Thursday, March 12, 2009


I've had this Henry Clarke photo from Vogue saved for so long I can't exactly remember the story I was going to use it to illustrate. One of the dresses is by Marcel Fenez - I think it's on the bird sitting under the tree. I only know this because my Granny worked for Marcel Fenez - one of those long forgotten names - not quite a couture house, more a production house. I remember her saying that Madame Fenez would shout at her all the time in French and she just smiled because she didn't understand a word.

When I worked in Bond Street, I walked down Maddox Street every morning and one day noticed an old brass plaque saying, yes, Marcel Fenez. Then I discovered that my Grandpa's office (he was in textiles - or as went the joke - he travelled in ladies underwear) was in Margaret Street, twenty seconds from where I was living at the time in Wells Street; and that a later office of my Grandmother's had been on the corner of Wells Street itself, three doors away from my flat. These threads make London more interesting to me. I may have only known my Granny as a disapproving battleaxe pensioner (!) and remember my Grandpa only vaguely but hearing that in their prime they hung out at the Cafe Royal (RIP), Cafe de Paris and Le Caprice makes me wonder at their lives back then. (I've just had a spooky deja vu that I've posted this whole story before - oh dear, sorry if I have and tell me because I can hardly remember my own name at the moment!)

I need to get back into reading Something Wholesale - it's about the fashion business in that same era and it's amazing to note how different things were. The coat department for example was called the Cloak and Mantle department and everyone is all Mr this and Miss that.

How different everything is now. Even with most designers going for recession black and safe shapes, with people talking about how it's all ground to a halt and slowed down. Most of the fashion week talk is now not about the clothes, but more likely to be twitter reports of what happened/who was in the front row. And when I see a Dries van Noten coat and think: Ha! That looks exactly like a bathrobe (exit 5) I know something has shifted for me. I don't mean that in a negative way but the former me would never have mocked the Dries, even inwardly. (I mean, come on it totally does.)

All this to say that having just thrown out most of my clothes, the nature of fashion has been brought up close to me. I've always been of the philosophy of buying good things that last (come to think of it that was drummed in to me by my grandparents) but everything changes and you change too. Fashion moves, that's what it does. Hot young labels I believed in just a few years ago are forgotten, the few *It* (ugh) items I have seem ridiculous. It's been a revelation when deciding what to get rid of, how many connotations my clothes have to me, especially when you've been holding onto things for 15 years or more. And when you sit there and go, no that reminds me of such and such, no that always makes me feel not quite right it suddenly seems quite sensible to chuck it out and start again fresh.

There are so few things that stand the test of time: a Chanel 2:55 bag, a YSL le smoking. But that could change and you can't predict accurately. Or is it better (obviously not considering the environment) to buy cheap(er) things and throw them out when you've had enough? The Sessun stuff I bought last September has been pretty much all I've worn all winter and I've loved it. It was exactly right for me, for the time. Though the 3/4 length sleeve jumper is now short sleeved and full of bobbles from being washed, the duffel jacket leaked dye into the lining and the buttons changed colour when I dry cleaned it and the booties took a bit of work to sort out the squeaking, it's been my extremely cost effective uniform. But next winter, I'm pretty sure it won't be. (Ooh am I trying to talk myself into buying the whole Sessun collection each season?)

I don't know, maybe it's a post moth destruction phase but I can't quite see myself buying/wearing designer clothes anymore. Or as my neighbour so cheerily quipped when I told her strangers kept talking to me; "It's because you're more approachable 'cos you haven't got any of your designer clothes anymore." Uh, cheers for pointing that out. When I look at something and remember the extreme lengths I went to in the hunt for it, only to now see it full of holes and going straight in the bin, I feel a little bit sick, a little bit stupid, a little bit like I'll be buying everything at Gap from now on.

{photo: Henry Clarke}


Anonymous said...

(oh i do love how you write...really!!!). and what wonderful stories you always have to tell.;)

in terms clothing...i personally think a healthy mix of (both designer and non-designer clothing) is great. cheap clothing is also cheap quality..and like my mother alwqys says: "i'm not rich enough to buy cheap things"...

fabulous post....much food for thought!!

Juliet said...

Wondeful story! i love places with that kind of "heart" history.

juliet xxx

Gisele said...

I almost only buy things I really want, cheap or expensive and I get really attached to those items, I must remind myself that they are only objects. It´s a bit of a revelation when you realise, emotionally, how much of your identity is connected with the clothes you wear and the things you surround yourself with.

Nina79 said...

I personally have never bought designer clothes, but as I am getting older I realise that I prefer to buy a few more expensive pieces (like a good coat, a nice handbag or shoes) that will last. But they don't have to be designer. There is a middle ground out there.

To be honest, high fashion to me is a lot of hot air about something not really important. I like beautiful clothing, but I don't need a new look every 6 months or every 2 months, come to think of it.

Thea said...

Gap works! I like sessun, APC, Sandro BA&SH etc at the moment. All French I know but not too expensive and stylish. Buy what you like and can afford and dont worry too much about it. You can perhaps be more creative with less designery stuff anyway. A mix is always good.
PS I love cocktail gherkins (so long as thery are really crunchy)

serenknitity said...

Lovely post.

I curbed my buying of 'stuff' after doing a couple of boot sales in the early nineties. Nothing like seeing things that you once coveted spread out over a wallpapering table, being pored over, and then wandering and looking at all the other tables full of what was once desirable and is now tat. It also put me off buying exercise equipment, as that seemed to be in good supply, and looking suspiciously unused...

Bombay Beauty said...

A very interesting reflection --

I enjoyed for my own reasons, which you know, hearing of the streets where you grandparents worked and where you lived years later -- these were streets that I crossed daily when I was in London. (I have begun to realize that my tendency to begin phrases with "when I was in London" is becoming annoying -- not intentionally so, it's just that London is one of those cities that becomes a reference point if one has lived there rather than just been a tourist -- I imagine New York would be the same -- And there is the human element of relating to something through one's own experience, even if it's narrow...)

But happy to hear that you're pulling out of moth horror into some po(st)-mo(th) signs of spring.

The question of whether to buy "classic" and keep forever or whether to buy things of the moment and enjoy them for now is a difficult one. I find that my problem is not so much that my taste has changed or that styles have changed but my budget increased, at least for a while. I went through a phase of a few years (hmm, was it a decade?) in which I was essentially replacing things I already owned with better versions of themselves, since I now noticed the difference and could at least some margin afford something better.

Now I'm at the stage where if I want to buy more, then I really have to change my tastes to something more topical. And if I did so, then I think I would arrive where you are -- namely I don't see myself paying thousands of dollars for something that could look ridiculous next year, but if it's cheap and fun then why not enjoy it for now?

And after all, you have a garden. Couldn't you just compost it all afterward?