Saturday, January 31, 2009

Scrubbers ahoy!


I'm afraid that this is only going to be funny to my British readers. This is a sign from a New York Subway platform somewhere in Manhattan.

(TR - scrubber is an offensive word for a low-life woman who puts it about, so to the English mind this implies that the room is for the purpose of shagging.)

Makeovers

Brilliant, brilliant Caitlin Moran has written a piece for today's London Times on the transformative power of the make-over which made me hoot with laughter. I also rather agreed with her.

Getting to the point where I believed in make-overs has taken me at last ten years. I once pissed off a make-up artist on a shoot by commenting tactlessly that I was past the age of believing that make-up could make me look wondrously transformed. Bad mistake because she then made all my models look like crap. But what I really meant was that I didn't believe all that magazine guff that tries to convince me that if I just had access to the right tools and the right product I would be thinking daily, wow I could shag myself I look so hot.

In my experience, given access to a big box of make-up tricks generally you just look like a less scary version of your day to day self. And, once I'd had several make up jobs from pro makeup artists for various portraits and events, I gave up thinking that I would emerge from the studio dazzling everyone with my new-found beauty.

Then I was given the works at the Christian Dior artist suite at the Cannes Film Festival for a premiere I was attending one year and suddenly I understood why everyone made such a fuss about make-overs. Granted, my transformation was aided by huge fake eyelashes, a crop sprayer of hair lacquer and an inch of slap, but God I looked well, almost, gorgeous.

(I would have looked even better if I hadn't had a huge spot on my chin, which, looked particularly fetching blown up on the huge television screens tracking our inching high heeled progress up the endless red carpeted stairs at the Palais des Festivals that evening.)

But at least I now know that, given at least three hours, a bunch of fake hair & eyelashes, and the world's best make-up artists & stylists, I too can look pretty damn good.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dangly earrings: my obsession

I love what my father calls dingly danglies: earrings that flash & sparkle through my hair. My main criteria is price: I lose one of every pair I ever buy. Three singles on my Christmas trip to London alone. So, beyond thrilled to discover a stand at the back of the ground floor of ABC Carpet & Home selling dozens of these papier mache Indian earrings for between $20 & $30. You can also pick them up in Manhattan in the Indian shops around Murray Hill in the East 30s, and in Jackson Heights in Queens where they are definitely cheaper, but not quite as easy to get to as Union Square. This pair were from Banana Republic last November for about $24. I do think Banana's jewellery is fantastic. Great prices and unusual too.

Desert dancing

I am desperate for sunshine and for a holiday. It's not the relaxing I need, just the getting away from it all. Which is why I am currently worshipping at the feet of Tales From The Runway who is buying me a ticket to Coachella. And it's in the desert in California. There is nothing I love more than dancing in fields.

Yup, I have wonderful friends.

And she's just sent me the line-up. The Cure! The Killers! Morrissey! Franz Ferdinand! Groove Armada! My Bloody Valentine! Sheer aural bliss.

Manhattan's Museum of Art & Design

Last Sunday Muv & I visited MAD, the Museum of Art & Design. It’s received surprisingly little fanfare considering it’s a major new museum in the middle of Manhattan. It opened last September bang on Columbus Circle (that’s just by the bottom left corner of Central Park in Midtown) in a neat, self-contained, ex gallery building, with a shiny new external & internal makeover. (Swarovski (is there anything they don’t sponsor?) have placed a whopping great chandelier in the entrance and Tord Boontje’s ravishing Blossom chandelier hangs in the gift shop.) The museum itself is small, but that means it doesn't overwhelm. A restaurant will open later this year on the top floor.
The emphasis is on craft, rather than industrial design as at London’s excellent Design Museum or Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne, so if you go expecting Dyson vacuum cleaners and Ty Nant bottles in the permanent collection you will be doomed to disappointment. If however you love pottery by Bernard Leach and Lucy Rie, admire modern glasswork techniques or have a thing for the evolution of jewelry in the 20th century, then this is the place for you.
From top:
Harumi Nakashima, (born 1950) JapanStruggling Form ( From the Ecstatic Series) 2004. Stoneware
Derek Bencomo (born 1962) United States Gift From the Rainforest, 1999 Kamani Wood
Meryll Saylan (born 1936) United States Tribute to Hans Coper, 2001 Wood, paint, dye

Regressing

I bought my London flat in 1999 – a three bedroom ex-council place in a very lovely part of North London, just by Hampstead Heath, at a time when such a thing was a (just about) affordable project on a starter salary. (I'd never have done it tho if I hadn't been prodded by my little sister who knows about finance.)

