Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Quotes of years past

In Famous people on December 31, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Over the years it has become my little tradition to make the first column of each New Year a collation of the best quotes I’ve come across over the previous 12 months, from fashion people and fashionable people (two quite distinct groups…).

So to celebrate the first New Year column of this blog, I’ve put together my favourites from years past.

Reading through them all again, I was struck that I could have done the whole thing pretty much just from the words of Karl Lagerfeld, Joan Collins, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham.

How I’d love to sit round a dinner table with those four. That really would be my dream combo. And to even out the numbers I’ll also ask along Tom Ford, David Beckham and Bill Nighy, OK?

But wait – who shall I sit next to?

‘I’m a fashion nympho. I continue because I have no orgasm.’
Karl Lagerfeld.

‘I liked being fat for a change. I had the best time.’
Kate Moss on pregnancy.

‘Sex is one of the best and cheapest beauty treatments for women.’
Joan Collins.

‘The truth is women who try hardest to look sexy are in fact the ones who make love the least.’
Miuccia Prada (I’d quite like to have Miu Miu to the dinner too, actually).


‘I’m sad for the other designers.’
Karl Lagerfeld, commenting on the news that Chanel’s sales are now said to be worth $2.2 billion a year worldwide.

‘I get so pissed off when people call me [a control freak]. If you’re a designer, it’s your job to control. You don’t find novelists saying, Sure I’ll write a novel, somebody else can be responsible for the words…?’
Tom Ford.

‘I love Brazilian waxes. They ought to be made compulsory at 15, don’t you think?’
Victoria Beckham.

‘We’re being trained up as a bunch of consumers rather than thinkers.’
Vivienne Westwood on education.

‘Nowadays you don’t have to be rich to have beautiful things. If people have ugly things, it’s because they’ve got no taste.’
Karl Lagerfeld, when he launched his cheap as chips range for chain store H&M.

‘I believe in good old-fashioned Botox, collagen and a little bit of a face-lift when you need it. You should take care of your skin, but when your neck is hanging down to your shirt collar, nothing is going to help that other than having that trimmed away.
Tom Ford (hmmm, might have to bring this subject up with Tom during the main course).

‘The word fashion, I don’t like it. I like to buy a jacket and know that it suits me, that it’s mine.’
Ralph Lauren.

‘I hate the idea of a ‘young designer’. For me, a good designer is a good designer. After 22, nobody is young. They are grown-up. It’s bad to use ‘young’, it’s like an excuse. Alexander McQueen is a good designer – he doesn’t need ‘young’.’
Karl Lagerfeld.

‘I’ll do my own hair – unfortunately for the world.’
Donald Trump.

‘I don’t want to look young. I want to look good. Cosmetic surgeons just want to make you look young. I think Botox is poison. And injecting fat into your face makes you look like a chipmunk.’
Joan Collins (I can’t wait to hear what she has to say to Tom on this subject at my dinner).

‘It’s like planning a dinner party. You need to have the pretty girl, the controversy, and something reassuring.’
Anna Wintour reveals the magic formula for editing US Vogue. (Do you think I should invite her too? But would it make it too hard for Tom and Karl to relax? Make it into business for them? She can come another time.)

‘[Naomi Campbell] looks like you could snap her in two but she’s a tough-ass, kick-ass woman. I would actually like to fight her. I think for all the people that she’s beaten up she needs a big 200 pound lesbian to kick her ass.’
Rosie O’Donnell.

‘I was at a party the other day when Tom Hanks came bounding over. He said: “I’m so thrilled you and David are coming over. I’m going to get a season ticket to watch LA Galaxy now.” All the time he was talking I was just thinking, “It’s Forrest Gump! And he knows who I am.”’
Victoria Beckham. (Obviously this is how we will all be feeling about everyone else at my dinner…)

‘If I want a black shirt, I’ll find out my size and go and get one. Sharon has to look through every shirt in the shop. I end up losing it.’ Ozzy Osbourne. (Would quite like to have him, but I can’t stand her, so I won’t complicate things.)

‘I must be the only person in LA that doesn’t want to be in films. Have you seen Spice World?’ Victoria Beckham.

‘Paris is thick and sometimes looks like a transvestite. Also, she’s a socialite and I’m not.’
Peaches Geldof, on why she is nothing like Ms Hilton.

‘David (Beckham) is a better footballer than me, but my fragrance smells better than his.’
P Diddy. (Obviously not on the list, ever.)

