Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

By a whisker

In Men on January 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

This is a one off Saturday morning archives special because the spirit came on me mid-week and I just had to write about brothel creepers.

Normal service will resume next week. Or not. The joy of a blog – I’m appreciating more and more – is that I make up my own rules. Huzza!

Anyway, this one from 2001 seems particularly appropriate for the tennis fever which currently has the world in its grip courtesy of the Australian Open. When I went down to the corner shop to buy the paper this morning, five people were huddled round a tiny TV watching Andy Murray thrashing it out with David Ferrer in Melbourne.

But wth darling Rogie Feds out (I am so with Anna Wintour on that front…), I don’t give a toss who wins it.  This is a memoir of an earlier tennis heart throb.

For the first time in my life, I have recently found myself attracted to a man with a beard. And it wasn’t just that he was so gorge generally that you could forgive the follicular indiscretion – on this bloke the face fur is a total part of the look and I like it.

Mind you, his other attributes don’t exactly detract. He’s 193 centimetres and roughly the same span across the shoulders, has long, strong legs the colour of a freshly baked loaf, slightly sad eyes (ooo-er), a ravishing smile, and I’ve only ever seen him in shorts. He can hit a tennis ball at 200 kilometres an hour.

Have you worked out who my bearded Mystery Man is yet? It’s Goran Ivanisevic, the heavenly Croatian tennis ace. Hubba hubbic. And quite apart from revealing my pathetic immaturity by sharing this latest teen crush (I’d give anything for a poster of him plus info ‘n’ pix), I realise I risk being banished by my recently adopted homeland [Australia] for fancying someone who denied our darling Pat Rafter that elusive Wimbledon title.

I will also probably be tried for treason by my birth nation, because I first fell for Goran the Snoggable when he was playing British hope Tim Henman in the semi-finals.

Goran showing the cheeky side I so adore. Also his chest. Obviously.

As charisma-bypassed Henman was the first Pom to have made it that far in the great grass-court championship (“Timbledon”‘ as the ever-witty British press dubbed it) since about 1066, barracking for the conquering Croatian would have been grounds to have me immured in the Tower of London. (And I would have been forbidden to watch the final, which would have been much worse.)

But while it is nothing new for me to have a childish infatuation (I average about two a week), fancying a geezer with a beard really is a first. (And I must say that I’m not sure that Pat’s face ponytail – which seems to have replaced the one formerly on the top of his head – enhances his boyish good looks particularly.)

Pat Rafter's topiary beard

Neat beards like Pat’s and Goran’s (sigh) are a lot less repulsive than the Rolf Harris bush, the revolting Rasputin dangle, or the full-on ZZ Top mat (shudder), but they still give me the creeps. It’s the Trevor Nunn factor. Show me a close-cut beard on a bloke and my eyes automatically pop a black poloneck underneath it. All men with neatly trimmed facial hair look like resting Shakespearean actors. After all, take the “e” out of beard and you get “bard”. The mental leap from thatched face to doublet and hose is completely unavoidable.

But I think the real problem I have with beards is the pubic factor. Call me prissy, but it’s just too close a reminder of the hair down there. I thought pubic hair was the most ridiculous thing I had ever laid eyes on when I first saw it, and I still do. It’s so weird and beards just remind me of it. Yukky.

Of course, if I were a chap I would often grow a beard just for the hell of it over several days, or perhaps just one afternoon, to entertain the family. But having a beard as an everyday thing is quite another story. A fully unrepentant Grizzly Adams-style facial thicket denotes a total rejection of normal grooming that would make me very unwilling to approach the beardee’s naked feet. But neatly shorn jaw topiary, like George Michael’s, is almost worse, because it signals an unhealthily high level of ongoing self-absorption, equivalent to women who get their nails done every morning.

So on second thoughts I might give Goran the tennis elbow in favour of John McEnroe. He used to be quite a whiz with the racquet himself, but it’s as a seriously hilarious commentator that he won my heart. And as far as I know, he’s never had a beard.

McEnroe on da mic

 P.S. Another reason I adored Goran during that Wimbledon season, ten years ago. On the morning of the final he was asked how he prepared for the match. He replied: ‘I had breakfast. I watched the Teletubbies…’


Frankenstein shoes

In Shoes on January 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm
by Ben Watts

 For this week’s mid-week special I’ve decided to stay out of the archives and discuss something new, because I need to discuss it now. It won’t wait until Saturday morning (so you might get an Archives Special then, we’ll see). I need to know what you all think urgently.

