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London Fashion Week Special: Avoid a Fashion Week FROW Pas

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In the ten years I spent working as a fashion industry minion I witnessed many a “Oh FROW you didn’t!” cringey moment. If you find your bum hovering over the holy ground of catwalk shows, you better know how to style it out. Follow my top tips to survive and thrive front row at fashion week:

1. The Long and Short of It. 

There’s a distinctive auburn haired A-List superstar, who’s spun a whole career out of her flowing tresses. Shame that famous mane isn’t her natural colour. How do I know? Micro skirt. Front row. No knickers. She’s lucky the fashion industry has more class than to take an up the skirt shot. We’ll just gossip about it for years instead. Remember you will be sat down with people staring at you: dress appropriately. And wax.

2. The Hot Seat.

If you’re planning on pinching a front row pew and brazening it out, make sure you don’t pick the one reserved for Anna Wintour. Career suicide. I heard the young fashionista who broke this golden rule is now working on a Gloucestershire goat farm. Nobody survives the Nuclear Wintour. Bye bye fashion.

3. Recycle.

A FROW frequenter will empty their goodie bag of what they want – usually the mineral water with all those hot lights – and ditch the rest. Clinging to freebies like a grinning loon is a clear sign you’re above your seat station. Those knee-deep in VIP goodie bags don’t give a Scott’s fig and hazelnut dressing about a free lipstick. A true FROW pro will give their stash to their assistant, or leave it for the fashion students who sneaked in the back. It’s the charitable thing to do. Those students have probably been interning for free for months, they could really benefit from that organic make up: they could eat it.

4. Don’t Grin and Bear It.

Have you seen Anna Wintour smile on the front row? Victoria Beckham? Olivia Palermo? No, that’s because these ladies are professionals. The FROW is their rightful throne. They may allow a slight upward curl of their lip. The hint of a pout. That’s it. Forget taking that selfie. Fashion is serious business, people. Showing your teeth is for the dentist. Smile and you mark yourself out as an overexcited amateur. Plus it gives you face wrinkles.

5. You Old Bag.

Don’t waste a seat on your handbag. I watched a popstar do this once. Nestling their £10k treasure sac into the adjoining seat. The PRs went into meltdown, as they tried to decide who would be bumped from the front row for a bag. Ripples of shock ran through the room. One less seat is one less ticket. Fashionistas loved the handbag, but hated the popstar.

6. A Wee Issue.

Don’t let your dog wee on the catwalk. I saw some diva dogs in my fashion time; bulldogs flown business class, pugs put up in 5 star hotel suites, and chauffer driven Chihuahuas. But I’ve never seen anything quite so distasteful as a pooch peeing all over the runway as a show started. Two of the models slid in it. Catwalk carnage. Forget the puppy, the owner needed to be on a tighter leash.

7. Tweet Dreams.

You made it front row. You are a fashion goddess among mere matching outfit mortals. Own it, baby. Tell the world. Tweet. Post. Share. Though keep it humble, yeah. No one likes a bragger.

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London Fashion Week Special: My Style Icons

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As our attention is turning to London Fashion Week and our designers’ inspiration, I felt it was a good moment to talk icons. Onstage at a recent event I was asked who my style icons were. It’s a question I’ve never consciously thought about, and in the glare of eager fashionista readers’ eyes I panicked. My mind went blank. I mentally grasped for someone. Anyone. I think I said Anne Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway is very nicely turned out. She carries off her post-Fantine, ‘I sold my hair and body to feed my starving child’ haircut with the kind of aplomb few mortals could manage. She rocks monochrome better than a penguin. But, after years of working the fashion industry, I know it’s not really her who’s the style icon. Behind her look will be a team of personal shoppers, a stylist, hairdressers, make up artists, designers who will send her freebies (I’m looking at you, Karl). She will have learned the tricks of the trade after spending years being professionally tweaked and photographed.

