Archive for the ‘Fashionistas’ Category

Mrs Tannenbaum

In Accessories, Fashionistas, Older women on June 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Oh the joy of social networking.

Thanks to Facebook, my friend Stephanie Turner could show me this wonderful slideshow (link below, I can’t work out how to embed the bloody things in this blog…) of legendary fabulous oldie Iris Apfel’s apartment.

This is the stuff of John Pawson’s nightmares. I’m sure in one of the shots of the hall I can see pictures hung on pictures. I love it. Especially the mirror with the herons (I think they’re herons). I need that in my bathroom. Makes the two gold mirrors I have in there seem positively plain.

So I posted that on Twitter and emailed it to my friend William Petley, who sent me back the fabulous video here.

‘My mother worshipped at the altar of accessories…’

Oh, I love her. Oh, I wish I’d come out with that line.

Anyway, I call her Mrs Tannenbaum because when I met the amazing woman I am now sure was here, in a shop in Paris years ago she told me her name was Mrs Tannenbaum, which is German for Christmas tree.

I’m trying to find the column I wrote about that encounter, it’s around here somewhere on papyrus, or etched into a stone tablet. When I do, I’ll put it on here.


Rule: if you’re going to be scrutinised, seek expert advice

In Fashionistas, Royal Wedding, Uncategorized, Weddings on May 12, 2011 at 10:39 am


I completely forgot to post this for Wednesday. So sorry (or ‘soz’, as my daughter says). I’m crap. I think it was probably because I’m very deeply stuck into the germination of a novel and my hold on the real world is even more tenuous than normal.


I’m so glad I’m no longer editor-in-chief of an international fashion magazine. Back when I was a front row fixture at the European and New York designers shows (I was heading up British ELLE and it was an awfully long time ago now..) I found it fiercely stressful getting the magazine out, while being away from the office for four weeks at a time, twice a year, attending the shows that turn the wheel of fashion.

If I’d also had to have been picture perfect every second of those fashion weeks as well, I would have blown a gasket. In those days photographers only took pictures of the models on the runway and the odd celeb in row A, and there weren’t even many of those.

There was one chap – New York snapper, Bill Cunningham, so legendary they’ve just released a feature-length docco about him – who would grab pictures of the audience as they arrived, but that was it.

But while I didn’t have the pressure today’s editors have to look red carpet ready while turning up for work each day, I did have to look reasonable. The front row was always a big deal. Then there were all the crucial advertiser parties and lunches and dinners and breakfasts to attend.

Although the reason I’d been given the job was because I was quite good at coming up with ideas and finding the best writers and photographers to make them into something special, once I became an editor-in-chief I was rather surprised to find I was suddenly also the public face of the magazine as well. Brains weren’t enough any more. I also had to look the part – eek!

While I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and style – that’s why I wanted to edit a fashion magazine in the first place – it’s always been on quite an analytical level. I can tell you the exact structure of a Chanel jacket and date Dior launched the New Look (February 12th, 1947), but that didn’t mean I was expert in dressing myself for my very particular new role.

So what did I do? I asked for advice.

The person I asked was my Executive Fashion Editor, who was always perfectly dressed and groomed. Her job was to schmooze advertisers and PRs, so the talent to look right was a large part of what got her hired in the first place. And she’d been dressing to impress fashion industry insiders for years.

Her advice was brilliant. Invest in the best tailoring and don’t worry about being on season. If you stay away from anything to quirky, the good stuff lasts.

In particular, she told me to buy a ‘le smoking’ tuxedo jacket and never travel without it. You’ll always be prepared for a surprise invitation. I did exactly what she told me and that tux was my best friend for years. In fact, I still have it (although sadly, I didn’t look like this in it…).

That wise counsel served me well through my years of fashion show front rows, lunches with Yohji Yamamoto and dinner with Jean Paul Gaultier.

So if I’d ever been invited to an event that was going to be watched by a third of the world’s population and had a role in life that meant my outfit was bound to be intensely scrutinised, I would once again have sought advice from an expert.

If only Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie had done that.

Maggie Alderson’s new book Style Notes is out now (in Australia) published by Penguin.

The best and perfect colour

In Clothes, Fashionistas, Shopping on April 8, 2011 at 5:54 pm


Before I kick off – just a reminder to all Sydney readers – my column will appear in the S section of the Sun Herald from this Sunday onwards. And now back to normal service…

A couple of weeks ago I got completely hysterically obsessed with the Vivienne Westwood Anglomania dress pictures above (as seen on the Matches website

Not only because it looks like it would be both flattering and very comfortable – a rare enough combination – but because of the colour.

It’s navy blue! This is the cue for me to set off a dazzling display of fireworks and cartwheel along Oxford Street.