Anyway. It’s about these here shoes. I saw them in the window of Prada in London’s Bond Street and they literally stopped me in my tracks.

I immediately snapped this picture and posted it on Twitter with the following comment:

I think these are the ugliest shoes I have ever seen.

Quite a few people agreed with me. But then something happened: I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I kept turning the concept of them – the outrageous concept of marrying the brogue, with the espadrille, with the 80s trainer – over and over in my head, like sucking on a giant gobstopper.

And then I started to like them.

What they are, I’ve realised, is a hybrid clone shoe. The terrible experiment of an evil mad shoe professor, gone horribly wrong. A Frankenstein shoe, made of the body parts of other shoes and just as ugly and scary as that mythical monster.

They also make me think of that saying about God making the hyena out of all the spare parts he had left over from making all the other animals.

But what they finally are – and this was the clincher for me – is a brothel creeper. They are a brother creeper made out of bits of other iconic shoes.  A hyena hybrid brothel creeper. Bring it on.

And I love brothel creepers. They are a properly iconic shoe and what makes them particularly interesting is their long-time association with youth sub-cultures.

They’re said to have developed after WW2 from the rubber-soled army desert boots, but first appeared in the style we know now in the 1950s made by George Cox of Northampton, the traditional centre of the British shoe industry. Thrillingly they’re still in Northampton and still making them.

Back then in the early 1950s, they were immediately adopted by Teddy Boys, becoming part of their classic rig out.

I first started wearing them in the late 1970s when I was a punk rocker. All cool punks wore creepers – see Mr John Lydon on the left here -which was ironic as Teddy Boys were our greatest enemies. But like everything great about punk it was naughty Malcolm McLaren’s idea. He and Vivienne used to sell creepers in their shop Let It Rock, which opened in 1971, so it was natural that the shoes became part of the dress code, when he invented British punk a few years later.


Although I think us stealing their shoe style was one of the things which pissed Teddy Boys off so much about us punks (and as these amazing pictures by Ben Watts show – you really don’t want to piss off a Teddy Boy…).

by Ben Watts

I wore them again in the 1980s – as did Bananarama, although maddeningly I can’t find a pic of them doing it – and last year the idea suddenly crept into my brain that it was time they came back into my life again.

Then, in the way of these synchronistic things, I was having my hair done back in the summer and I noticed that lovely Cetera (who does my colour at John Frieda, if you’re interested…), was wearing them.

Like me she is at the weenie beanie end of the height spectrum and we had a very satisfying chat about the genius walkable plus height-boosting combo that’s unique to a creeper. You can run in a creeper, be it for a bus, or from a Teddy Boy.

In my clubbing youth I used to walk from the Music Machine in Camden, all the way down to our squat in Clapham North at four in the morning without a second thought, in mine.

The same day I saw Cetera’s creepers, I discovered that the very excellent Office shoes were doing them (including a fine style featuring leopardskin), so this iconic shoe is definitely having another fashion moment – and Miuccia Prada is right on it as always.

So I now love the shoes I initially thought were the world’s ugliest. I love them for being a combo of four of my favourite shoe styles and for being so fabulously outrageously wrong. But I don’t think I’m game to wear them. I think I’m just a little too old to be quite so wacky.

But it’s never too late to wear a classic creeper. I’m going to the British Boot Company in Camden to score myself some black suede George Cox originals.

So what do you all think?
George Cox brothel creepers

Season’s greetings

In Fashion shows on January 21, 2011 at 8:48 pm


So I have carefully examined the Dead Sea Scrolls (UK Vogue and Grazia) and come to this conclusion about the next fashion season we are about to entre: it’s perfect for a period of financial restraint as there is absolutely nothing I want to buy.

That isn’t quite the same as there being nothing I like. If I had Natalia Vodianova’s figure and Gisele Bundchen’s skin there’d be a few things I’d want to buy. Most of them bright orange.

That is actually the one trend I can imagine myself referencing in real life (i.e. from a chain store). I think a bright orange towelling hoodie would be terrific fun for weekends. A jacket and pants not so much.