I might be wrong. Anne Hathaway may be the exception among the ruling celebrities. By odds, there should be one or two who truly possess innate style. I’m fairly certain Kate Moss is one. Then again, she was immersed in the fashion industry at the age of fourteen. She literally grew up fashionably. But, Kate aside, I never really view those who frequently appear in the pages of the glossy magazines as my style icons. I may think: nice dress, great shoes, I wish I had your dentist. But I won’t ever consciously ape their style. It’s too constructed, too professional, too artificial. So who does inspire me? Away from the glare of the stage lights this is actually a very easy question to answer, because I draw wardrobe inspiration from so many, many people and sources. Here are just three of them:

Frida Kahlo

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Those who are not familiar with either the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, or her revolutionary self-portraits, often focus on one thing when they first see an image of her. The unibrow. Oh yes, Frida was blessed with an abundance of facial follicles. But rather than reach for the early 20th century equivalent of Immac, she embraced and celebrated the unique angle her beauty took (there’s a lesson for us all there).  An intelligent and vibrant woman, and a key campaigner for Mexican freedom, she suffered with ill health all her life following an accident in her teens. It didn’t stop her enjoying countless and scandalous (in the eyes of society) love affairs with Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and Josephine Baker, among others. Frida was a strong, beautiful woman at ease with herself. Whether you feel she’s in need of a decent pair of Tweezermans or not, you can’t fail to be inspired by the flowers she piled into the tower of her hair, the rich, embroidered textiles she wrapped round herself in the form of long multi-coloured skirts and scarves, and the heavy necklaces she layered over high necked shirts and patterned tops. Her artistic talent is showcased in her everyday apparel: she was a walking work of art.

Coco Chanel

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Not Chanel the brand – though I’ll take it if you’re offering – but Coco Chanel the person. Away from the quilted suits, and the multi-million pound ad campaigns, and the Lagerfeld extravaganzas, you’ll find the bewitching raw style of the young off-duty Coco. Many of the most endearing looks that are now cornerstones of the modern fashion industry, were worn and trialled by her first. She borrowed extensively from her own style, to create bestsllers for others. Coco was a master of effortless cool, long before Mossy was a twinkle in Croydon’s eye. Her off duty look is relaxed, comfortable, and flawless. As if she’s just grabbed the nearest item of clothing, and notched it artfully with a belt. In the photo above it’s conceivable she’s borrowed every item  from a male friend. But, oh la la does it work! She’s even accessorised with a dog: truly ahead of the pack. Coco instinctively understood the impact of personal brand. Once again, a commercial concept eons ahead of her time. She was her best advert.

Margot Leadbetter

 

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Ok, Margot isn’t strictly a real person, and therefore falls perilously close to the artifical style I dismissed in my opening paragraphs. But what an artificial style! What a creation! The snobbish suburban neighbour in the 1970s sitcom The Good Life, Margot is a comic foil to the a self sufficient Barbara Good who lives next door. While Barbara’s all old men’s cable knit jumpers and patched jeans, Margot is quintessential brash seventies kitsch. Flowing jumpsuits, floral kaftans with matching headscarves and acres of beads, I cannot deny she is a perennial style favourite of mine. I have a whole section of my wardrobe dedicated to 70s vintage that I particularly enjoy rocking at Home Counties dinner parties. Margot would be proud.

True style isn’t about designer labels, or how much money you spend on your clobber, it’s about letting your personality and creativity beam from your apparel. Inspiration for an outfit can come from anywhere: Blackadder’s Prince George’s frilly shirts and britches, the tonal shades of Autumn leaves, or the shape of a Teletubby. The more unusual the better. Your clothes project your personality, and no one wants to be generic or, worse, forgettable. Stand out. Fangirl your dressing up heroes. Embrace your loves. And if you feel brave, share your own favourite style icons below.

