Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Great Fashion Designers: Brenda Polan and Roger Tredre

Over to London College of Fashion this week for the launch of a new book by Brenda Polan and Roger Tredre. The authors - both respected journalists and academics (and they still had time to publish a book?) - have chosen the 50 greatest designers of the twentieth century, 'through much debate, sometimes learned and courteous, sometimes outrageous and alcohol-fuelled.' From Charles Frederick Worth in the early days, to the nineties and Nicholas Ghesquiere, this is a timeline of commercial and creative success.

What started off as a collection of interviews; Polan for The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Independent on Sunday, Tredre for The Independent, The Observer and WGSN, morphed into 'the book we wish we had in our hands when we were feeling our way into fashion.' Each designer has a comprehensive profile followed by a handy list of books for further reading, making this perfect for students and fashion-followers alike.

And yes, there are loads of twentieth century fashion books out there but with over 30 years in the industry, Polan and Tredre give fashion history a personal spin - including an interview with Azzedine Alaia, conducted in 1982, whilst Polan was sitting on a (closed) lavatory!

Cristobal Balenciaga: 'Unquestionably the greatest fashion designer of the twentieth century.' Colin McDowell

'I decided to bring into women's wear that sort of practical, rational way of dressing that really did not exist,' Giorgio Armani told Brenda Polan in 2000.

On Calvin Klein: 'Apart from Gianni Versace, no other upmarket designer has used sex to sell in quite such an up-front (and up-front more than describes his ads for men's underpants) way.'

'Perhaps I want to question people's prejudices about what is beautiful, what makes a lady beautiful. Through fashion I try to re-evoke the past and reflect on it,' Vivienne Westwood told Polan in 1991.

On Azzedine Alaia: 'There were no press cuttings for some basic research so the bread-and-butter questions had to be asked. In response to one of the first Alaia was evasive but charming. 'How old? Does it matter? I am as old as the pharoahs.'

Balenciaga photo: Getty Images
Cover photo and catwalk shots: Chris Moore

Friday, 27 November 2009

Skate at Somerset House

Friend and fellow blogger AskHat once asked me to go ice-skating at Somerset House. This wasn't just any old skating, it was Time Out Singles Skating, and fortunately being able to skate wasn't essential. We were single and that was what really mattered.

During our session on the ice (I use that term very loosely), my confidence grew and suddenly I was teaching a poor young man to skate. Must have been the novelty of finding someone even more pathetic than I was, clinging to the barrier. Hey, at least I was moving! Needless to say, new friend, Marco, landed flat on his face, and promptly left the rink. Hat and I followed to apologise and offer a conciliatory plastic cup of mulled wine. Skates off and dignity intact, we headed to the bar, where we met Marco's friend, the lovely Dan.

That was seven years ago, today! Hat and Dan are married now, with a bump (due in January), so how about that for a real-life love story on ice?

Oh and Tiffany sponsor the rink. This charm bracelet is a holiday gift, the ice skate is very cute, not cheap (£115) but I think Hat would quite like one....

Somerset House photo from Time Out

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Hooray for Vionnet!

Yesterday's issue of The Times featured a selection of gorgeous red party dresses - two from designer du jour, Madeleine Vionnet. And isn't it lovely to see an older model, looking gorgeous and sexy, rather than mutton-y and freakish, as in The Guardian Weekend magazine? (But that's another post!)

Anyway, rant over, now for a bit of history. Vionnet's fashion house closed in 1939 because of the Second World War and also, 'Because I'd had enough,' madame said later. The label relaunched in 2006, in collaboration with Barneys, New York, and designer, Sophia Kokosalaki - another mistress of elegant drapery - seemed like a perfect match. Not so. Several designers later, and now under new ownership, Vionnet showed a cruise collection for 2010 at Paris Fashion Week. Rudolfo Paglailunga (ex-Prada) is currently working his magic at the drawing board.

Photos: Zac Frackelton, as featured in The Times

Styling: Eve Thomas

Dresses by Vionnet from Selfridges (0800 123 4000)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

I love Paris, Madeleine Vionnet and er, Eurostar.