My stand out look of the whole season is this marvellous orange arrangement above by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. It’s perfect. And if you looked like this model you probably would have somewhere to wear it, like a pool party at the Beckhams’ place. Or drinks on P Diddy’s yacht.

Among the ‘looks’ I wouldn’t be wearing even if I were five foot eleven, size six, caramel-skinned and a close personal friend of the Abramovichs, are the following:

Jil Sander

Colour blocking
It makes my eyes want to cry.




This makes at least four times in my adult life this terrible notion has been visited upon us. The first occurrence, I was 23 and old enough not to know better. I bought a neon lime green jumper. It was a mistake. (It was also 100% acrylic which didn’t help.) The only time this look has ever worked was at a rave in a field in 1990.


Nina Ricci

Fiddly details 

These make the models look wide. I don’t need any help with that. See also, Feathers.

Long dresses with flat shoes for daywear
This is what led to last summer’s terrible outbreak of long dresses in the city. So wrong. So dangerous on an escalator. Even if I weren’t the size and shape of a hobbit I wouldn’t want to wear a flowery moo moo on Regent’s Street. Or MacQuarie Street. Or Madison Avenue.


Puffy puff puff

 ‘Peasant Revival’ UK Grazia called it. I think Helena Bonham-Carter is a better description.



 Flower power

Be they oversized tropicals or mimsy English garden borders, I feel this idea has been around for the last five seasons. And it didn’t suit me for any of them.

Nina Ricci

Frilly frou frou
I can’t bear this. UK readers will be familiar with the Marks & Spencer range called Per Una, which is aimed at the painfully feminine middle-aged woman. Everything has a flipping frill on it. I want to torch the racks every time I pass them. It’s for women who like frosted lippie and nail varnish. And wear skin tone tights with sandals. And panty pads.

Apart from the previously discussed orange these are three trends I can see the point of:

Urban sportswearI loved it when Miuccia Prada first had the idea to incorporate high tech fabrics and ergonomic sportswear details into chic clothes, nearly twenty years ago (gulp, can’t believe it’s that long since I bought my first designer trainers…) and I love it now. It’s flattering, it’s practical, it has a nice narrow cut, you can stuff it in a suitcase.

Dress up white
This is one of those rare things in fashion – a new idea. I like the idea of a white dress for formal, not just for strolling along the Croisette. A bit like a First Communion outfit for a grown up, in the hands of Dolce & Gabbana, it looks sexy not creepy . Of course white can be very unflattering and it’s a magnet for tomato sauces and you could look like a tragic Miss Havisham, but I still like the idea.

This is very selfless, because sunray pleats look absolutely flipping awful on me, but on the right person they are gorgeous. A properly sophisticated femininity.

Feet first

In Shoes on January 18, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Here is your mid-week archives special. I can’t quite remember when this one was from, but it was 2003 or earlier. How time flies. But even eight years later, this subject still makes the back of my neck prickle with outraged irritation.


I sometimes feel we are living in a culture so decadent it makes the last days of ancient Rome seem as restrained as a Shaker barn raising.

There’s so much bare flesh on open display everywhere, filth all over advertising billboards, hideous spam porno in your email inbox every morning and endless ghastly reality TV programmes which celebrate all the worst human characteristics – avarice, envy, selfishness, competitiveness, wind etc.

Then I open American Vogue and read an article about women who have cosmetic surgery – on their feet. Not elective surgery to relieve painful conditions such as bunions, ingrown toenails, or plantar warts, but completely unessential vanity surgery to make their feet look nicer.

‘I got tired of burying my toes in the sand when I went to the beach. It was humiliating,’ says a 37 year-old sales consultant quoted in the article. A woman who clearly has far too much time to think about herself.

The crime nature had committed against her? Her second toes were longer than her first. But not after Dr David Ostad had gone in and shaved 2 mm of bone off the second knuckle of said blighted toes.

Feeling sick yet? Not Ms MeMeMe, she’s thrilled with it all.

‘The transformation is amazing and I was back in high heels in two months.’ Well, thank GOD. She must have felt like the Elephant Woman of Easthampton before the op.

‘More aristocratic, less peasant-like,’ was the request from an unnamed actresses to another New York plastic surgeon, with regard to her own clod hoppers, which were clearly the only thing between her and an Academy Award.

