The Reading List: Stylists

20120228-093509.jpg

‘Stylists’, the new book by prodigious fashion scribe Katie Baron, promises to be the essential starter book for anyone interested in the relatively recent cult of the superstylist.

20120228-093943.jpg

The pictures are presented in a scrapbook style, seemingly torn out of magazines and pasted in, or in overlapping, slightly off-centre collage, it’s not just an homage, but also how stylists often start gathering ideas and inspiration (several of the subjects mention tearing photos out of magazines as how they first got on the road to their current career). It’s a clever conceit that neatly ties all the profiles together.

20120228-094525.jpg

20120228-094555.jpg

The stylists come from different facets of magazine publishing, from the obvious (Anna dello Russo and Lula editor Leith Clark) to the not so much (Francesco Souriges), the beautiful and the avant garde, the dark and the light. As an accurate cross section of stylists at work today, it’s definitely representational of European stylists. America doesn’t really get a look in.

20120228-095248.jpg

Each profile comes with a sampling of the stylist’s work and a two page interview, talking about his or her roots, how they got into the industry and what their creative fingerprint is. Like his work, Nicola Formichetti’s personality almost bursts out of the page. Jacob K is as quietly enigmatic as his styling might suggest. Christiane Arp weaves German pride into her issues of Vogue.

20120228-095742.jpg

20120228-095824.jpg

If you want to learn more about the superstylist phenomenon, this really is an essential buy. Even seasoned fashionophiles will find something inspiring within these pages. Katie Shillingford’s profile had me reaching for my back copies of Dazed and Confused to remind myself of just how good she is at her job, while I was pleasantly surprised to learn about German magazine, Sepp, which is a blend of men’s fashion and football (I’ve GOT to get my hands on a copy).

‘Stylists’ is informative, beautifully laid out and a great source of inspiration. Highly recommended.

‘Stylists’ is out now and published by Laurence King.

All About Mary

It really is all about Mary Katrantzou at the moment isn’t it?  From the supreme statement of print at London Fashion Week, to her lightning-fast sellout collaboration with Topshop.  I managed to snag her Topshop sleeveless blouse when I noticed that the collection had gone live at 4am instead of later that morning.  Insomnia has it’s perks.

This photos are old-ish news, but are still the most beautiful evocation of Katrantzou’s way with print that I have seen so far.

Images by Eric Madigan Heck.  What a great name.  And such photos!  I think that if Man Ray had shot in colour his fashion work might have looked a little but like this.

 

Licentiate column 23/02/12: Why can’t fashion writing be meaningful?

In the past weeks of my self-enforced writing hiatus, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. For the most part, the books are about the Bright Young Things; the witty, brittle, early novels of Evelyn Waugh, the biographies and letters of the notorious, diametrically opposed (in all senses) Mitford Sisters and the recently reissued Beaton in Vogue, which chronicles latter-day photographer and all-around renaissance man Cecil Beaton as he observes the death throes of the original party generation.

In the news, I’ve been reading an article by New York magazine journalist Amy Odell, in which she bemoans the lack of any grounded, logical or particularly insightful commentary in catwalk reportage today. If you’re into charts and graphs, the article also has an infomatic with examples of such turgid or vapid prose, all plotted on a handy-dandy axis of high to low brow, from the insightful to the ridiculous. It is well-worth looking up.

The question Odell asks is this; why is it so hard to say anything meaningful about fashion?

It is a question that I have been struggling with over the past month and one that I’m sure many people ask themselves from time to time. When external events in your life threaten to eclipse all other aspects, some of the things you used to find solace in, begin to look a little bit shallow or unimportant.

Just what is the big deal with fashion anyway? Why spend so much time thinking about it when there’s more important things going on in the world. After all, it’s only clothes. Isn’t it?

It stands to reason that it’s hard to tack on a sense of gravitas and emotion to a line of clothing. Anyone who can describe a blouse as ‘beautifully naïve’ has their work automatically cut out for them.

Flowery, dense phraseology is just as bad as its evil twin, the vacuous exclamation. Rachael Zoe has a lot more to asnwer for than popularising size sero and the bohemian hipster’ The next person who exclaims ‘I die’ within my hearing distance to describe a lusted-after top may find their final wish granted. Sometimes it’s wisest to obey the letter of the law.

On occasion, the writing verges on spoof. Who said that ‘this innocent shirt has something which isn’t innocent at all – touchability.’ Yep, this amazo shirt is ‘innocence and mayhem all at once’. If this garment was a person it would be in serious need of psychiatric examination. But it wasn’t said by a member of fashion’s elite. It’s a line from Seinfeld.

It says very little about the state of catwalk journalism that the line above could come from anywhere – maybe even the pages of New York Magazine (even if the line was spoken by personal nerd-girl style icon Elaine Benes).

I sometimes wonder what Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and Cecil Beaton would have to say about the state of catwalk reportage. All known for their powers of acute observation, sharp tongues and savage humours, I’d bet that they could have changed the way we looked at fashion writing. They had what is now missing in the descriptions of clothes; honesty, unpretrentiousness and wit. Here’s hoping that someone will pick up their long-neglected mantle.