‘I used to think that prizes were damaging and divisive, until I got one. And now they seem sort of meaningful and real.’
Bill Nighy.

‘I don’t answer those humiliating questions. But whichever one it is, I look good in ’em!’
Barack Obama shows true style, answering the tacky boxers/briefs question. (Would have loved to have them over, but it’s such a bore with all the secret agents. Next time.)

‘I’m a few martinis in and I have no idea what I’m wearing; so let’s just say it’s vintage.’ Uma Thurman’s creative answer when she couldn’t remember who her outfit was by when asked at a film screening. (A possible for a future guest list, don’t you think? I can mix a good dirty martini, she’d like that.)

‘You’re easy on the eyes. You really are. If you want to take off anything, you can.’
Ellen Degeneres chats frankly to David Beckham on her talk show. Love Ellen, but not going to invite as she would be too much competition when I’m talking to Dave, as I like to call him. Davy boy.)

‘Recently I was in Rio on the beach and I was struck by how beautiful young, very fat women are. I mean really obese. So I did a lot of pictures of young, fat girls, with loads of love handles and big bottoms… What’s really, really ugly is skinny women naked. I’ve photographed a lot of thin women.’
Fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier has an extraordinary flash of insight.

‘I am extremely happy to have quit from fashion … all of the designers are doing the eighties. I hate the eighties. I did it, and I hate it. When I go to see my dresses of the eighties, I vomit.’ (He is definitely coming to the next dinner. Did you see the film? So much love for those two.)

‘I remember once being sent to India for a weeklong assignment with nothing more than £20. When I asked my editor, How am I supposed to pay for everything? he said, “Oh, just find a maharajah with a palace.” And I think I did.’
Anna Wintour, 2009.

‘David and I are always in the school. We go and serve up hot lunches. It’s the same food we used to get at school – turkey twizzlers… I’d rather go to the school than have dinner at The Ivy.’
Victoria Beckham. (That makes the menu easy. I’ll get some twizzlers in for her. Karl can have a plain steak. David can have anything he wants.)

‘Dark glasses are like portable eye shadow and the world looks more beautiful through tinted glasses. Everybody looks 10 years younger. That is why I wear dark glasses anyway.’
Karl Lagerfeld.

‘I like wearing skirts and high heels and stuff like that. I don’t see it in a way that it’s like women suffering. I see it in a way it’s like women get to have all the fun.’
Marc Jacobs (who is not invited to the dinner).

‘I found out when the whole world found out. I said: “It looks white. It looks like mine…” I had a box of pizza and I nearly fell over. I was sitting there with my friends, and they were screaming.’
Designer Jason Wu about the moment he realised Michelle Obama had chosen to wear his gown for the Inauguration Ball.

‘You gotta mean it, mean the stance. You’ve got to have presence, no matter what happens. I’ve lost my skirt, my top’s fallen off, I’ve fallen down. When I fell down, I thought, what do I do? I remember this silence everywhere while I was on the floor. But you keep going. You pick yourself up. Keep walking and smiling, never run off.’
Naomi Campbell (who I would have asked, because we got very well when I interviewed her, but I know other people are a bit funny about her – See Rosie O’Donnell above – and I don’t to risk wrecking the perfect balance).

‘Being a singer and living my life like this is the only thing I know how to do. I don’t have any form of CV. I’m not trained to do anything else useful. I did typing in year 11 at school and I was pretty good at it – and maybe I’d look good in a secretarial outfit.’
Kylie Minogue (who I will invite when I have Uma over. I’ve interviewed Kylie twice and she’s a great girl).

‘There wasn’t a star in Hollywood back in Marlene Dietrich’s era that was as thin as today’s actresses.’
Maria Riva, Marlene Dietrich’s daughter.

‘She comes in at bedtime and says, “Mummy, do you think this is a good look?” and then she has a fashion crisis. Now we lay the clothes out before she goes to bed but then she goes, “Mum, I need options”.
Kate Moss on her daughter, Lila Grace (obviously Kate and I would have a lot to discuss in this area, having daughters the same age…)

‘I believe in lashings and lashings of make-up. The women I know who have worn it since they were teenagers look better than those who haven’t because it protects your skin.’ Joan Collins

‘They’re my burka.’
Karl Lagerfeld on his ubiquitous sunglasses (which he is entirely allowed to wear at my dinner table).