Navy blue is the best of all colours. It just is. Of course, I love black, it’s ultra chic and slimming, but the minute the sun comes out – even on a cold day – you feel like a Sicilian widow. Or a Suzi Quatro wannabe. Or a goth.

Also, as the days turn into weeks turn into years and your face is looking less like a pert bagel and more like a collapsed bap (an image I got from my daughter, who wouldn’t eat her soft white roll the other day because, she said, it looked like grandma…), black gets harder to wear.

It drains you and draws cruel attention to the sag harbour of your jaw line. And it makes your make up look more make up-y.

Navy blue, on the other hand, has all the slimming optical illusion of black, without the down side. It’s like a warm version of black. And on top of those benefits, it looks simply wonderful with denim. Dark denim, of course, which is really navy blue denim. Hurray! Life is beautiful!

I think there are very few things which aren’t improved by being navy in colour (and I have interspersed pictures of some of my favourites), but give me in particular, a well-cut pair of super dark denim straight legs (not skinnies, cigarette shape) and a navy blue T shirt/cardie combo (cotton for spring, cashmere for winter) and I am completely happy. It’s so lengthening, you’re just one long column of navy blue.

All you need to lay over it is a bit of a feature scarf, maybe a necklace. Some great earrings. And killer shoes.

These can be anthing from Louboutin/Balenciaga/Louis Vuitton style bonkers shoes (I don’t own any of the actual above, I buy the brilliant Topshop tributes…), to my brilliant Timberland wedge deck shoes. Hunter wellies. Or even lemon yellow Havaianas, as I was wearing today.

Because navy provides such a fabulous popping backdrop for other colours. I hate black with bright colours, the clash is too harsh and obvious, but navy is enhanced by it.

My favourite summer tote is a bright orange canvas take on a game bag. Looks bloody marvellous with navy. Apple green and fuschia pink are also divine with it.

Red, I’m a little more wary of. Mixed with navy it can easily become a bit natty bandbox smart. But just a hint of it is very Riviera (especially with a stripe somewhere in the mix). I have some red wedge espadrilles that fit that box perfectly.

But here’s another wonderful navy colour combo you might not be so familiar with: navy with black. Ooh! Sharp intake of breath! So naughty, so chic, it’s one of my absolute favourites.

I had this Pauline conversion one cold early evening in Milan, leaving the Burberry show in the Duomo square, when I saw one of my favourite New York fashion editors (don’t know her name, not one of the famous ones) winding a navy blue pashmina around the neck of her black jacket.

She was wearing black jeans, black high-heeled boots, black bag and then this navy blue pashmina. Gee-nee-us. I bought one the moment I got back to London and out it comes every winter, just to take the edge of a black coat, tights and shoe combo, without going anywhere near the colour-me-beautiful pashmina thing which is so 1995.

So that’s all the good things about navy, here’s the rub: there just isn’t enough of it about. That’s why I got so excited when I saw the Vivienne Westwood dress. Navy dresses barely exist. They’re the unicorns of fashion.

But even in more everyday pieces my favourite colour can be hard to find. It drives me nuts how often I see great basics that come in every flipping colour except navy. I confess that when my daughter was a baby I often dressed her in boys’ clothes so she could wear navy.

So I was thrilled to open a Land’s End catalogue recently and find they now do all their staples in what looks like a really nice dark shade. From a company that used to torture me with useful things available only in jade and fuschia, this is a major breakthrough.

I’ve ordered this cardigan and I’ll report back.

Or you could have it in this colour….. No thank you. No contest.

Rule: If life gives you lemons – wear them

In Famous people, Fashionistas, Hats on April 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

There’s a new Anna on the fashion block – Japanese Vogue’s Italian ‘editor-at-large’ and ‘creative consultant’ Anna Dello Russo – but before I go into any more detail on her, I have to fill SYDNEY READERS in on some changes. My column The Rules is moving.

Sadly, the Essential Style supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald (which I thought was brilliant…) is finishing boo hoo.

But the good news is that the column is going to move over to the S section of the Sun Herald. This makes a lot of sense really, as it now means it will be coming out on Sunday in Sydney and Melbourne, where it appears in M magazine, with the Age.

And, of course, I secretly love that I am in the S and M sections…

For all other readers, it will continue to appear on here every Wednesday. You can subscribe right at the bottom of this page.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the amazing Anna Dello Russo… This is the woman all the style bloggers want to snap now outside the fashion shows in New York/London/Milan/Paris – the bi-annual outing she calls the Fashion Olympics – because she always looks nothing short of amazing. Well, beyond amazing and into extraordinary actually, nosing up towards bonkers, but in a totally fashion fabulous way.