OK, OK so I probably don't actually love the Eurostar train - though it has made going to Paris a doddle - and this week Mr That's Not My Age did say he was thinking of taking up bird-watching, so we may turn into a twitcher and a trainspotter, who knows?! Anyway, let's leave our middle-aged hobbies out of this, and concentrate on Paris.

'It was never hard for me to create my first dresses,' said Madeleine Vionnet, 'they came out of me like a baker baking dough. It was later, towards the end of my career that it was more difficult for me. Because I had invented everything.' And whilst, the mistress of bias cut may not have been the most modest designer on the Rue de Rivoli, she's certainly not wrong. The current exhibition at Les Arts Decoratifs, Paris, shows off 125 stunning dresses from the 1920s and 30s (du soir et du jour) all of which are beautifully made and utterly timeless. Guest starring the wooden mannequin Vionnet engineered her scaled-down frocks on, and a fantastic animation of the one-seam dress (I watched it three times and still can't explain how it works, sorry!), it's easy to see why Mme Vionnet was viewed as 'an artist of fashion.'

As a special treat, I'll leave you with another quote, from madame (on good taste), some French bicycles and a lovely postcard from the museum shop (I'm saving up for the Vionnet book).

'Taste is a feeling that makes all the difference between what is beautiful and what is ugly! It is transmitted from mother to daughter. But some people don't need to be educated, they are innately tasteful. I think I'm one of them.'

'Madeleine Vionnet, puriste de la mode’, is on at Les Arts D√©coratifs, 107 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris; + 33 01 44 55 57 50, until January 31 2010

Vionnet photos from Les Arts Decoratifs

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Quote of the week: Bill Nighy

A couple of years ago, the brother in Manhattan very kindly treated me and Mr That's Not My Age to tickets to The Vertical Hour on Broadway, starring Bill Nighy, 59, and Julianne Moore, 48. Yes, yes we are too glamorous, I know! Seeing both actors close-up was beyond exciting - and if the play hadn't been so trite, I might have fainted in ecstasy. As you'd expect, Nighy was brilliant, Moore was gorgeous and David Hare was over-rated.

Anyhow, enough of the showing off, my quote of the week is Bill Nighy explaining to The Guardian why he doesn't do Shakespeare:

'The absence of classical work in my repertoire is due to the fact that I can't wear those trousers,' he says. 'It makes me sound very shallow but I've done some really serious plays in a decent lounge suit.'

Funny and stylish, don't you just love him?

Photo: David Levene

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Street Style: More Mid Century Modern

'My granny in Nigeria knits my hats for me,' says Moses Otunla, 45, 'every time I go she has three or four waiting.' Moses has been selling vintage furniture for over 10 years (mainly to Mr & Mrs That's Not My Age!) His fantastic shop, Bleu, is in Herne Hill.

Stuart Paterson, 43, buys antiques and art for clients. When we bumped into him, Stuart was buying for himself. He collects ugly anglepoise lamps and has a 'small forest of them at home.'

Simon White, 42, and Rumina Haji, 41, (Haji & White) sell vintage posters and antiques . Simon cuts a dash in his Kangol hat and heavy cotton jacket from a Parisian flea market. Rumina looks fab in a 70s Swedish housecoat.

'I'll try not to give myself 80 year old lips!' said Maxine Siwan, 49, re-applying her lipstick before being snapped. Maxine works as a consultant for Liberty, and has the wardrobe to prove it. McQueen scarf, Pauric Sweeney bag...I won't go on.

Photos: Stephanie Rushton

Monday, 16 November 2009

Street Style: Mid Century Modern

Meet Austin Vince, 44, and Lois Pryce, 36. Inspired by early Robert Redford movies, the dashing Mr Vince customises retro overalls, and, apparently, is the only person in the world to do so. If you'd like a pair, please contact him at

Mildred Palmer, 47, and Jo Barber, 52, both work for Margaret Howell. Mildred is rocking a Uniqlo shirt and recently cultivated quiff. Jo has opted for Gap jeans, a second-hand cashmere cardi and her classic suede coat (Margaret Howell, of course).

Mr Id, 41, is a vintage furniture dealer who runs an online business and a lovely shop in Honor Oak Park. He firmly believes that we should forget the flatpack, and spend our money recycling old furniture instead.