An old rose by another name…

In Fashion shows on December 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Did you all have a lovely Christmas? I did. And thank God it’s over for another year ha ha ha.

And did you all have lovely presents? My best one was given to me by my lovely brother, Nick. It’s a copy of the collected Molesworth books, signed personally to me, by the legendary illustrator Ronald Searle.

I cried when I opened it. I keep going to check it’s still there, as I can’t quite believe I own such a special thing. When I’m a bit more together in the New Year, I’ll scan the inscription in and put it on my other blog, which is all about books.

Meanwhile, here is your mid-week archives special. I’m not sure when it dates from, probably around 2005.

Loewe autumn/winter 2007

One of the great challenges of covering the European fashion shows for a daily newspaper – apart from trying to see whether that black fabric is leather, PVC, or duchess satin, from the 8th row in a very dark disused factory behind a very tall person wearing a large hat – is naming the colours as you see them.

The outfits come and go incredibly fast and if you don’t get the exact shade down in your notes right then you certainly won’t remember 12 hours later when you are back in your hotel room tapping out a 350 word story for a fast approaching news deadline, having seen five other fashion shows in between.

Especially as you will (if you are me) have spent the previous 35 minutes weeping down your mobile phone to technical help trying to make your global roaming work. And you might have had a glass of wine or two with dinner. Hic.

Naming colours is part personal code and part reportage – the idea is that the scribbled note will trigger your own memory, but you also want other people to know what you mean by ‘bilberry’, in relation to a pair of satin knickerbockers and to be able to summon up an instant mental image of the particular shade of rich greeny blue known as ‘teal’.

I have often thought about this process as I scribble ‘donkey’, ‘cocoa’, ‘mud’, ‘snuff’ and ‘tobacco’ in relation to various shades of brown (and believe me you needed to speak fluent brown in Milan last season), but I’d never discussed it with anyone else until the Loewe show in Paris this March.

A lot of the clothes in this rather unsatisfying collection were in a very specific dirty pink. It reminded me of the colour of old plastic dolls’ legs, the kind with matted hair you find in charity shops, but that was too long to write down. It also was a little like unwashed 1920s corset. A 1950s shop window dummy. Greying sticking plaster.

After the show I was discussing this ticklish shade with a fellow fashion journo and she called it ‘Calamine lotion’ which delighted me. A perfect precise description of a dusty flesh pink with lots of white in it, which made you feel a bit queasy. And quicker to write than the dolls’ legs thing.

Some fashion houses do supply notes on the garments they are showing which are very helpful and I always love reading their names for the colours – the more fanciful the better – but what I had never thought of until now is comparing them to what I had written.

The notes for the Loewe show called that dirty dolls’ legs pink ‘old rose’ which I thought was pushing it a bit. Very old rose. Very old unloved rose. Very old and possibly smelly unloved rose in the bottom of a damp cardboard box in the back of a shed behind an empty house where dead dogs could lurk.

Other colours detailed in that show’s notes were: chestnut, caramel, peach, Havana, chalk, bronze and moss (and black, of course, but that hardly merits notation, it’s just assumed). Looking back at my notebook I had called them: tan, toffee, biscuit, tobacco, putty and, yes, moss. I don’t know what happened to the bronze. I must have been blinking when the ‘bronze ribbon dress’ sashayed past.

Considering how subjective colour appreciation is, I’m actually quite amazed how close my descriptions are to the official ones. ‘Caramel’ and ‘toffee’ are clearly the same colour, as are ‘Havana’ and ‘tobacco’, although ‘putty’ is a slightly duller shade of grey white, than the more pristine ‘chalk’ and must have reflected my sinking feeling about the clothes in that collection.

Although it could have been worse. Flicking through my notes I have found one show where I described a colour as ‘baby poo’.

Ointment Pink



Three colours from the masters of subtle shades – and naming them – Farrow and Ball.

Anna in Oxford

In Famous people on December 21, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Here is your mid-week special. I did try and find one that was seasonally appropriate, but then I decided a break from Christmas might be a bit of a relief.

This is from 2007 when I was still covering the shows in Milan and Paris. Oh happy happy days. And before that great film ‘The September Issue’ came out…

I saw Anna Wintour in Oxford. It was so strange. Like seeing a unicorn in a shopping centre. A creature from another world, suddenly dropped down here among the humdrum mortals.