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On Dorothy Parker’s birthday

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Oh Dottie, you acerbic raconteur, you satirist, you writer, you alcofrolic. What fun it must have been to be part of your circle. But how you suffered. A lady born before her time. Would you have been happier in today’s (comparatively) more liberal time? Your acid wit does seem perfectly suited to the 140 character ninja chop of twitter. Doubtless you’d be up there with the twitterati. You’d have demolished X Factor and it’s ilk. Tonight I’ll raise a cocktail to you and, as I often do, savour some of your finest quips:

[When the phone rang]. “What fresh hell is this?”

 

“If you want to know what God thought of money, just look at those he gave it too.”

 

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

 

“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.”

 

“If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.”

 

“That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.”

 

“Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.”

 

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Impulse Buy: The Essential Oil Company’s Epsom Salts

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 Epsom salts

I’m a writer. I have EDS III. My neck/shoulders/back/whole body is so sore it feels like someone’s been using me as a stress toy. Magnesium Sulphate a.k.a. Epsom Salts eases muscle tension. The brown paper bag packaging looks stylish, rather than clinical or medicinal in my bathroom. Magnesium Sulphate is often lacking in modern diets and… to be honest this had me at ‘eases muscle tension’. I dropped two cup’s worth under running bath water and soaked forever. I’m actually writing this from the bath. I’m never getting out. It feels so good.

The Essential Oil Company’s Epsom Salts 2kg bag costs £9.98 and can be purchased here.

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Why I love Coco Chanel, on her birthday

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Coco Chanel was perhaps not a nice woman. There are rumours of an abandoned child, and accusations about Nazi collaboration. Murky episodes that may or may not have been vital to her survival. But then the world already had plenty of nice women. Coco was different. She was a woman who challenged the status quo.

All too often when we think of Coco Chanel we think of boucle suits, pearls, and Karl Lagerfeld at the helm of the multinational Uber brand that carries her name. All of these things are part of her legacy, but she was also instrumental in liberating women. The Belle Époque era, when Coco started out as a seamstress, saw women constrained, restrained and weighed down by crinolines and whalebone corsets. Just as they had been for most of history. Coco thought this was nonsense, opting instead to dress like a Tom Boy.

Through Coco’s designs, often based on her own style, she pioneered: the discarding of corsets, women wearing trousers, and women cutting their hair short. Those more used to the current freedoms of expression we enjoy may view these as a trifling list of trends in the ever-changing game of fashion, but they signified monumental social change. They revolutionised the way women dressed. They revolutionised the way women were seen. They revolutionised the way women saw themselves.

Coco herself achieved something during her lifetime that was beyond most of her femal contempories’ grasp: she was a businesswoman. Financially independent. Unfettered. Her life spans a period in history when women were still viewed predominantly as ‘only’ wives and mothers. Mere decoration for a man’s arm. Coco helped free women from the shackles of society’s expectations. She gave women the (literal) freedom to run, jump and stride forwards. Those aren’t just a pair of slacks and a stripy jumper she’s wearing, they’re a political statement.

Happy Birthday, Coco.

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Credit: Coco Chanel with dog from Baudot, Francois. A Century of Fashion London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

 

 

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Confessions of a Festivalnista: Camp Bestival Backstage Bites

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Bestival 1

Yeah, yeah, I know festivalnista isn’t a proper word, but neither is fashionista and I published a book with that in the title. It’s that same book that saw me invited to appear at Camp Bestival, which took place in glorious Dorset this weekend.

I’ve been to festivals before, but never one this big, and never as an artist. It’s rather lovely having an ‘Artist’ wristband. My mates (who from now on will be referred to as ‘my entourage’) pitched their tent next to Katy Hill and calmly watched Mark Owen stroll past without squealing. I’m proud of you, girls. There’s a swanky backstage bar area called The Lucky Cat. It was decorated with opium den style slouch couches, Chinese lanterns and me, reclining in various positions, sipping gin coolers. And there really are nicer toilets in the VIP area. You know you’ve arrived when you have guaranteed access to loo roll on a festival site. I was so spoiled it almost made up for feeling like a loser for most of the ten years I spent working in the fashion industry. Almost.