Miss Dello Russo’s idea of daywear – and she changes three times a day, with fresh looks for morning, afternoon and evening – would be a tightly-belted, tomato red, one-shoulder, micro-mini balloon dress, with towering Christian Louboutin shoes and half a ton of costume jewellery.

In the afternoon she’ll slide into a sheer black lace tube dress over bright red underwear, accessorised with a veiled hat in the shape of two giant golden cherries.

For the evening she really dresses. At French Vogue’s recent 90 year anniversary ball she wore a vast feathered headdress Montezuma would have thought a bit OTT, over a white lace mask.

A living work of art, Miss Dello Russo has taken over the fashion world role formerly occupied by the late Isabella Blow, who died four years ago. And the two women have something in common apart from a passion for wearing extraordinary hats, very high heels and dressing at the pointiest end of the fashion spectrum.

Neither of them could be described as beauties, in the classic sense.

It was something Blow was brutally frank about. “It pains me to say so,” she once said, “but I’m ugly. I know that’s subjective, so perhaps I should say instead that I’m striking. My face is like a Plantagenet portrait.”

She more than made up for it by dressing so extravagantly the whole became far greater than the sum of the parts. So even when surrounded by some of the most ravishing women in the world, at fashion events, it would be Blow who drew the eye, the attention and the admiration of that toughest of crowds.

I haven’t read any such quotes from Dello Rosso about her own looks, but while she has a marvellous figure – the result, she claims, of three hours of ashtanga yoga, every morning – and gorgeous honey-toned Southern Italian skin, she doesn’t have the neat symmetrical facial features our culture defines as beautiful.

But it’s a strong face, more than up to carrying off the wildest adornments, which would swamp a merely pretty woman. And it seems to be Della Russo’s life work to celebrate this as a one-woman, non-stop fashion fiesta.

There are many videos of her on YouTube and her own blog, and she comes over as a most upbeat and likeable character, who believes people who wear black are depressed (‘They are not well…’), and simply has a tremendously good time dressing up and posing for the fashion groupies who mob her each day.

‘I’m a total fashion victim,’ she says, laughing.

No one seems to know how she funds her passion – she has two flats in Milan, one for her and her beloved dog, another for the clothes and her 4,000 (yes, 4,000…) pairs of shoes – although presumably designers are more than eager to get their looks on to her walking billboard back.

And you have to wonder about the emotional balancing inspiring such obsessive exhibitionism, but Della Russo’s sheer enjoyment of it all is so uplifting, none of that really matters.

She’s living evidence that you are what you wear.

I want to be a Sozzani

In Famous people, Fashion shows, Fashionistas, Older women on March 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I’m half-thrilled, half-peeved that the rest of the world has cottoned on to my long-held belief that the best thing about the big fashion shows has always been the audiences.

They’re such good copy I wrote a whole novel about them.

I’ve spent literally months of my life staring at Anna Wintour’s skinny shins and watching with interest how cleverly she segued her brunette bob around grey into streaked blonde (although I’m not so keen on the current auburn arrangement).

In more recent times my interest shifted to the French Vogue team, first Madame Roitfeld and then the amazing Madame Alt (see earlier post ), so I was thrilled when I discovered the excellent blogs ‘I want to be Roitfeld’ and ‘I want to be an Alt’ (see my blogroll for the links).

But ever since I went to my first Milan show, in 1989, I’ve had another style crush.

Really, I want to be a Sozzani.

Franca Sozzani (right) is the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia. Her sister Carla (left) owns the chicest shop/gallery/restaurant in Milan, 10 Corso Como.

Although well over the age when women are supposed to cut their hair into ‘flattering’ layered bobs, they both still have very long, blonde, wavy, centre-parted hair. And it looks great.

As you can see here, it has nothing at all to do with Donatella Versace’s long blonde hair. It’s from a different planet entirely.

The secret of the Sozzani beauty is proper fine bones – not just the face, the whole body. And although Franca is now twenty years older than when I first clapped eyes on her in Romeo Gigli raw silk cigarette pants, round neck sweater, flat shoes and antique chandelier earrings, she still looks amazing. Like a Boticelli angel in a Lanvin trench.

Apart from her exquisite little pointy-chinned face, rather like the world’s most glamorous elf, and most particularly those earrings (I would so love to see her collection…), what has always fascinated me about Franca is the quietness of her style.

For someone whose magazine features some of the wildest fashion pictures in the whole Vogue stable, she is European subtlety made woman. As luxe simple as the tagliatelle served with shavings of black truffle in autumn at Alla Collina Pistoeise (my favourite restaurant in Milan).

Not for her the fashion excesses of towering platforms, bug-eye sunnies and silly bags. Always a slight shoe, a simple shift/pants/skirt/trench, a tiny clutch – and wonderful jewellery.