Not that Oxford is quite the real world. In winter, without the roaming herds of American tourists and despite the ordinariness of its chain store shopping strip and ugly traffic system, it still maintains its extraordinary Hogwarts magic.

I was strolling about with my brother Nick, who lives there, on his personal tour of ‘Oxford’s back passages’. En route to one of the obscure little vistas he loves to share, we came round the corner from the Bodleian Library going towards the Radcliffe Camera and there she was admiring a building. Miss Wintour. It was so odd.

Not because I have never seen the international-fashion-legend editor of American Vogue in the flesh before. Quite the opposite. I spend about four weeks a year seeing her every day at the Milan and Paris fashion shows. I have stood behind her in the loo queue at the Milan exhibition centre for heaven’s sake. It was seeing her completely outside that fashion context that was so strange. It made me feel quite unusual.

Enjoying a family outing on a wintry English Sunday, I was definitely in civilian mode (jeans, trainers, pea coat, Greek fisherman’s cap), but she seemed still very much on duty, as immaculately dressed as ever in a boxy fur jacket (Prada), a neat burgundy tailored skirt and very high-heeled boots. Her bobbed hair was as sleek as ever, her legs were still pin thin, she was wearing her signature black sunnies, and she wasn’t carrying a handbag. Situation normal.

She never seems to carry one at the shows. Rather as the Queen never carries money. Everyone else is either lugging around their entire life in a shoulder-breaking fashionista tote (notebooks, mascara, mineral water, mobile phones etc), or sporting this season’s prestige bag in an extra-small size that indicates the limo waiting outside. Anna just saunters in holding a leather bound notebook.

The chauffer-driven girls are making the statement that they have all their other gear in the car – Anna probably has a hair and make up artist, a private secretary and a juice bar in hers.

Anyway, I felt quite discombobulated seeing her there in Oxford, just on the street like that, not surrounded by a milling hubbub of fashion folk. I felt strangely caught out and found myself doing a mental check of my outfit, which I decided just passed muster – they were the right trainers – although strictly speaking the Greek fisherman’s cap was very Celine three seasons ago.

I also felt strangely excited. As though we had come round the corner smack into Jennifer Anniston, or Gwynneth Paltrow, or some other real superceleb. Anna is just as world famous to a silly fashion head like me. But seeing her there seemed so extraordinary I wanted to rush up and ask for her autograph, or her blessing, or a job ha ha ha.

But mostly I wanted to trail her for the rest of the day to find out what she was doing there. There were certainly no fashion shows in the vicinity. She was just walking along with a tall distinguished-looking man, who may or may not have been her ex-husband, the psychologist. He was wearing a tweed jacket and certainly looked very much the handsome academic.

If it was him, maybe they are considering sending one of the their children to study there and were checking out the colleges. It certainly looked like a private visit. Had it been anything to do with work, there is no way it would just have been her and one chap. She would have been surrounded by a coven of skeletal fawning harpies in black clothes and talon heels.

And that was what was so weird for me about the Oxford visitation. Miss Wintour stood out so boldly in the context of ‘real life’, it made me realise just how insane the microcosm of the fashion show season really is.

Because through that looking glass she looks quite normal.

Just to remind you that I won’t be filing a column this Saturday, as it’s Christmas day and you’ll all be too busy opening presents (and perhaps the odd bottle…) to read it.

So let me take this chance to wish you all a very very happy Christmas and to thank you all for making my new venture into the blogosphere such fun.

You totally rock.

Born to shop

In Shopping on December 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Maybe a lobotomy would do it. That might be the only way to curb my insatiable enjoyment of the act of shopping, if the scientists who are researching genetic predispositions to love – or to loathe – spending money are right.

I read about the research in an article by my esteemed former colleague Fenella Souter (the person who had the idea that I might have a go at writing these columns twelve years ago…) and I’ve been obsessing on it ever since.

The feature, which I did of course tear out to file for future use and immediately lost, centred on an Australian couple whose life’s work it is not to spend money. By following a disciplined regime and pre-planning, they maintain themselves and their three children on a weekly budget that would just about cover my toiletries spend.

They would never, for example, leave the house without a damp cloth in a plastic bag and be forced to buy their toddler a new top after a food spill, as some mothers have been known to do (*whistles innocently*).

They’ve made a business out of such sensible habits, with a website of money-saving tips which is enthusiastically embraced by many thousands of people who feel as they do about parting with cash. Horrified.