Lucky Cat

The Camp Bestival site is a glorious sprawl of fun and colour, spreading around and away from Lulworth Castle like a fete on hippy crack. There were some big name acts that were lapped up, got down too, and generally screamed at by my entourage (told ya), including Grandmaster Flash, The Levellers, and the quite unbeatable Horrible Histories (I’m guessing the average age of our group was a shade older than their usual audience). But for me the true joy of festivals is found away from the main stage, in the unexpected gems you stumble across. The disco tent, the inflatable church with dancing barefoot vicars, the small child in a monkey onesie chasing and leaping after a bubble. It’s what you see on the way to the big stage that you really remember. Festivals are like life in that way.

I was very lucky to do my own turn in the Guardian Literary Tent. I regaled all with my powerful insight into festival fashion tips: get a gel manicure, get a blow dry, get your eyelashes tinted…only joking. As I said on stage, I always feel so happy when I’m at a festival, is it the alcohol? The communing with nature? The fact my entourage are all with me? No, it’s because I spend four days without mirrors. At best you might come across a small shiny plastic square stuck to the back of a portaloo door, which is so fuzzy and unclear it’s like looking at an Instagram of yourself. So my true festival fashion tips are: wear what makes you happy, and what you can pee easily in. Unless you’ve got access to those artist loos, in which case go for as many complexly fastened outfits you have to fully remove to wee in, as you like.

Thank you, Camp Bestival. It was a pleasure.

Bestival

 

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The Great Gatsby Film Review

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I’m very late to the party with this review. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby must have been one of the most hyped, and most dreaded film of recent years. There’s nothing like tackling the literary love, and school text, of millions for risk taking. The critics were sniffy. I had low expectations (and a high hemline – oh yes, I’m geeky enough to have gone to the cinema in 1920s garb). I love Fitzgerald’s writing and couldn’t help but fear a Come What May, Moulin Rouge style number. Perhaps Daisy breaking into a jazz version of Madonna’s Material Girl? Oh the horror.

So I was more than relieved when I found myself enjoying the film. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby is a mesmerisingly intense cross between a psychotic stalker and a lovesick puppy. I swear you could see his blood pulse with desire for Carrie Mulligan’s Daisy, and pure hatred for Joel Edgerton’s supercilious brute Tom Buchannan. Carrie Mulligan didn’t do it for me as Daisy, but after hours of thought the only alternatives I could conjure were women who are now too old for the part, or dead. It’s a shame a new unknown gem could not have been unearthed. Tobey Maguire is pleasing as Nick Carraway, and I appreciated the film’s angle of him narrating the tale to a psychiatrist, before eventually typing up ‘his’ story in a fit of sleepless mania. There were echoes of Fitzgerald’s own life in there that reassured me Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, who jointly wrote the screenplay, were genuine fans. The ‘typing’ of the story by Nick also allowed for the famous opening and closing lines of the novel to appear like text, across the screen. A wise way to deal with, and a fitting reverence to, such deft iconic sentences.

The film was a good interpretation, in that it nailed various themes of the book: decadence, the power and carelessness of the rich, the unhealthy obsession with the past, the summation of so many icons of the Jazz age. But it could only look in the single direction the camera was pointed in at any one time. A film, in my opinion, can never have the same nuances as a book. A film speaks to your eyes and your ears, and sometimes even your heart, but never your soul. Having said that, I am a bibliophile.

Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby delivered fizzes, and sparks, and the delicious pleasure of a slow burn pace often missing from mainstream megabucks movies. I’m guessing not many big time Hollywood directors would either be allowed, or brave enough, to gamble on a slower storyline when today’s audiences are more used to quick fire, plot-racing CGI blockbusters. Fair play, Baz.

And after my earlier musical based fears, I loved the soundtrack. If anything, Luhrmann was too cautious and miserly with his contemporary tracks – as if he were frightened Jay-Z would be too much for lit lovers.