The surgeon was happy to oblige (beach house, beach house, beach house) and promptly lengthened her toes with bone-grafting techniques, removed soft tissue from her instep to narrow her feet and administered fat injections to hide unsightly veins and tendons.

Is there something wrong with me that I find this outrageously vain and self indulgent? Am I some kind of self-righteous do gooder for thinking this doctor’s bone-grafting skills could be better used by land mine maimed children in Africa than by spoiled thespians in Manhattan?

Not that I’m unsympathetic to women who dislike their own feet. I have several friends who long to wear strappy shoes in summer but feel they can’t, because they have less than lovely tootsies. Rather as I would love to wear skimpy little sundresses and feel I can’t because of my overcatered mammary glands. But you get on with it don’t you? You ack-sen-chu-ate the positive and move on.

Not these self-obessed over-indulged New York nugget heads. Consultant podiatrist Suzanne Levine D.P.M. who, it says in the article, ‘regularly performs surgery in her three and a half inch Manolos…’, offers a service where she injects collagen into the balls of people’s feet so that they will find high heels less excruciatingly uncomfortable.

‘Designer high heels like Sergio Rossis may be gorgeous,’ says Dr Levine, someone I would very much like to slap. ‘But they’re very slight-soled. As you age, your feet become less plump, making these delicate shoes less and less comfortable to wear.’

Fine. So stop wearing them.

And it doesn’t end with the collagen. After they’ve had these various foot perfecting procedures (and probably Botox to get rid of those humiliating ankle wrinkles) Dr Levine’s clients then return each month for foot facials (hello?) which cost US$225 a time. This makes me so cross the top of my head is itching.

It’s not that I’m resentful of people having more money than me – so much money they can throw it away on foot facials – or so much spare time they can spend an afternoon a month just having their feet massaged, it’s the overwhelming obsession with the self I find so repugnant.

Come to think of it, they wore sandals all the time in Ancient Rome, didn’t they? I wonder if Caligula ever had a foot facial.

Here’s something these highly-competitive women might like to take part in: the 80 Metre High Heel Sprint held  annually in St Petersberg (in aid of breast cancer charities, judging by all the pink).



And rather than having toe surgery, they could just wear these to the beach.

Style or comfort?

In Clothes, Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm

As I sit here writing in my fluffy fleece bathrobe (and nothing else, not even Chanel No 5), I’m wondering this: which is more important to you – style or comfort?

Despite my current attire (it’s just after lunchtime…) I admit I recoil in fascinated horror from those American catalogues where all the clothes are designed entirely along pragmatic lines. Not just specialist kit for alpine treks and attempts on K2, they have expanded into urban daywear.

There are jackets which will keep out the heaviest rain, while allowing your skin to breath, polo necks which would keep you alive in Antarctica on a cool day, while ‘wicking’ away your natural moisture and – my personal favourites – lounge suits you can fold like origami frogs for crease-free travel.

All fine as long as you care not one jot for the cut, line and drape of your clothing. I admit that I have on occasion been seduced by the alluring promise of practicality on offer from those purveyors of rational dress, but have sent everything back after trying it on.

Those clothes are the reason the average American tourist looks the way they do in Paris.


On the other hand, I can’t wear anything that makes me feel trussed up. Just as having my first cashmere cardigan made it impossible for me ever to go back to itchy and scratchy lambswool, since the arrival of lycra, fleece and microfiber in our lives, my tolerance for clothing of traditional structure and fabrics has seriously decreased.

If it doesn’t give a little I can’t be doing with it.

I’m also increasingly sensitive to weight in clothing. From the moment I bought my first down coat (from Uniqlo, which is the best place on earth to buy them) I’ve found it unappealing to wear my lovely proper winter coats. They feel so heavy by comparison. And vintage ones are a nightmare. You can hardly lift your arms in them.

In fact, modern expectations of comfort is one of the problems generally with wearing vintage. If you’re used to ultralight wool with a little lycra through it, a 1960s jacket feels like Henry VIII’s armour. And you’ll never get the skirt of the suit on unless you’re willing to wriggle into the kind of waist-cinching underwear they used to endure on a daily basis.

All the actresses on Madmen have to wear that gear under their costumes to look right in the outfits (i.e. to have boozies like B42 nosecones). Can you imagine? Corselets and girdles and ghastly suspenders which make you feel like a puppet with tangled strings. I couldn’t handle it. I can’t even abide a pair of Spanks. Get these things off me now!

