies have bells, balls and sparkly laces. The lucky little devils. When I was young trainers were at least still only sports-wear, a blissful state but the alternatives were sturdy and utilitarian and ugly. Of course now I appreciate this austerity, there is something charming about the flat chunky brown T-bar sandal.

At the moment the high street is not offering much in the way of footwear. Gladiator sandals and tranny high heels really suit, well, gladiators and trannies. I think designers have been filling in the gaps on gladiator sandals, there seems to be an ugly sock/cuff variation on the loose. The once reliably classic M & S has tried to go a bit more cutting edge, and fallen off it. Next had some lovely shoes, particularly a pair of coral red Mary Janes but sadly they looked good but did not fit. My feet are Norman, they resemble the tootsies on medieval tomb sculptures: pointy and diamond shaped.

So for the first time in a while I entered Clark's store on Oxford Street with the serious intention of buying, something, anything, to pound the mean streets of Tooting in. I was struck by how much it resembled the Clarks of the past. I could almost hear myself arguing about why a pair of glitter plastics from Brixton Market were what I really wanted as if it were yesterday. The concession with modernity was a manager with a head set organizing the shoe staff. In this case a small ferocious lady was hissing into her headset “R*** stop pissing around and help that woman in the corner.” As I left she was exhorting her legion to “Sell the handbags”.

Most of the shoes fell into what one might expect to see, but there were also some surprises. A row of fabulous jewel-coloured suede shoes, decorated with a padded lozenge (pictured above). These would work well with 40’s and 50’s styles as the heel is stacked forties style and the lozenge and colours would suit a fifties circle skirt or Mad Men style suits. This might reflect the fact that Clarks over recent years have been doing some savvy marketing and realizing that the nostalgia of consumers like myself and their history mean that they have a unique brand niche on the High Street. They have launched a heritage brand and some of their designs hark back to the past. I was taken by their buckled shoes with a decently high heel, and plan to go back and buy a pair in brown this weekend. I bought some very comfortable late 50’s style granny shoes of the type you might play bowls in. They are part of Clark's 'Bombay' range which seems to have a nice '50's lady about to climb on a pan am flight and go travelling' vibe. I have my eye on the aqua leather pair pictured below. Very comfortable, and there’s the rub, or lack of it. I found most of the shoes I tried on to be very easy to wear. Their footwear is particularly well padded, which in the case of their heels makes a massive difference. The increase in quality, compared to rivals like M&S is not reflected in the price. My shoes cost about £55.00, only £15.00 more than their equivalent in Marks but they were of far higher quality with a far better finish.

I caught myself looking around at the other customers, middle England was there as were the older clientele but the majority were stylish. The lady in front of me at the till bought 3 pairs of shoes, she was already clutching two or three large bags from Browns, a very directional designer boutique in South Molton Street. Cogitating upon this later it occurred to me that yes, surprisingly, you could actually accompany your Prada, Marc Jacobs and Marni with these shoes. And you probably wont end up with Beckhamesque bunions.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Shoreditch secret shopper strikes sullenly...

I have railed against ‘Whoreditch’ and the Max Wall impersonators that seem to teem all over it (skinny jeans, ballet pumps, birds-nest hair) so much I know I am becoming tedious. However I am only really picking at one one layer of the East End Onion. There are other peelings that annoy me: the BNP-voting lumpen elements of Plaistow, the monoculturalism of bits of Tower Hamlets and the effluential Dalston. At the same time there are tasty bits of the Onion. I have a strong family association with the City itself and particularly Smithfield. I love the architectural elements of Spitalfields, the grubby old mercantile buildings and some of the good restaurants. Although the area has never been the same since the demise of Blooms and it's gefilte fish and the slip into mediocrity of the local Indian canteens is lamentable there are good nibbles to be had.

On Sunday we ambled over to Spitalfields market. I know it should make me spit to think of what has happened to the place but I am more than aware that the only way to save a market or it’s architecture is to gentrify and artify it. The alternative is the bulldozer and the advance of more belligerent office buildings. It was the same with Borough Market which was saved by posh Spanish cheeses and pies that cost a tenner. So if Spitalfields is overrun by Hoxton Twatkids, tourists and divvy trendy mums with children called Otis so be it. But is there a reason for creatures like me, and possibly like you to traipse over there?

Well yes. If only because it is something to do, which can involve quite painless transport links. It has to be said also that there is plenty to eat and drink. It is most definitely good for food. We had brunch at Giraffe, the chain that promises ‘world food and music’ and does actually provide a very tasty Mexican breakfast. We discovered this just as the chain cannily went for the yummy mummy rah demographic and started to give balloons out. Every Giraffe is now spoilt by babies, and babies do spoil lunch, and dinner, and everything else for everyone who…well doesn’t have their own baby. However we got there early enough to miss the first baby ‘surge’. Shame that human babies are so ugly compared to other infant mammals. Now if they all looked like puppies or kittens or baby meerkats the screeching and screaming and dribbling might just be ok.

The main market was largely full of stuff of no interest, there seemed to be a lot of Chinese people selling pared down Vivien Westwoodesque jackets and cannibalised tweed seemed particularly popular as a material. There were some interesting (and if I recall long-established) stalls selling paperbacks. The shops around the market were full of up-market tat. Dolly Dagger looked to have some ok frocks and undies although a little frou frou for me. The bars and restaurants looked expensive and banal. A drink at the Ten Bells would be a better and more atmospheric option than any of the bars we saw.

On Sunday however, across the road from the main market heading in the direction of the Truman Brewery is the Sunday market. I prefer this inordinately even though it is the homeland of the ironic porkpie hat. It reminds me of Design Festa, the huge market/art exhibition/happening/concert I used to go to in Tokyo. Located in a big old empty white building it always has a couple of vintage stalls that include vintage clothes (rarer than hen’s teeth) and the chap selling Balkan music. And Balkan music makes you smile. The food here, though not necessarily the most comfortable eating experience always looks absolutely delicious and is a far better bet than anything across the road, Mexican breakfasts not withstanding.

Did I buy anything? Surely the real mark of a market is this? Well no, but that was more down to my state of advanced boracity. If I had more than basic beer money I would have. The sellers I was taken by were:

In the main market a jeweller called 'Eat Your Feet' with some witty plasticky jewellery using vintage and pop-culture motifs. In the Sunday market, food and Balkan beats aside, I liked Dan Hilliers stall of prints of his Ernst-like surreal illustrations and designs. Victorian octopus people rule. A stall called Orizu was selling the most wonderful 30’s and 40’s inspired hats, really superb and good value at £120 -£180 (if you think that is expensive have a look at how much hand made millinery costs). She wasn’t giving out cards and does not have a website and would not let me take a photograph. But hopefully she will stick it out because her tiles were absolutely lovely.

Eat your feet necklace.

Dan Hillier illustration (copyright Dan Hillier)

Eat your feet jewellery homepage:

Dan Hillier:


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