For me the film is an agreeable success, but I shall leave the final word to the two teen girls I overheard afterwards: “Wow. That wasn’t romantic. She wasn’t very nice. What’s the name of the guy who wrote it again? Nick Carraway.” Luhrmann sends his apologies, Fitzgerald.

 

Image belongs to Warner Bros.

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The Lulu Guinness Paint Project

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It’s been a while, and several months of ill-health-induced immobility, since I’ve been to a fash bash. So it was with a mixture of delirious excitement and nerves that I received my invite to the Lulu Guinness Paint Project – a fusion art and fashion event where Lulu Guinness and uber cool Beautiful Crime artist Joseph Steele decorated bags with controlled paint explosions (yes, really!) What’s a girl to do when she has to stand next to fountain of youth nymphs (the fash pack) with a walking stick? Style it out with yellow high tops, a two tone Lulu Guinness clutch and a hot friend to take photos of against the giant backdrop screens.

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Held in the Old Sorting Office, New Oxford Street, the cavernous warehouse space was filled with Lulu’s iconic hanging neon lips, a stage upon which Lulu James performed, and retro camper vans serving Lobster rolls and artisan chocolates. Topped off with a neon bar offering a plethora of Red Bull based cocktails and a thumping DJ soundtrack from Jameela Jamil, I soon found I no longer cared about my walking stick. The vibrant energetic space was intoxicating (so were the drinks).

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Joseph Steele, Lulu Guinness – holding one of the limited edition bags – and guest.

As we gathered round the roped off area to watch the high-pressured cylinders fire paint at clutches fixed to a round target, I revelled in the creative rush cutting edge fashion can deliver. Where else would you find a street artist and a fashion icon exploding paint across gorgeous bags for charity? The party definitely went with a bang.

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Celeb spots: Lauren Laverne, Laura Whitmore, Olivia Lee.

To bid on one of the limited edition paint splattered clutches please visit Ebay here. All proceeds to The Art Room charity.

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Why it is NOT okay to use your phone at a supermarket checkout

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Newspapers have reported that a customer in a south London Sainsbury’s was “stunned” when a checkout assistant requested she hang up her mobile before she would serve her. The customer complained and received an apology from Sainsbury’s, who confirmed it is not their policy to refuse to serve customers using mobile phones. I think the supermarket is wrong. I think you shouldn’t talk on your phone when someone else is serving you.

I’ve been guilty of yacking into my phone when paying for things in the past, despite spending four of my formative years working in retail. I’d pathetically mouth “sorry” to the checkout assistant as I assured myself I was SO busy I had to multi-task. It was all about me. It took a genuinely urgent call to change my ways.

I was on the way home from the office when a relative called, in great distress, to tell me how her husband had been rushed into hospital. On autopilot I popped into Marks and Spencer to get my ready meal dinner. As usual I grimaced and mimed my way through the transaction with the checkout assistant. It was only afterwards I realised I was concerned enough by the call not to hang up, but not concerned enough to forgo my garlic dough balls. My self-important, self-focussed mantra of “I’m so busy” excused me not stopping for a moment and absorbing the bad news. I didn’t give either my family member or the checkout assistant my full attention. I was disgusted with myself, and resolved never to talk on my mobile while being served in a shop again.

When I worked in retail I witnessed some extreme customer behaviour, like the couple that spent over twenty grand on baby clothes and accessories in one go. Spending more than many people earn in a year, when people are visiting food banks, may be morally ambiguous, but they did said please, thank you, looked me in the eye and didn’t talk on their phones during the (long) transaction.

That was only a decade ago. Have we grown so used to self-service checkouts we’ve forgotten how to interact with fellow human beings? Our society is increasingly polarised by the ‘strivers and skivers’ rhetoric. Are we now creating hierarchies of importance based on whether we earn more, or believe we have a more hectic lifestyle than the person serving us? Your time and concerns are no greater than anyone else’s. A person’s worth is not determined by their job title. It’s not just a question of manners it’s a question of humanity and respect. Hang up your phone, guys.

 

 

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