We were so excited when we saw Lydia Sheppard, 81, that we stopped her on the stairs and caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Lydia worked as a doctor in Saudia Arabia during the 1980s, which is where she found this eye-catching silk blouse.

Lorna Leslie, 49, is obviously a bit handy with a needle and thread, she made this stylish textured coat herself. Looks good with her old Issey Miyake tunic, no?

Photos: Stephanie Rushton

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Colin McDowell blog

Colin McDowell has started blogging. Often described as one of 'the world's leading fashion commentators,' and not just on his own website, the man with over 30 years experience in industry and a shelf-full of books to his name, really is the grand daddy of fashion journalism. The straight-talking, Sunday Times Style writer has penned profiles on Galliano and Blahnik, been banned from Balenciaga and once said, he'd 'never met an intellectual fashion designer.'

As you can imagine, commenting on McDowell's blog is a nerve-jangling experience, particularly when you consider his comment during an interview with Fashion Week Daily (2006), 'A man like Karl Lagerfeld is highly cultured, with a huge breadth of experience and knowledge. But among today's media, he's casting pearls before swine.' Ouch! But, last week, I managed to steel myself and have a go, leaving a comment on his The Power of a Name (when is a designer not a designer?) post, followed by a restless night, then an early morning stint online to write a PS note.

And, whilst I'm on the subject of the legendary Colin McDowell, could somebody please tell me why the Sunday Times Style dropped his fabulous Fashion Moment series? It's been gone for over a year now, but I still mourn it's passing. In fact, I'm starting a petition right now: bring back the Fashion Moment! And if that doesn't work, Colin, may I suggest you start working on an anthology?

Please leave a comment below if you'd like to see the return of the Fashion Moment:

Photo of Colin McDowell from

Monday, 9 November 2009

Mid Century Modern: Zoe Murphy

Margate. The Kent coastal town that provided inspiration for JMW Turner and TS Eliot, may not be what it used to be, but it has been featured on The Apprentice... and is still surprisingly influential today. 'Until I moved away to university, I hadn't really thought about living miles from the coast or not having a theme park round the corner,' says designer Zoe Murphy, 'it made me thankful that I come from such a visually interesting place.'

At 23 years old, Murphy may be well below our usual age limit, but all her lovely hand-crafted, mid-century furniture is above and beyond the big 4-0. 'I always use retro pieces and try to show people that they don't have to give up on something because it's old and tatty,' she says, 'having faith in an item, or town, can bring it back to something beautiful.' Mmm...that's a lot of faith if, like That's Not My Age, you're from Blackpool...

Re-use is vital to Murphy's ethic of 'love what belongs to you' and the textiles graduate lovingly restores and recycles second-hand furniture with Formica veneers and printed imagery inspired by her hometown. From antiques dealers to house clearance specialists, Murphy has a large group of people looking out for her,' I also do a lot of the hunting myself - one of the perks of the job! So most of my weekends are spent searching through charity shops, auctions and boot sales. It's wonderful to learn the social history of pieces and talk to people about the part they played in their lives.'

Back on the Kent coast, Murphy realises that it's not just the furniture that's getting a facelift. Dilapidated, old Margate, is very slowly undergoing urban regeneration. OK, so there are still loads of boarded up shops but the seaside shelter where Eliot wrote part of The Waste Land, is now a grade II listed building, work on a permanent Turner gallery is under way (due to open in 2011), and Murphy has an artist's studio in a converted pie factory. 'I can feel the regeneration that's going on in my defiant little hometown, and I want to stick around for a few years to help Margate pull itself back to its feet.' Are you listening Tracy Emin?

Zoe Murphy will be at Mid Century Modern, Dulwich College, on Sunday 15th November.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

70s Style and Design: Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop

A special mention this week for the lovely Dominic Lutyens, 48, who together with co-author Kirsty Hislop has just published a book on 70s style and design. Lutyens is a brilliant arts journalist who writes regularly for Elle Decoration, Vogue, The Observer, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. The equally lovely Hislop, is a writer and stylist who has worked for Elle and The Observer.

