London Fashion Week will begin on Friday, and with it comes the usual dismay about the thinness of the models and the impact of this on women and teenagers – including the models themselves. The Women’s Equality Party (founded last year) has launched the #NoSizeFitsAll campaign to challenge the UK fashion industry to do better. One of its demands is for Fashion Week to include models of UK size 12 and above. (Size 12, though smaller than average, is considered 'plus-size'.) 'The softly, softly approach has been tried for years and is not working,' the manifesto says. Well: not for women, anyway. Nearly a year ago I complained about the mannequins at the entrance of the ladies’ department in John Lewis on Oxford Street. ‘It’s nothing to do with us, it’s head office, you’ll have to fill in a complaint form,’ the sales assistants told me. A few months earlier, Topshop had been publicly shamed for its ‘ridiculously thin’ mannequins after a customer’s open letter went viral.
Looking around her apartment in the Dakota above Central Park, Lauren Bacall saw ‘my several lives’ surrounding her. ‘Going from room to room,’ she writes in her 1994 memoir, Now, ‘I am faced with one or more of my collections, my follies: books, pewter, brass, Delft, majolica, tables, chairs, things... how did it happen, the acquiring of all this, the accumulation of it? Now that I have it all, what do I do with it? Who will want it?’ Quite a few people, it turns out: at the auction of Bacall’s belongings at Bonhams last week, every lot sold, from the Henry Moore sculptures to the Louis Vuitton luggage to the Ted Kennedy lithograph of daffodils (the auctioneer joked about the ‘collective gasp’ in the crowd when he announced that this one had ‘lots of pre-sale interest’), to the miniature bronze statue of Bogart in his gumshoe get-up (14 inches high; $16,250).
Dior and I, a documentary following Dior’s new creative director Raf Simons as he prepares his first haute couture collection (autumn-winter 2012), tries to summon up the fashion house’s ghosts while ignoring several elephants in the room.
I heard that the octogenarian Joan Didion was to be the ‘new face’ of the Parisian luxury brand Céline when I was in the middle of commenting on a new monograph by Margaret Gullette called How Not to Shoot Old People. It documents countless grim instances of neglect and contempt for the elderly across a vast ageist spectrum. We oldies live in schizoid times.
Old fashionistas are suddenly all the rage (if hardly plentiful) at Vogue and Dolce & Gabbana. Living longer, old people can be encouraged to consume more, especially by cosmetic and fashion industries promising to keep us looking streamlined and elegant. We may, undesirably, be no longer young, but we can at least dutifully defer to the dictates of fashion. Didion even has the skinny look of a fashion model: hardly an inch of flesh, mere bones on which to hang clothes and accessories.
The broad daylight at the southern end of the Mont Blanc Tunnel always seemed brighter than the light we'd left behind, but when you're seven it's easier to magnify minor differences. In 1970, and for some years that followed, the differences between France and Italy, as I saw them from a car window – there were so many of them. Both countries had motorways named for the sun – the Autoroute du Soleil, the Autostrada del Sole – but one took you to the Mediterranean, the other took you from one part of the Mediterranean to another. In France, the border police stared at you as if you were about to do something wrong; in Italy, they waved you through: 'Avanti, avanti.'
Last month Seth Siegelaub gave a tour of The Stuff that Matters, an exhibition at the Raven Row gallery devoted to his collection of rare books about textiles and some rare fabrics too. ‘The history of textiles,’ he said as we looked at his Renaissance damasks and silks laid flat in display cases, ‘is the history of the wealthy... and the history of those objects which are the least used.’
As a child formed by classic studio films – I didn’t realise when I was six that The Philadelphia Story was made and took place in the past – I spent a lot of time wondering what colour the black-and-white stars’ clothes were. Edith Head had glasses with blue lenses to give her a sense of the way colours would look in shades in grey, but there was no magic device to reverse the process. (From 1948, when Costume Design was added to the list of Oscar categories, until 1957 there were separate awards for black-and-white and colour films.) Costume was one of the many areas where realism went out the window: actors on screen wore whatever photographed well. No matter how delusional Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond gets, when she snakes towards the camera for her close-up at the end of Sunset Boulevard, she’s wearing a black dress with a pale beaded shawl draped across her right shoulder: the craziness of the effect comes from the way it's worn, not the outfit itself.
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2006 survey of English taste, AngloMania, one of the first exhibits was a coat McQueen designed for David Bowie. It was based on the Union Jack. Tattered and decayed, it looked like something a victim of a drowning might have worn. Deeper into the exhibition were examples of McQueen’s work in black cottons, silks and laces. With large, exoskeleton jewellery along jawbones and spines, his figures looked like the bride and companions to the Grim Reaper.
For the 30th anniversary gala of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art on 14 November, Francesco Vezzoli’s Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again) featured a performance by Lady Gaga that defied parody. Wearing a hat designed by Frank Gehry and a mask designed by Baz Luhrmann, Gaga played on a rotating Pepto-Bismol-pink Steinway grand piano decorated with blue butterflies painted by Damien Hirst while Prada-clad dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet pliéd around her. In other words, an average Saturday night. Everyone’s a little Gaga these days.
Alexander McQueen’s futuristic Spring 2010 show in Paris, entitled ‘Plato’s Atlantis’, featured alien-princess hairdos, exquisite digital-snakeskin party frocks, and 10-inch jewel-encrusted lobster-claw ‘shoes’ resembling nothing so much as Wikus’s mangled arm from District 9. It’s always fun to see fashion editors scrambling for words like 'antediluvian', but according to a press release, there’s a cyclical-ecological view at work here: McQueen is concerned about the dissolving polar ice cap and worries that we’re heading back to an underwater future.