There’s a similar phenomenon in the UK with Martin Lewis, of Martin’s Money Tips, becoming something of a daytime TV celebrity, with his excited updates of money-off vouchers for Burgerking, 40% off at Matalan and three-for-two deals at Legoland. Barely a day goes by that I don’t delete one of his newsletters from my Inbox.

But it seems I’m wrong to see such penny pinching as a Scrooge meanness of spirit when it is, according to the scientists in Fenella’s article (who I cannot find on Google despite all my best efforts), a genetically determined setting.

So that friend who always seems to disappear off to the loo when it’s their turn to get a round in, and excitedly haunts the reduced section of dented, sell-by date achieved goods at the back of the supermarket, may actually find it emotionally challenging to part with money. Painful.

Then there are people like me who bloody love it.

Even apart from the simple base appeal of wanting stuff (see previous post, Inspector Gadget), I have come to understand that I get a bit of a hit at the moment of handing over the moola.

It’s a bit of a risky thrill, which is presumably why some people get clinically addicted to it. And shopping is, in it’s way, a form of gambling, isn’t it? The odds I’ll ever wear that polka dot vintage dress that was a last-minute impulse buy at the Sydney Antiques Centre? About 7 to 1.

And during this annual period of particularly intense and focussed shopping, I’ve realised I also really adore the lead up to the purchase moment.

I relish the planning of the expedition – preparing a list, researching the sources, setting off – then the active part, making choices, and finally best of all, carrying home the loot, gives me a sense of satisfaction unmatched by almost any other activity. I really feel I’ve achieved something. Job done.

Presumably this is exactly how the Scrimpers feel when they push their way through the Legoland turnstile, munching on their bargain burgers, sparks flying from their Matalan outfits. Wallets still well stuffed.

Most pleasingly, both genetic settings make sense according to my long-held Darwinist theory of shopping. Spenders like me, who get pleasure from searching for and acquiring stuff, are descended from the most successful gatherers of the hunter gatherer period.

Our antecedents survived because they were the ones most skilled at locating and collecting the choice nuts and berries. So I can only assume that the Scrimpers come from the line of prime hoarders, the guardians of the clan’s food store, who hated parting with it and always had some stashed away when the pickings were thin.

Now I know it’s biological, I can see the merit in both mindsets. And with the money I’ve saved on the lobotomy, I’m off to buy a new gadget.

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Come vintage shopping with me

In Shopping, Vintage on December 14, 2010 at 10:09 am

Wanna come shopping with me? Vintage gear…

This mid-week special is a film I made with the marvellous Penguins when I as in Australia last month promoting my new novel.

Shall We Dance? is set in a vintage boutique owned by the heroine Loulou Landers, so they thought it would be a lark if we went vintage clothes shopping at the Sydney Antiques Centre, as part of a little clip for Penguin TV on their website.

I thought I must have done something good in a past life if going vintage shopping counted as part of my working day. Bring. It. On.

We had such a laugh and, of course, we all bought stuff. It really is a treasure trove in there, a lot of it very good quality – particularly the hats.

I wondered whether the late 1940s, early 1950s gear had arrived in Australia with the European immigrants of that era, because you would want a whole new wardrobe if you were moving to the other side of the world, wouldn’t you?

My great find was a pair of real crocodile 1950s pumps which make me feel so Madmen and are strangely comfortable to wear.

Later in the week I wore them to the crocodile show at Steve Irwin’s Australian Zoo up in Queensland. Was that wrong of me?

Inspector Gadget

In Shopping on December 10, 2010 at 6:07 pm

So have you made your Christmas list yet? I have. And I’ll tell you what’s not on it. I don’t want jewellery, books, lingerie, kitchenware, bath unguents, or even a lovely old set of embroidered pillowcases, i.e. any of the sort of things I usually long for.

What do I want this year? A new Kindle, a new iPod, a new iPhone, an iPad, a wireless Sonos stysem MP3 doo dah which will stream music through my house (not sure what that means, but I want it), and one of those tiny little video camera thingoes – what are they called again? – oh yes, a Kodak Playsport. Or a Flip video camera, same difference.

In short, I want gadgets. Lots of them. I even want one of those things which tells you how much power you’re using in your whole house and you can see it go WHEEEE! when you turn the tumble drier on. Or, in my case, simultaneously charge more than five of my new gadgets.

I’m not sure what’s happened to me, but it’s a major shift because when I got the paper last Saturday the first section I turned to, was called ‘Technology Christmas Gift Guide’.