Over the time I lived there, I gradually re-did most of the rooms. I designed my dream kitchen (thank you Ikea & Habitat) – a seven foot metal edged counter top for plating up, huge deep drawers under all the counters for my equipment, more power points than were strictly necessary, steel shelving with my collection of glass along one wall, a slate grey (faux) Dalsouple floor and an extendable dining table that could seat 14 in a pinch.

My bedroom had fitted cupboards with glass handles from the Night market in Bangkok, with special shelving for my handbags and shoes, and the bathroom was all shiny & new. There were bookshelves everywhere, even over the door lintels, and one wall of the pale grey painted, south-facing living room had black self patterned wallpaper. There was a 1950’s walnut cocktail cabinet with lacquered legs in one corner, and huge cream sofas in the middle of the room. There was even a proper linen cupboard in the hallway, which I filled with piles of crisp, starched bed linen, napkins and blankets for the winter.

I loved my flat, & spent way too much money I didn't have on making it look beautiful. It's on a quiet, grassed estate, which belies its looks (I've never felt safer living there), with wonderful neighbours who kept an eye on things for me when I was travelling. Inside was a haven of secure calm. My friends called it the Tardis (From Doctor Who: it means tiny on the outside, huge inside). It’s now rented out to three Chinese architecture students.

Preparing it for rental was brutal. My little sister & I worked to empty it in five days; I’m a terrible squirrel & hadn’t realised just how much stuff I had accumulated in eight years. She had to continue disposing after I went back to America, about which I still feel awful. I had to strip the black wallpaper, paint everywhere white, Freecycle the contents of the kitchen, and get rid of my bedroom furniture, from my beautiful Victorian bedstead to the chandelier on the ceiling: apparently the Chinese believe antique furniture is a bad thing.

When I last did a landlord check, there was a neat pile of shoes at the front door, the living room was an architect’s office, with drawing boards and Auto-Cad stations around the walls & the kitchen looked bare. In a way, it’s easier than if it looked like my home. And in this market I’m glad I have tenants who can cover my mortgage. I don’t make anything from renting it out but at least I still have a toe in the property market somewhere.

Going from proud homeowner to impoverished sub-letter does make renting here in NYC something of a trial. When I was earning shiny pounds in 2007’s boom, they stretched forever in Manhattan and I could live pretty much where I liked, but now the pound has crashed and the American dollars I earned last year do not go very far. At All. As it is, I basically have to live in a room in someone else’s apartment, with all my possessions therein. I can be fiendishly untidy, and that’s difficult when you are sub-letting in someone else’s space. Books become a luxury, as there is nowhere to keep them, and even an ironing board becomes an optional extra when there is no cupboard for one.

And now I’m moving again. This is not something about which I am wreathed in smiles. But, for the space I currently inhabit I could pay less elsewhere and, given the state of the media market in Manhattan, (Condé Nast’s Domino folded this week), I think retrenching is sensible. But oh it’s making me depressed. Not least because I love super-intelligent, literate & French LK, my current roommate. I was so lucky to find him and can’t imagine any other roommate will be as interesting and as fun to live with. Gah.

PS If anyone is interested, LK needs a sub-letter for my lovely sunny furnished room in his apt in the East Village, between 1st & A, just by Tompkins Square Park. Email me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

MS research breakthrough

This is such encouraging news for MS sufferers.

Some of my favourite things!


In the hideous mess of the garage attics back home are also more than a few of those big tartan print laundry bags into which I scooped the contents of my linen cupboard, under bed storage, bottom drawers and wardrobe shelves when I emptied my London flat for my tenants.

After two years however I've become increasingly detached from these stray possessions and finding it easy to give, throw or donate away much of them. I have emptied twelve huge bags now (after all - do I really need an entire bag of knackered towels just in case I go to the beach or have a dog to dry?). I'm working on the theory that if I really need something I can just buy it when I need it. For example: one good beach towel as opposed to a space busting bag-full of crappy ones.