The pair met at a party in the late 80s and bonded over a love for 70s disco, 'Then it was round to Dominic's to listen to Cerrone and Giorgio Moroder,' says Hislop, 'While poring over his mum's vast collection of 70s fashion magazines.' Twenty years later, this proves to be time well spent - previously unreleased photos and information on some of the era's more obscure designers sits alongside all the big names, "We wanted to explore the lesser know and in some cases forgotten designers of the decade,' adds Lutyens, ' without neglecting such perenially fascinating episodes of 70s history, such as Biba and punk.'

Focusing on 70s cool, not synthetic fabrics, flares and the usual tat, this inspirational book covers fashion, design, architecture, interiors and art. Divided into four themes: the pop movement and the rise of postmodernism; the Edwardian, 20s and 30s revivals; the back to nature movement and finally the decade's avant-garde movers and shakers, we get to read about Alan Aldridge, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Daniel Hechter, Jean Paul-Goude, Mr Freedom and Mrs Howie. As well as old favourites; Barbara Hulanicki, Laura Ashley, Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood.

So you can forget Jon Savage's 'The decade that taste forgot,' line (The Face, February 1988). As Lutyens points out, 'A lot of looks that were born in the 70s, such as the Debbie Harry/Fiorucci look became associated with the 80s instead, because the mainstream was slow to catch up.' And anyway, the only quote that matters now is from Thames and Hudson's press release, 'Seventies Style and Design is a must for nostalgic 40 to 60-somethings or younger people seeking style inspiration.' That sentence alone is enough to get me filling my electronic shopping trolley.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Anish Kapoor is 54

One of the good things about being over 40 is that you can get up bright and early on a Sunday morning, sans hangover, and visit museums and galleries (did I really just say that?). This weekend it was Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy of the Arts - aware that this was a blockbuster show, me and Mr TNMA didn't even stop for breakfast. First in line, it wasn't long before we had a long queue behind us. And whilst waiting for the doors to open, who did we see over in the member's queue - Michael Byrne from Coronation Street (Gail Tilsley's dad, Ted), who looks much more handsome and stylish in real life. We liked his Harris Tweed cap and Fantastic Mr Fox cord jacket.

Once inside we swooned over Kapoor's beautiful work. Particularly in the room with polished sculptures, which was a bit like being drunk in a hall of mirrors, that extra glass of vin rouge probably wouldn't have made much difference after all. Even Anish Kapoor failed the breathaliser test...

Just in time to see 'Shooting in the corner' in action. The canon fires red wax across the room at regular intervals creating a sloppy sort of sculpture. Nobody told us it was going to be that loud, and so we weren't surprised to see Mr Byrne clutching his chest.

Embarrassingly, That's Not My Age got told off for trying to take a sneeky photo of Svayamb - or slow train moving through wax - though perhaps the attendants should be more concerned about visitors touching the exhibits....

And finally, it was time for an extra special breakfast at The Wolseley (OK now I'm starting to sound really poncey, this was a one-off, OK?!) - where we spotted Michael Byrne and Sam Taylor-Wood, though not together obviously, he's far too old!

Exhibition and Anish Kapoor photo by Johnny Shand-Kidd from the Royal Academy website
Black and white shot from the New York Times
Svayamb photo from The Guardian
Hand print photo from TNMA Pictures Ltd

The exhibition runs until December 11th 2009. Street Style at the Royal Academy coming soon.

PS Mr Kapoor is 55 now, but that doesn't sound so good.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Street Style: Man About Town

On a recent trip-ette with photographer, Neil MacKenzie Matthews and his daughter, Isabel (half-term, not child labour), we met a couple of very stylish blokes. You won't be surprised to hear that Savile Row was just around the corner... though strangely, Isabel was more interested in Abercrombie & Fitch.

He's French, he's called Eric and he looks good on camera - ooh aah (sorry, that's one for the football fans!). Eric Dieumegard, 47, looks effortlessly stylish in a black single-breasted Joseph suit and Zara shoes.

Olle Berggren, 62, is a journalist for the Swedish daily newspaper Expressen. He lives in Malmo and likes to shop in Copenhagen. Olle has dressed down his Joseph jacket (now, what are the chance of that?) with a pair of old jeans and chocolate suede Paul Smith shoes. His scarf is from Cos.