Now ‘technology’ used to be a word I associated with bearded men in shorts-sleeved shirts, chest pockets lavishly stocked with biros. A word I found about as appealing and full of promise as ‘physics’, ‘statistics’ or ‘pot holing’. Zero interest and zero glamour.

Then suddenly technology got sexy. Because technology now means gadgets. And gadgets are fabulous. Gadgets are as gimme gimme gimme to me these days as handbags used to be.

I’ve got enough handbags now to tide me over pretty much for the rest of my life, but I have an insatiable need for new gadgets – and just like luxury leather goods they’re bringing out new ‘must haves’ all the time.

But unlike the ‘It’ bags of yore (that does all seem like another lifetime, doesn’t it?), which just looked different to the last one, the It gadget actually does more, bigger, better, smarter stuff for you.

It does stuff for you that you didn’t know something could do and you didn’t know you wanted it to even if it could but you’re frightfully glad it can.

Great piles of sliding CD cases have been replaced in my house by one iPod and several docks (the CDs are in the attic in DJ binders, the jewel cases are in landfill).

With the arrival of my iPhone, my handbag was unburdened of the camera, the A-Z, the train timetable, and the iPod I used to have to haul around. In fact I’ve been able to go down several handbag sizes.

It’s no coincidence that both those life-changing gadgets are Apple products. Apple have totally the led way into this brave new world of sexy techsy. Not only do their gadgets do the most interesting things, they look amazing while they’re doing them. They are the Prada of gadgets.

And this is from someone who doesn’t have the unconditional love for the brand that 99% of my friends have. Over 25 years, I’ve worked with just about every computer system there is and I’m level-headed about the pluses and minuses of them all. But nobody gives gadget like Apple.

Just the other week I went up to their fabulous new megastore in Covent Garden for an appointment at the Genius Bar with my now rather elderly iPod.

Everything about the experience, from the pristine white interior, to the lovely young woman who looked after me, was divine. And with all the cool and quirky young people who work there it felt like the sort of shop you would want to hang out in just for the atmos.

It’s the Biba of 2010.

They were nice to an old lady like me, the young Geniuses, too. After ten minutes chatting to the charming (and not unattractive) Paul, who let slip he produces music on his iMac, I was ready to buy everything in the shop. It was like being glamoured by a vampire.

Sense prevailed just before I handed over my credit card for an iPad I really can’t justify and I practically ran out of the shop to save myself from financial ruin.

But while I managed to resist that temptation I know that there will be a new Kindle waiting for me under the Christmas tree this year.

I’ve already bought it for myself.

Beautiful Strangers

In People on December 8, 2010 at 7:10 am

Here is your mid-week archives special, this one from 2002, when I was still spending a lot of my life at designer fashion shows.

When I was in Paris for the fashion shows in October I saw a little girl I don’t think I will ever forget. She was a pretty little thing, about two and a half I would say, and I noticed her when she was waiting with her mother for the lights to change at a pedestrian crossing near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

She was wearing little trousers and a fluffy pink cardigan and she had that French girls’ haircut, but none of that was the point. The thing that attracted my gaze was her excitement. She was literally jumping up and down, swinging on her mother’s hand and pointing. She was twinkling with excitement, like a human string of fairy lights.

I turned to see what was thrilling her so and it was a carousel. A real old fashioned merry go round with painted horses on gold and white barley sugar poles. I had just walked right past without really noticing it, because I have trodden that particular piece of road so many times getting back to my hotel from the Dior show, which is held just over the bridge.

I’m usually too wound up with thinking about what I’m going to write for my news story and whether I should wait in the ever lengthening taxi queue, or walk to the Metro. And my feet hurt and my bag’s too heavy and I’m cross that the person sitting in front of me at the show had big hair which has given me Wimbledon neck and I’m desperate for a pee. Much too preoccupied and grown up to notice the prancing white horses on a carousel with their flaring nostrils and golden manes.

But that little girl had noticed them and she thought they were the best thing she had ever seen. Her excitement was so palpable I forgot my feet and my bladder and my news story and stopped to watch her. She and her mother were now standing in front of the merry-go-round and the little girl was dancing to the music.

It was adorable. So charming to see a child reacting the way they are supposed to react to something and not with the kind of cynical ennui that too much TV and Playstation seems to have engendered in so many modern children.