I also found these hot water bottles in a bag full of the contents of my London linen cupboard and they so came back to NYC with me. (They are quite difficult to buy here: my last trawl took me through SIX drugstores. Not like in blessed Boots where they are practically a centrepiece display. Then again homes are generally newer & warmer here, and central heating is a lot more efficient than in the UK).

The bottle with furry sheep cover I've had since I was a child, the chic heart was a Christmas present from my aunt, and the little fish was bought for me by darling J. She's a movie AD and she came across them when costume gave them to actors to keep their hands warm on set. She trawled London for one for me thinking I'd find it useful on outdoor shoots. She is such a star.

Shopping in my wardrobe

My general desire to purge right now has some added benefits. At Christmas I also addressed the huge storage bins in the garage attics at home in England where I keep out of season clothes and pieces I swear I'll be thin enough to fit into one day, (as opposed to the other ancient attic I cleared out here).

Although I donated lots to the local Hospice, one of the additional benefits of actually sorting through everything is finding cool pieces to resurrect and keep me from shopping. I dug out these leopard stilettos which I think must be from 2004 or 2005 and which came straight back to NYC in my luggage. Now I just need the ice to melt.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Show Me Your Wardrobe Showmeyourwardrobe.com

I was itching to write about my gorgeous ex-NYC partner-in-crime JD's website Show Me Your Wardrobe all last year, but being barred from blogging made that impossible.

It's a site of quite brilliant genius: she photographs her stylish friends & colleagues in the creative industries in their favourite outfits. Models, stylists, art directors, publicists: all get their shot in the sun. It's so neat, so simple that it's hard to believe that no one thought of it before clever JD. Sure, we all know the blogs that shoot people on the street on their own clothes, but SMYW posts posed shots of creative people in a series of outfits taken specifically for the website.

Take 2 models closes

Whilst indulging in a little of the procrastination at which I am so skilled, I saw on Tales from the Runway that Take 2 Models in London was closing its doors after over 25 years in the business. Amongst others, they represented Jasmine Guinness, Maggie Rizer, Lisa Cant, Hye Park and Esther Canadas.

Until I stopped crossing the Atlantic to style campaigns back in England & elsewhere at the beginning of last year, I had booked models through Take 2 since 1997 and dealt with founder Gabriella through all that time. Always incredibly professional, efficient, & with an eye for great girls and boys (although the men’s division shut down some years ago), especially in the key commercial but not cheesy sector, I probably booked more models for my money jobs through them than through any other agency worldwide. And when I was at a big UK mag in the 90s, many of our cover girls came from Take 2.

So, a big thank you to all the bookers & models I worked with over the years. And good luck for the future.

What to wear in a New York winter

Statcounter, known as Statstalker in my household, can tell you which keywords drive people to your blog. One of the most popular Google searches is something along the lines of “What to wear in NYC in February”. Judging by the weather this January the answer is simple.

Layers. Many, many layers. It’s dehydratingly hot inside nearly every store & home and bloody cold outside. It’s like Lucy hopping into frozen Narnia from the nice warm, fur-filled Wardrobe every time you run an errand.

We’ve already seen the mercury dip to -20C (-4F) in the past fortnight, and last night it snowed again. Weather.com tells me that there is only one day in the next ten where the temperature will not drop well below freezing (32F). [Look I do realise that if you are reading this in Wyoming or Nebraska then you will think me ludicrously wet. But bear with me: to a soft Londoner, used only to crappy perma-rain and one snow storm a year, Manhattan in the depths of winter is an inclement place.]

I so admire the precision of the weather forecasters here who, yesterday, announced that it would start to snow after 9pm and would result in several inches by morning. And, yup, I was wrenched out of my silk-clad, snuggly duvet bliss at 7am by the sound of plastic snow shovels scraping across the sidewalks. We had at least three inches overnight but already it is sleeting and we now have a few days of klutz-baiting ice to look forward to. (I seem to spend a fair proportion of the winter on my arse.)

This is because it’s so bloody cold here that the snow just stays around getting icier and more dangerous. Gah. I’m relying on my rubber Hunter welly boots to keep me both upright and warm, as they have deep, rugged treads and I can fit the holy trinity of woollen tights, woollen over the knee socks and my cashmere bedsocks inside them. Uggs & the like are pretty useless unless they have magic water-repelling qualities, & there’s no way I am ruining my beautiful bespoke black leather Selve leather boots in the salty slush.