And while sitting here, at lunchtime, in my bathrobe makes me suspect I might be getting a little unacceptably lazy about it all, I have recently had proof that wearing comfortable clothes can make a serious difference to your life.

My daughter goes to a school with a uniform that might as well have been designed around the time Don Draper had his first liquid lunch with Roger Sterling.

She has to wear a long thick kilt, a white shirt and this dreadful cravat object, which is a tartan bow tie on a Velcro strap. I tried three different ones from the school swap shop and it always ended up round her ears.

The smallest girl in her year she found this rig out almost unbearable. With no waist to sit a skirt on, a vest and thick tights all competing for the limited real estate of her tiny torso, she would come home every day looking exactly like Eloise. Her shirt untucked, the cravat at a crazy angle and the kilt on backwards.

In the end I couldn’t stand it. I traded in the monstrous kilt for a mini version and illegally swapped the garrotting cravat for the school tie, which kids are only supposed to wear in Year 6 and up (she’s Year 4).

She was a different girl from the moment she got it on and guess what? Her academic results are massively improved. No longer wearing a strait jacket, she’s able to concentrate on her work.

So while wearing your bathrobe all day is taking it too far (I’ve got a photo shoot later, that’s my excuse), I reckon one of the great leaps forward of living in the 21st century is that we do have the choice of comfort in our clothing that hi-tech fabrics allow.

But if you ever see me in a pair of pants which unzip into shorts, please shoot me.


In Friends on January 13, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Dear Lovely Subscribers
I really screwed up today and POSTED my blog that I had written in advance for Saturday, when I only meant to PREVIEW it to see if the pics were in the right place. Goddam words starting with the same letter…

This is what happens when you’re diligent and trying to get ahead with your work. Poop.

Anyway, so I’m terribly sorry, I did try and stop it, but it seems that Saturday’s column will land with you on Friday morning. I have re-set it to go out at the usual time, which probably means you will get the same one again. Oh lordie.

What a cock up, but I’m still on a big learning curve here and it’s great fun doing it with such a lovely bunch of people as you lot.

Magggie xxx

By way of compensation, here are some pics from my Christmas Cocktail Party to amuse you.

Sven – the front bloke in the Speccie Boys pic here – mixes a mean Dirty Martini and we had a few. Then we had a few more just to make sure they were as nice as we thought they were and then, good heavens, is that the time? Hic.

The chap with me here, with the shoes – which he arrived in – is my lovely friend @squaddietony. His husband is third back in the Speccie Boys pic, @dbrown_esq. Both worth a follow on the old Twitterati.

Do you love my vintage coat? It’s a recent arrival and je l’adore. £18. Why would you shop at Primark? And it seems to be a happy coat. Three wears and so far I have always had a good time in it.

Here’s a better one of Tony’s shoes. I changed mine, for better contrast. Being in fashion and all that. And he seems to be holding a bottle of champagne now. Well, yes, it was that kind of a party…

These pics – in my kitchen – where the best party action always is, were taken by Sven’s lovely partner Pam. Shame there isn’t one of her. She’s gorgeous.

Turning Japanese

In Book on January 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I’ve gone all the way back to 2001 for this Mid-Week Archives Special. Because I can.

I’m having a Japanese moment. Not as in Comme, or Issey, or Yohji (the world’s sexiest man, but that’s another story), but Japanese as in The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

I know the whole Pillow Book groove was really some time ago (when the Peter Greenaway film came out in 1996), but I just happen to have read several books in a row with a Japanese theme, and that Shonagon style is very infectious. You start thinking in her voice. Or trying to.

Let me give you some examples of things she wrote in the Imperial Court a thousand years ago:

‘Things That Give a Pathetic Impression: the voice of someone who blows his nose while he is speaking. The expression of a woman plucking her eyebrows.
Unsuitable Things: a woman with ugly hair wearing a robe of white damask.
Elegant Things: a white coat worn over a violet waistcoat. A rosary of rock crystal.
Squalid Things: the back of a piece of embroidery. The inside of a cat’s ear.’

Isn’t that all heaven? Sei Shonagon’s style statements are as self-confident, outrageous and spot on as Diana Vreeland’s, and everything she wrote – in the 10th century AD – is still fantastically relevant in the twenty-first century.