I wanted to stand and watch that little girl have her ride – I knew she would wave to her mother every time she went past on her horse, because I remember doing it myself – but I had my news deadline and my full bladder and another show to get to, so on I went.

But as I walked to the Metro I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I knew there and then that I would never forget her and that made me remember other total strangers I have seen over the years and never forgotten.

In 1974, when I was on my first trip to New York, I saw a beautiful boy playing basketball on a court in Harlem one Sunday evening. We were driving through en route from the country club to the Upper East Side apartment where I was staying with family friends.

Gazing idly out of the car window there was something about him that caught my eye. He had such grace and elegance. Harlem looked pretty grim back then to a young girl from the English shires and he was such a thing of beauty among the concrete and the chain link fences and the grafitti, in his yellow shorts.

Then there was the beautiful willowy young woman in a polka dot sari I saw in Kandy, Sri Lanka in 1983 and another I saw in the big Biba store in Kensington in 1973. She was wearing red lurex ankle socks with gold high-heeled sandals, her jeans rolled up to mid calf. I had never seen anyone so groovy in my life. I still think ankle socks and high heels is the best look.

It’s so odd to think that these people I never knew are a part of my life forever, fixed in my memory like flies in amber. And even weirder to think that any of us might unwittingly be one of those beautiful strangers to someone else. Even you. Even me.

Me with Peggy by the Carousel in the Tuileries in 2004. She’s wearing a little coat my grandmother made for me. It’s lined with fabric from my mother’s wedding dress.

The shoe whisperer

In Shoes on December 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I find it quite encouraging that at my very great age I’m still having blinding flashes of illumination with regard to shoes.

The latest was re-learning the idea that new shoes need to be worn in, rather as you run in the engine of a new car. This is something I had entirely forgotten over the great stretch of time since the early 1980s when trainers first started to be worn as acceptable daywear, and not just for sporting purposes.

Be they the bright white Reeboks of the early trainer era (sing-a-long with me: I’m working nine to five….), the cool All Stars currently widely adopted, or the mid-period Prada Sport trainer/shoe mutant, the collective effect has been to make us all rather lazy about shoes. We expect them to be instantly comfortable. The footwear equivalent of microwave popcorn.

This has led directly to the great rise in uptake of the ‘comfort shoe’ even among people who should know better. People like me. I confess there have been days when I have actually left the house in my cork-soled felt-topped hobbit clogs, too challenged by the prospect of putting on anything more demanding. I might as well have strolled down the street wearing a Slanket (aka as a ‘Snuggie’, either way it’s a fleece blanket with sleeves).

So I’ve decided that apart from Converse for strictly casual outings, any shoe that you can wear right out of the shop and on until morning, is not one you should be happy to be seen sporting in public.

What brought me to this renewed understanding is the current wonder crop of fabulous shoes on sale in London. It’s one of those rare seasons where there is an almost bewildering plethora of relatively walkable shoes, smart enough to be worn to a business lunch, on offer.

Working on the principle that you have to get them while you can, I’ve snapped up wedge desert boots, brogues with a chunky mid-height heel, silk-tasselled black velvet smoking slippers and black patent loafers. I’m wearing the loafers right now as part of my programme to break them in at home, before setting off on a real life mission in them.

Because now I remember that was what you had to do before the trainer revolution made us all so lazy. You had to break in a new pair of shoes like a horse. So I’m rediscovering the lost art of shoe whispering.

You start off wearing them round the house with really thick socks, until the leather starts to give, the toe starts to bend and the whole thing begins to mould to your foot. At the same time, you are also getting your foot used to the shoe. These ones are a bit rubby on the heel, so both shoe and skin need to adapt, one to soften, the other to callus over.

Only once those processes are well started, should you risk the first short outings in your new proper shoes, and then eventually, after a few trips to the corner shop, they will finally be ready to spend a whole day with you.

It might seem like a lot of bother, when you’re used to instant comfort footwear, but when I look in my closet, the things that have given me the most back over the years – the cowboy boots, the brogues, the riding boots – have all involved this process.

I’ve also realised that several pairs of shoes I had written off as major shopping errors actually just need a bit of effort to beat them into submission. This has to be good news.

So re-embrace a more rigorous era of footwear and remember – comfort shoes are the Slankets of footwear. Wear them wisely.

Mid-heel brogues and patent loafers from Office. Smoking slippers from House of Bruar. Slanket from hell.

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