As for the rest, my daily uniform consists of a camisole – not thermal as experience tells me you just roast once indoors, a cashmere twinset, a just below the knee black wool bubble skirt with petticoat underneath, a DKNY black merino Cozy wrapped Ballerina style around my body and a knee length beige fur coat on top. The whole lot is topped off with those magic ear muffs that lie hidden under your hair, rather than sitting on top of your head like ludicrous furry headphones, and the biggest, softest, blanket-y cashmere shawl in my possession folded and wrapped around my neck and chin. Oh, and cashmere lined leather gloves. With the silk liners that I use for skiing inside if it’s really parky. I’m still searching for the perfect tam o’shanter, so I don’t wear a hat at the moment.

This all works beautifully: jeans & trousers get uncomfy, bulky & sweaty with tights etc underneath. Plus a skirt seems to trap more hot air and keeps my knees warm. Once indoors, all I have to do is remove my wellies and knees socks simultaneously, replacing them with heels or ballerines, unwind & discard my Cozy and hey presto: a normal outfit.

It bags, and why I hate them

Why, why, why did we covet It bags? The large, shiny logo clad bags that supposedly proclaimed the wearer’s innate fashionability and flush bank account. Looking back over the years since Mulberry’s Gisele bag hit the shelves, it seems as though we have been lost in a frenzy of self-regarding accessory purchases. Shoes I can get, generally they are timeless, their purchase driven not so much by fashion as desire. But bags, big clunky, hardware-heavy bags seem to speak only to the wearer’s bank balance rather than their taste.

Of course, it’s easy to track the reasons for the trend: the collusion between magazine editorial and their advertisers (for most It Bags were produced by the heavy ad spend houses,) the huge margins for the houses, the enormous global sales volumes if a bag caught the imagination, the easy brand identification and the subsequent status conferred on the wearer.

I can feel smug now and say that I never fell into the status bag trap. In fact during the peak of the bag-hype years, I didn’t actually have one. Although it wasn’t that I didn’t want one exactly, more that I never found one I really liked. And I was subconsciously repelled by the idea of investing so much money in something every other woman seemed to be carrying, and which would be marked as fashion road kill within a season. Maybe if I had had more spare cash I would have fallen. Who knows?

I bought my first proper everyday bag in 2005. By the shockingly talented Janet Collin, it was a textured stone leather, had lots of pockets with clever hidden magnetic clasps, a little leather clad mirror hanging from the perfectly calibrated strap which fit just so under my arm and, best of all, it whispered rather than screamed raucously from my outfit. To me, it said everything a bag should. That is, nothing at all to the random observer, bar an impression of chic and style.

So, I’m not averse to bags by designers, bags with labels. But I want bags that will last, that are timeless, simple and, preferably, unrecognizable to the woman on the street. Since the stone bag, I have kept my day bag acquisition to a minimum. I bought another, simple, Janet Collin bag in black leather in 2007. I inherited my grandmother’s brown alligator bag. For grown-up affairs, funerals and the such-like, I have a black suede Lulu Guinness sample sale buy.

For weekends, my mother gave me a timeless tan men’s Mulberry satchel with a broad canvas strap for Christmas a year ago to replace her 1960’s leather one I carried for fifteen years. That same Christmas, at my request, my sister gave me the perfect dark brown satchel from The Celtic Sheepskin Company which fell apart in six months. (There’s something to be said for investing in a good bag after all.) And I have a small black nylon Prada satchel bag (a maternal present from the Milan Prada outlet), which I use to carry my prop kit on shoots (with the logo facing in).

I have to admit to one screamer of a bag: the Michael Teperson Toaster, which arrived as a gift from his atelier in Milan in a huge FEDEX box, stuffed with tissue and good wishes after I had interviewed him for a mag in 2006. And I do carry it, consoling myself with the knowledge that I love it for its clever design and not for any conferred status, or because I saw it flaunted on the arm of an actress in a magazine.

My current favourite bag is as low-key as they come. I found it in the Comptoir des Cotonniers concession in Galeries Lafayette on the boulevard Haussmann when I was at the Paris shows last October. I liked its super soft black calf leather, its clever simplicity and the long body strap, but popped it back on the shelf, thinking that 150 EUR was too much for a bag from Comptoir.

Of course, I saw it again two days later in the window of an agreeably pretty CdC store as we walked through the Marais, indulging in a spot of leche-vitrines. And, so it was bought.