The Lost Column: Gaultier vs. Winehouse

20120222-090544.jpg


Another day, another designer gets accused of acting in poor taste. This time it’s french couturier, Jean Paul Gaultier. The alleged victim of his questionable actions is deceased chanteuse Amy Winehouse – a woman not totally acquainted with elegance and subtlety in her tragically short lifetime.

​Gaultier unveiled a couture collection this week that was totally wrapped around Winehouse. The clothing was very Amy; nipped in pencil skirts, Fred Perry-ish polo shirt details, Back to Black ​ veils and a strap ever falling off the model’s shoulders. The models, by the way, were trussed up in beehive wigs of different colours – only the cigarettes dangling from their lips were uniform.

​Bad taste? Definitely. But an insult? Maybe not. In conversation with Vogue, Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse said, ‘To see her image lifted wholesale to sell clothes was a wrench we were not expecting or consulted on. We’re proud of her influence on fashion but find black veils on models, smoking cigarettes with a barbershop quartet singing her music in bad taste. It portrays a view of Amy when she was not at her best, and glamorises some of the more upsetting times in her life. That’s upsetting for her family’.

​Those unfamiliar with Amy Winehouse’s story will probably have a lot of sympathy. Mitch Winehouse has often acted as an unofficial spokesperson for his daughter. A totally superfluous, unnecessary, possibly exploitative spokesperson who made a lot of money from his daughters woes as well as her successes. If Gaultier is a kettle, then Winehouse is a bloody massive pot.

​Nor can Gaultier be accused of railing against type – the man did co-present the first seven series of Eurotrash (alongside Antoine De Caunes – the guy from the Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles ice pop ad – and now-deceased owner of the world’s largest breasts, Lolo Ferrarri). It’s not exactly The Royal Variety show – unless the Royal Variety has started featuring porn stars in its roster.

​Amy Winehouse herself, the third point in this couture triangle, became an item of kitsch as soon as she died. On walking down the famous Portobello Road market, you can spot alongside the red telephone boxes and teddy bear beefeaters Amy Winehouse’s face – on a plate. You can see it on paraphernalia almost as often an the queen. She has become an emblem. Of what I don’t know. Her voice has been taken from her.

​Gaultier takes a lot of trashy tropes and does what it incredibly difficult to do. He makes magic. His perfume bottles are modelled on the bodies of courtesans and caricatures of sailor rent boys. He designed Madonna’s cone bra. One of his couture collections was based around sexy little old ladies. He’s no minimalist.

​Famed fashion editor Diana Vreeland once said, ‘while good taste is innate, vulgarity is a very important ingredient… as long as it’s got vitality’.

​Gaultier has vitality, as most men who wear kilts on a regular basis do. It’s just a shame that Amy Winehouse can’t weigh in on the bad taste debate.

The Reading List: Beaton in Vogue

20120221-083743.jpg

This is the first review to go live on this blog in over a month, and what better way to blow away the fashion fatigue cobwebs than flick through the reissued Vogue portfolio of iconic photographer, illustrator and raconteur Cecil Beaton?

20120221-084221.jpg

In a career spanning five decades, Beaton came to be more than just a society photographer. Known for his relentless social climbing skills and ambition and, to a lesser extent, his devastating personal critiques, this book paints a picture of the professional traveller and journalist, with precious few glimpses into his personal life. In his tenure with Vogue, Beaton amassed an astonishing body of work, a sampling of which is lovingly showcased in a lavish and tactile paperback (don’t you love when books use more than one type of paper? Books – 1, Kindle – nada).

20120221-085019.jpg

The book is split into several sections, dealing with society, royalty, travel, war, celebrity and fashion. Essays are grouped together on matt cream paper, while Beaton’s whimsical doodles of heavy-lidded doyennes and waltzing couples cavort in the margins. As a writer, Beaton is acutely observational. Unexpectedly, this is most obvious in his war reportage, which captures the small things that personalise an otherwise homogenous mass of people fighting for a common cause.

20120221-085826.jpg

The photography is an eclectic mix; Coco Chanel rubs shoulders with Loelia Ponsonby, the first wife of her lover, the Duke of Westminister. Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Queen Elizabeth and Marissa Berenson all occupy the pages with ease.

There is little of Beaton’s work post-1960 on show, and the photographs lack the elegance, stillness and perfection of his earlier work. Perhaps Beaton’s heart was no longer in fashion photography. Perhaps technology had overtaken his preferred method of taking photos. The harsh lighting, cold exposure and permawaved 70′s models do his style no favours. However, the last portfolio of his world travels, some from the later period of his life, all display the vitality and vision of his earlier fashion work.

20120221-085752.jpg

If you don’t know much about Cecil Beaton’s work, then this is the best place to start. A must for vintage photography lovers and magazine fiends alike – just don’t expect a scandalous biography.

20120221-091100.jpg

‘Beaton In Vogue’ is edited by Josephine Ross and published by Thames and Hudson.