And as this is the ‘Year of Japan’ it got me thinking, what would she be writing now? Perhaps it might be something like this:

Things That Are Oddly Disturbing: a man who wears a suit and has his hair tied back in a ponytail. A mobile phone attached to a belt. Rings that are worn on the forefinger. Hair that is longer than a certain length. All-white outfits. The look and sound of false nails on a computer keyboard.

Things That Always Delight: a folded cotton T-shirt that has not yet been worn. The smell of a shirt that has been worn for one day by a man you love. The small horizontal crease that appears above the upper lip of some people when they smile broadly. A child aged about two-and-a-half with very pink cheeks, who is wearing a hat.

Things That Are Highly Irritating: when one is trying on a garment and a salesperson comes into the changing room. The garment is half on and half off. One’s face is red. The salesperson smiles. Or when the shoe one has been searching for is found, but not in the right size. A very expensive cream which brings out red splotches on the cheeks.

Things That Are Always Unappealing: the thought of wearing pantyhose underneath trousers. Pantyhose worn with open shoes. An outfit that is too obviously new. A leather suit. Jumpers worn tucked into jeans, which are belted.

Things That Are Strangely Attractive: men whose legs are slightly bandy. Women whose teeth are not quite perfect. A scar in a young man’s eyebrow. A short-sleeved T-shirt worn over a long-sleeved T shirt. Strong male bodies that have gone slightly to seed.

Sometimes the most unattractive person has a beautiful smile which makes you forget their less fortunate qualities. This induces a warm feeling.

Serendipity doo dah

In Shopping on January 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm


I have always adored those Vogue articles (mainly in British and US editions) where very rich women talk with great seriousness about how they ‘plan’ their wardrobes for each season and which ‘pieces’ they will be buying for the next one.

I enjoy them on several levels. One is pure amusement. How seriously they take it all. I love clothes, mad about them – that should be obvious to everyone by now – but I find really caring about ‘fashion’ hilarious.

On another level I find those articles very comforting. I love it when anyone else is organised and sorted out about things, even if they are a skinny numbskull married to a mammon-worshipping hedge funder. Somehow it makes me feel like the tide of chaos I constantly fear is about to engulf me can be held at bay a little longer.

Even though Iolanthe’s close relationship with the manageress of the Lanvin boutique has absolutely no impact on my life, knowing that this bond of trust will ensure she gets the sleeveless jacket and 80s fluoro which are so speaking to her this season.

It’s the same comfort so many of us find in stationery shops, hardware stores and haberdashers. Just having a sense of the potential of being organised can help us to endure the random ratshittery of real life.

But while I’m in awe of people who can marshal their seasonal wardrobes according to an organised plan, with regard to my own garb, I find serendipity my best ally. Some of my all-time favourite things have come into my life entirely by fluke.

And I don’t just mean I happened to be walking past the junk shop that had in it my fake leopardskin car coat (the nylons it’s made from lived full lives and were humanely killed…), although that was the most marvellous bit of luck.

But it wasn’t true chance, because I’ll always stop for leopardskin. Along with navy cardigans, dark denim and black dresses, that’s a given, my default shopping settings. The magic of shopping serendipity is when chance makes you stop to consider an item you never would have glanced at in a shop, let along gone looking for.

Some of my best bits have been random hand ons from friends, like the amazing black velvet 1930s dressing gown – a great evening look – I unearthed in a bag of tat my BFF gave me to look through before she took it to a charity shop. She said she’d never worn it. It’s one of my most-treasured things. Could have been tailored for me.

Other serendipitous finds were reader offers in magazines I’ve worked on. I’d never have looked at them in a shop, but when the samples came in to the office I tried them on for larks. We all did.

I still have and wear a dark brown suede leather shirt we had as an offer when I was editor of British ELLE twenty flipping years ago. It has never dated. Likewise a shiny black PVC trench coat from the same fossil era.

Back in those days I was also at liberty to keep the very personal gifts – i.e. shameless product placement bribes – sent to me by the major designers. Oh the handbags they gave me… I still use them all. A sensational alpaca swing coat given to me by Milan label Genny in 1989 is still my choice for a black-tie cover up on cold nights.

Those luxurious magazine editor days are long gone, but I still find chance a more reliable personal shopper than planning.