I have worn it everyday since, slung across my body. It’s the perfect size, just big enough for a paperback, with two interior pockets, and a couple of zipped security ones. I can’t say it’s worn very well: rather than becoming agreeably battered, close up the soft leather now just looks like it’s been run over. But the $50 it will cost to get it renovated is well worth the money for I can’t think of a better bag to wear right now.

Medicinal Theatre

It’s funny how, just when you’ve had a thought about the world, one so often then reads somewhere a quote or idea that exactly echoes your feelings.

Reading Cate Blanchett’s interview in this month’s Vanity Fair, her theatre director husband Andrew Upton says about his and Blanchett’s work with the Sydney Theatre Company:

“The most important thing to achieve will be generational change in the audiences. From the older generation there’s a slightly medicinal quality to the approach to culture, which is that it’s good for you and will make you a better person, which I think is a kind of turn off. We’re hoping to take a more joyous approach.”

Exactly what I was trying to say below. Although, I prefer not to lump myself in with the ‘older generation’, I was brought up with that ‘medicinal’ approach to culture. So, it’s always wonderful when a production such as The Bridge Project's The Cherry Orchard playing now at BAM proves that classical theatre can be wholly enjoyable whilst still delivering its message (the sugar-coated pill, so to speak.)

[Of course, if this were Proper Journalism and not a blog, I would immediately re-write the entry below. But blog entries are supposed to stand as written at the time (although I must plead guilty to the occasional re-jig of an infelicitous sentence or piece of clumsy syntax), and a complete re-write is not the Done Thing.]

Monday, January 26, 2009

BAM: The Cherry Orchard

Some years ago Miss P & I finally got round to admitting how much we preferred to musicals to straight plays. Growing up, I went to the theatre a lot: my school was only an hour from London so there were frequent trips on offer, & I went on most. It never occurred to me to question whether I was actually enjoying the plays I saw: I just saw playgoing as an essential part of being cultured and engaged with the arts.

Now that I am older, I realise that what I really want is to be amused and entertained, taken out of my life, rather than having a mirror held up to my inner fears as the best play writing does. Of course I can appreciate the message behind Journey’s End (& cry my eyes out watching it), or thrill to the rhetoric in Julius Caeser but, frankly, I prefer to read serious, thoughtful plays than see them on stage. That’s not to say I want to watch bedroom farces, (which I loathe), but I just that I prefer some spectacle on stage which isn’t connected, for example, to eyes being put out (King Lear), or Romans killing each other (Coriolanus)

Friday night, against my better judgment, we headed to BAM in Brooklyn to see the first production from The Bridge Project, Sam Mendes' plan to bring together English & American actors in one company, that would play on both sides of the Atlantic. (At the Old Vic in London.)

Amongst others, The Cherry Orchard stars Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack, Ethan Hawke and Rebecca Hall. Refreshingly Mendes has resisted the temptation to transfer the mise en scene to the Deep South of the 30s or Nazi Germany, leaving every angle of the production from costume to set firmly in late 19th century Russia, as Chekhov intended.

The acting is superlative, reined in, and the more effective for it. Rebecca Hall’s stage presence as Varya is extraordinary, even when she is still, observing, and her acting effortless, matched only by the tour de force that is Russell Beale’s wholly sympathetic Lopakhin. Ethan Hawke was a surprise: he is very good, holding his own against some of England's most experienced actors.

And, most of all, the modern rhythm and vernacular of Tom Stoppard’s new translation keeps the action moving, avoids longueurs, and wholly engages the audience. The play is relevant, interesting and full of a sad humour. And I'm glad I was persuaded to attend.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Best blow out in NYC

Bar a two year hiatus somewhere around 1994/5, I have always had long blonde hair, with no layers or fringe (US: bangs). To put it simply, I do not represent a challenge to the hairdressing industry.

But, easy hair or no, I am also incredibly spoilt: frequently I get my hair cut by session stylists on shoots and, more often, for free in extremely expensive salons by stylists who know, if I am happy, I will recommend them to other editors, to friends and maybe write them up in print from time to time. Of course, like most editors, I am usually strapped for cash (we get paid little, and rely on the emollient joy of the freebies that enable us to present a groomed front,) but even I can afford the hefty proportional tip that comes with freebie haircuts.