I even love the way she sits. The very relaxed slumpy bad posture of the properly slim and properly posh, with one pipe cleaner leg twined around the other.

I used to try and copy it, turning myself into a human pretzel as the Prada show started. (Miuccia Prada shows in a very small space, with only three or four rows of benches, and I always found it the primo people watching venue. You’re practically on Anna’s knee there.)

So far she’s not as well known as Anna, Carine, Emmanuelle and Anna dell Russo (more on her another time…) and I secretly hope it stays that way.

All the pictures with beautiful natural light on this post are by The Sartorialist.

The Rules: The key to smart casual is quality

In Fashion shows, Fashionistas on February 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm


Up in heaven there is this queue, right? You have to stand in it for ages waiting to find out what your next incarnation is going to be and it can get really tedious.

Anyway, last time I was in it, I got distracted by this girl I used to know back when we were both slugs and while I was chatting to her, Emmanuelle Alt moved forward one place and was given the body that was really meant for me.

It’s the only possibly explanation why she has the hair, face, skin and most particularly, legs, I’ve always felt I should have had. I really can’t believe I’m not a leggy brunette. The kind good looking poets fall in love with.

The greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid was when someone told me I had a brunette brain. Unfortunately it’s in a blonde hobbit’s body.

If you don’t know who Ms Alt is, you soon will – she’s just been appointed editor-in-chief of French Vogue, replacing the legendary Carine Roitfeld.

Emmanuelle with Carine Roitfeld.

I’ve had the most massive girl crush on Emmanuelle Alt for years. Indeed one of the joys of attending the fashion shows in Milan and Paris for all those seasons was seeing what she turned up in every day.

She stood out even among the tribe of very tall, very thin, very cool people with floppy, black-hair – they look like a designer version of the Ramones – who are the French Vogue team.

And from the moment I noticed her she fascinated me so much more than the New York magazine girls, all gussied up and over groomed in join-the-dots designer outfits, like a tribe of High Fashion Barbies.

What I loved was the insouciance of Alt’s rock chic style. She has that most Parisienne of qualities, which the French have the perfect word for: she always looks degagé.

The literal translation is ‘casual’ but there’s more to it than that. It doesn’t just imply you look relaxed – you can be very relaxed in trakkies and ten year old thongs – but that you look great in a relaxed way. Like you haven’t made a massive effort. What? This old thing? I just threw it on…

There is a secret to this, quite apart from the fact that Alt looks like Patti Smith’s beautiful little sister.

Her style is a simple recipe of youth culture classics: skinny jeans, leather trousers, harem pants, Breton tops, simple t shirts, biker jackets, narrow blazers, pea coats, car coats, looped scarves… That’s about it. But the individual pieces she chooses are of the finest quality.

The jackets are Balmain or Balenciaga, the leather pants and fabulous studded boots are Isabel Marant, and so on. And while those wafer thin t shirts she loves aren’t so instantly identifiable, I’d wager none of them came in a pack of three. (I did read on a blog that they’re from APC, but can’t verify it.)

Alt is living proof that to nail that hardest of dress codes, smart casual, you must make your greatest wardrobe investment in the casual items. Don’t buy a designer evening bag, buy a designer T shirt.

And one other thing: she’s never seen in anything but terrifying high heels. Even with those legs, there’s always a price to pay for glamour.

Boots by Isobel Marant. Alt's husband is her creative director.

The French Vogue team heading for a show in the Tuileries. What's not to love?


For more on the fabulous folk from French Vogue, check out these genius sites:

It’s all wonderful stuff, but I particularly recommend the translation of Emmanuelle Alt’s Top Ten Style tips, translated from the French magazine 20 Ans, which I cheekily reproduce below.

But do look at the sites. They are fabulous.
Emmanuelle Alt’s Style Tips:
  1. Black plastic flip flops, easy, chic, and sexy.
  2. Black stockings by Wolford (because of the sublime campaign by Newton).
  3. Black trousers by Helmut Lang, because they are timeless and low waisted, loose fitting but not too loose.
  4. I don’t wear them [skirts] but from time to time a black Ann Demeulemeester skirt cut perfectly, barefoot, and the legs must be tan.
  5. Black coat by Costume National, tiny cut, totally modern.
  6. Glossies bra by Gossard, amazing, in either black or beige, like tights, seamless.
  7. Black short-sleeved tshirt by APC, because it is small, it looks like a tshirt from the 1970s and it ages well.
  8. Black sunglasses by Armani, like Bono of U2.
  9. Air King watch by Rolex because they do not make one better.
  10. Long black dress by Galliano, chic without being granny, sexy, pure with Manolo Blahnik heels.


There is a new Rules every Thursday in the Essential Style section of the Sydney Morning Herald and in M magazine with the Sunday Age.

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