One of the first laws of shopping I ever learned was that the best way to come home empty handed is to set out with a specific item in mind. If you do find it, they won’t have your size. Worse, you will buy a nearly nice compromise which you will always hate for not being what you really wanted.

When I forget this and get sucked into studying magazine shopping sections and tearing out pages with top items, they’re always sold out before I can even get on line (like Clark’s high-heeled desert boots back in September). Or I get to the shop before the thing’s come in and can’t sustain the interest to go back for another try two weeks later.

So my advice is to bin your lists, tear up the pages torn from fashion magazines, and open yourself up to shopping serendipity.

Oh brother

In Childhood on January 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm

This week’s mid-week bonus archives special is dedicated to my brother Nick, as he gave me the best Christmas present I have ever had.

It’s a copy of Penguin’s new collected edition of the Molesworth books signed – personally to me – by Ronald Searle. Ronald Searle! An utter legend. The man who gave us the visuals not only for Molesworth but also St Trinians.

 I got quite teary when I opened it and I still keep going to check I haven’t imagined it all.

So, thanks, bro, this one’s for you. xxx


In early adolescence, my brother Nick developed an unhealthy obsession with bikers. It was inspired by an unpleasant little paperback book called Hell’s Angel, which he read with great fascination. My mother said she was just glad to see him reading.

As a prissy, swotty, nine-year-old squit, I was appalled by the book (which I read as soon as I could lay my fat little hands on it) and the magazines that followed it into the house. They were called something like Hog and featured a loathsome cartoon character called Spider, and Spider’s Ol’ Lady, who was his girlfriend.

Horrid things happened to Spider’s Ol’ Lady, which were meant to be hilarious but which I always found upsetting – but it did not stop me making secret forays into Nick’s bedroom to read the latest issue when it arrived.

Hog also featured photos of recent biker social gatherings, which included lots of real-life “ol’ ladies” sitting on the back off chopped hogs (motorbikes) wearing leather shorts and no tops and smiling at the camera over a can of beer. They all wore rings on their forefingers, I noted. I found them fascinating, like the biker equivalent of the social pages of Tatler.

But the worst aspect of Nick’s biker period – even worse than when he “chopped” my bicycle for me, adding ape-hanger handlebars and removing girly extras such as mudguards and ting-a-ling bells – was his “originals”.

“Originals” are jeans and denim jackets that bikers get when they first become bikers. Part of the initiation into the “chapter” (according to Hell’s Angel) is for all of the other bikers to stand in a lovely fairy ring and urinate on them. You never ever wash your Originals – the stinkier the better – and you wear them every day.

Nick’s Originals were a nasty grungy denim jacket from which he had removed the sleeves and then lined the armholes with rabbit skin fur taken off his ex-army parka. Buttons were wrenched out and replaced with crude thongs. His “chapter” details were stencilled on the back in felt-tip pen.

I don’t think he quite went through the full initiation ritual, but by the time a 13-year-old boy has worn an outfit every day for several months (putting it on straight after school each night) and cycling at great speed on his chopped hog, it does acquire a certain hum.

He never allowed his biker gear to be washed and, not wishing to quash creative outpourings of any kind, our mother left him to it.

I was outraged by every aspect of Nick’s Originals. I had to look at them across the table every teatime and I had to sit next to them on car journeys.

But what made me really furious was that he was allowed to wear his Originals to the Rum hole on my birthday. (The Rum Hole was the nearest proper restaurant to our beach house in Wales and, with prawn cocktail in little aluminium cups, steak Diane, Black Forest gateau and plenty of doilies, was the acme of sophistication to me.) How could we be seen there with Nick in his Originals?

I can remember speaking to my mother in outraged indignation about it. “You’re not going to let Nick and his Originals to the Rum Hole are you?”

But it did not have any effect, Nick and his Originals were not to be parted until girls became more interesting to him than motorbikes.

So I can’t remember what I wore to my tenth birthday dinner, but I clearly recall shaggy-haired Nick in his Originals, with a shrunken brown T-shirt and horrid jeans that hung around his hips. I insisted on walking in separately.

All of which is a long way of telling you that I will not be embracing the “dirty denim” trend which is upon us. I don’t care if Chanel does make them.

They all look like Nick’s Originals to me.

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Style Notes

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Maggie Alderson

author, journalist, fashionist, motherist

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