The flip side is that when a free hair cut isn’t in the offing, and my over generous use of the curling iron is making my split ends a thing of horror; I have no idea where to go. I worry about butchers with scissors in cheap salons and, equally, can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for a simple haircut.

This brings me to Mariko at dlala on Avenue A in the East Village. Scooting past on the way to the Post Office, I clocked both the Japanese stylists and the extremely reasonable price list. I trust Japanese hair stylists: I like the precision & thoughtfulness they bring to cutting, as much as the head massages they always give.

She fitted me in as a walk-in, sat me down in the window for a through consultation - something that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should, and then gave me not just a clever cut, but the best blow dry I’ve had in this city. (And I've been everywhere - from the Polish salons on 1st to Rita Hazan.)

I dropped my mother off there yesterday to have her hair blow dried– chuckling at the juxtaposition of Uptown, Birkin –toting, black-clad, Chanel-loving mother and Downtown, rainbow-striped dress-wearing Mariko. When I saw her forty minutes later, my mother looked like she’d had a pro make-over. Again, quite simply the best blow out she’s ever had.

And, yes, we both paid.

Mariko Roberts @ Dlala.
149 Avenue A, NY10009. Tel: +1 212 777 5252
Blow outs from $35
Hair cuts (incl. blow out) from $60

New York with my mother

My mother is in town for five nights and so it falls to me to provide the entertainment schedule. I am nothing if not her daughter and so, generally, we are on the same page; although I draw a very firm line regarding spending Saturday afternoon in Macy’s with the hordes.

We tend to eat often and well, go for mani-pedis & massages, and whisk around museums and galleries. ABC Carpet & Home, Strand Books, and Walgreens are always on the list, as are theatre & cinema trips. We saw The Cherry Orchard on Friday at BAM, and Slumdog Millionaire & Benjamin Button are scheduled for Monday & Tuesday when most of Manhattan’s museums remain firmly closed.

Today we are headed to Chinatown Brasserie on Lafayette for dim sum with JK (to thank her for lending me her flat last week) then, having persuaded my mother last trip that a subway journey was unlikely to result in mugging, disorientation or violent death, we will hop the 6 train uptown to the Guggenheim, Met & MAD. Later I shall cook supper and I suspect that we will eat it sitting on the sofa with a bottle of good wine & the New York Times lying scattered & ignored around our feet, whilst we watch Cold Case on the telly.

Friday, January 23, 2009

New York in the snow


Pearls

There was a heavy snowstorm last week when so I left my suitcase behind at JK's apartment in Soho when I returned to the East Village. When I went round to pick it up, these beautiful long double strands of freshwater pearls were waiting for me as gift from London from JK and from BA who had found them whilst BA was showing JK all her favourite stores. I love the lustre: I am a very lucky girl to have such good friends.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Soho House New York

I went to Soho House for drinks & a proper catch up last night with beautiful L who, to my shame, I haven’t seen since before I hopped it back to London last year. In the lift, on the way up, I started chatting with two guys and an observer commented that everyone in the lift was English. “Well, not that surprising: we are in Soho House”, I replied. And he (English too), rather grumpily muttered, ” God It’s all a bit sad.”

I really don’t understand this attitude. Soho House is a series of grown up private members’ clubs in England and in America, founded in London, still based in London, which offers reciprocal membership of its rather nice NY offshoot to its English members. (In NY, it is also a hotel, albeit a very expensive, sexy one, so English guests aren’t exactly a surprise.)

Anyway, it’s hardly unexpected that if one pays for membership, as I have done in England for ten years, that we will want to use the club here and its numerous facilities generously. His implication, I guess, is that there’s something demeaning and sad in English people gravitating to an English club in NY, when there is so much on offer in this city.

But, here’s the thing. It’s not an English club for English people in Manhattan where they can sit about and discuss the price of sausages in Myers of Keswick (the UK grocery store in the Village.) In NY, Soho House is an extremely good international establishment catering, in the main, to its American clientele. Sure, if you ask nicely, they will produce a huge jar of Marmite from the kitchen at brunch, but there’s no effort to make it English, unless you count imaginative interior design, good food and delicious cocktails as the sole preserve of the English, and I think we all know that’s not necessarily true.

I loathe the idea of the ex-pat bubble too: I have made great efforts to have a circle of American friends here, and not just hang out with other English people in Manhattan. It’s incredibly easy to never talk to a single American, bar service staff here, and I don’t want to become of those people. Otherwise, what would be the point of moving to America? And that’s why the arrogant git in the lift judging us all annoyed me so much.

Inauguration Day

I’m glad we went to Washington: I would have made more than the eight hour round trip to be there for the seventeen minutes of Obama’s speech. It seemed as though the vast part of the crowd was African American, and those standing around us were openly crying, tears rolling down their cheeks whilst he spoke. Standing behind us were three girls who had travelled from Kenya to be there and who couldn’t contain their excitement, screaming with joy.

Of course, like many of Obama’s campaign speeches, it was a masterpiece, long on rhetoric, short on substance. It’ll take at least a year to have any firm idea if he can put his money where his mouth is, but judging by the crowd’s reaction, his supporters are willing to wait. The emotional elderly gentle man on the train on the way to DC put it best: “He’s not the Messiah and I worry that expectations are too high. He’s only a man. But I have faith.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

America's Finest

Oh goodness it is quite chilly now. We are corralled in a hamster run along Pennsylvania Avenue with no way out. Intending to get in a spot of sightseeing after the Inauguration Ceremony finished, we soon realised that we were meant to stay put for two hours until the parade started. Which is now running fifty five minutes late. Tut tut Mr Obama.

I have been amusing myself by flirting with America's Finest. Forces from all over the States have sent officers, who are lined up down the Avenue in their divisions and who are as cold and bored as the onlookers . So far, we have met the

North Carolina Highway Patrol (I suggest this may be a good day to break the speed limit in NC judging by how many Highway cops they sent), Greenborough NC's cops, some rather lovely guys from The National Guard in full-on desert fatigues & balaclavas, a couple of Uniformed Secret Agents (tautology there I feel), and a very sweet Officer Lopez from the Border Patrol in Texas searched me on the way through the security checks.

The ones I really want to meet are from Rhode Island who look like they have escaped from The Producers, in brown riding boots, britches, and wasp waisted & belted brown leather long line jackets. Although the Tactical Squad from Birmingham, Alabama could give them a run for their money in some rather natty skin tight blue trousers and butch cropped bomber jackets.

Still, for all the light chat with the security forces, it's hard to forget why they are all here. Every high building in sight has a couple of counter snipers in position, and all the policemen have black nylon sacks attached to their trouser legs which don't, as I suggested, contain sandwiches, but gas masks.



Photo: The Barrister

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Waterworks

I've already cried once and I haven't got off the train yet. The gentleman opposite me was here in Washington, marching in 1963. He told me that his life had now turned full circle by coming to Washington today. He just wished his parents were alive to be there with him.

He had been a student activist in the 60s and they all thought the world would change then. It did, but not as they had hoped.

Above all, he said, now crying, Obama had given him a fresh hope. Hope that things would change this time.
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Having been told that every train into DC would be packed, we managed to find two facing quads of reclining seats into which I stretched out, covered in my fur coat, and proceeded to sleep like a baby all the way to Washington.

I've just woken up to find an elderly African American gentleman sitting opposite me. With Obama hat and an Obama watch, grinning like a kindergartner on a school outing in three sweaters plus. The last time he'd worn that many layers, he reckons, his mother had dressed him for school.

I'm the same. Tights, woollen stockings, cashmere socks inside my wellies, a wool bell skirt, silk undies and a cashmere twinset bobble hat, ear muffs and a scarf big enough to use as a blanket. There's no way I'm getting cold.

We've got two hours now until the Inauguration Ceremony starts but I think it'll take that long to get from the station to anywhere near the big screens. I still can't believe we are here.
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Milan Ready to Wear Collections: The Inside Story Part Six. The end

To be honest, I LOATHE Milan. Grey, industrial, clogged with traffic and full of people who don't speak English. (In my defence, I’m hardly linguistically challenged: I speak fluent French and, um, Latin, but it's not easy trying to work so hard in a country where no one has any English.) You try six days in a car with a driver who has no English and gets left and right confused continually – which is no joke when you exit a show in the rain with five hundred other people, all of whom are hunting for their identical black cars which are crawling in traffic to get to the venue, and you are tried, hungry & grumpy, fed up with being elbowed in the exit melee by pushy assistants & bodyguards, wearing silly shoes and a by now wet and see through diaphanous dress in which you totter down to the left hand corner 200 yards away to wait for the car, only to discover he meant right which is now 400 yards in the opposite direction…. And you do that ten times a day.

I am now remembering the shin splints from high heel wearing (technically having a driver means no walking or standing, but there's always going to be waiting outside a venue by which time your driver has buggered off to eat panini & watch Inter kick soccer arse in some cafe for the next hour), and the continually rumbling tummy - take it from me, Haribo are not a nutritious or filling lunch - and the rain. It always bloody rains in Milan. And you can guarantee we'll all be wearing something that doesn't take kindly to wet. Feathers, silk frocks, suede open toe hooker shoes, vertiginous platforms that have no traction on rain sodden pavements.

But of course there is always the moment when something glorious happens and you get swept away on a tide of extraordinary and beautiful clothing that redefines the craft and you remember why you love your job....

Milan Ready to Wear Collections: The Inside Story Part Five,

So, the nuts & bolts. We all stay between the Grand et Milan (I stayed here last time but hate it – old school, rococo nonsense, rooms a cat would object to being swung in), the Four Seasons, Principe and Bulgari. The FS & Bulgari are eye wincingly expensive, the Grand and Princh just staggeringly expensive. Anywhere else is considered decidedly déclassé and people staying elsewhere will do anything to avoid telling you where they are being put up.

The place to eat is a fairly dismal looking trad trat called della'langhe on Corso Cormo (I saw skeletal Rachel Zoe propping up the wall outside having a fag this time round). I’ve never got it but it's cult amongst editors, who happily expense gallons of Prosecco and plates of 50 Eur truffled pasta. Da Giacomo is better but I can think of better things to do than eating surrounded by the same people I've been eyeballing across the runway all day. As for drinking, sure some people (network-y publicists and juniors who aren't doing dinners) party and hang out in the Princh bar ‘till god knows when, but I am always drooping with jet lag & desperate for my bed.

I noticed last season that American magazines were seriously trimming their teams. In addition to the editor in chief & fashion director, there are usually the accessories director & fashion market director, maybe the fashion news director too. If a mag has a creative director like Elle & Joe Zee, then they will come too. The publisher will prob swing in for a few key shows - Armani of course, maybe Versace, Gucci too.

If there are any key contributing fashion editors (who just work on specific shoots, not salaried) on the mag who are household names in the industry, the mag may sponsor them too, certainly apply for their tickets. Maybe several of the senior fashion editors too, but times are tough so they aren't around as much.

On the way to DC...

Beyond excited. Heading to Washington on the 0605hrs train with The Barrister and HZ. I have looked out my silk Patra t shirts and leggings as I suspect that there will be much standing outside in zero temperatures. Other than that, I have my camera and some Haribo. Fully prepared, me. I will be blogging live from DC, so watch this space.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Milan Ready to Wear Collections: The Inside Story Part Four

Did I mention the waiting? The endless waiting for shows to start? And how much everyone bar the newspapers & websites who need continuous streams of civilian-friendly copy, LOATHE celebrities at fashion shows? They are always late and hold up the shows, in turn making editors late for their next appointments. And whose anally retentive, built like a brick shithouse bodyguards always manage to tread on poor editor toes or send ickle twiglets flying with a careless elbow in the after show rush for the two exits (think camels through eye of needle).

Darling we are fashion editors, as if we cared about stupid Beyonce. Actually of course everyone wants to get a good look at her but it's professional death to show any interest whatsoever. Personally, I say thank god for the people-watching. It's the only thing that stops me from getting RSI from pecking away at my Blackberry.

The reason we are all so busy is because we don't just attend the shows: there are the hellish meetings called re-sees. These do what they say on the tin: not only do you have to endure the pastel pailette horror of the Armani mainline show* but you then have to pitch up again at the showroom in the arse end fo nowhere to look through rooms of blah (not just the runway pieces, but all the accessories, jools, bags, swimwear, knickers etc) making nodding gestures and lying through your teeth about how much you like it.

So an average day might have 8 shows and eight re-sees. You just don't stop. I spend my entire time scrolling through Google Maps on my BlackBerry in solitary splendour in the back of my car working out if I have time to fit in the show of a minor advertiser on the other side of town or another re-see appointment or, hopefully, a trip to the Marni Outlet out in the South East – where every single editor goes during the week, preferably the day they arrive &, as mentioned, before the Japanese Marni-obsessive editor hordes descend. (Think locusts.)

*(99% of fashion people secretly ABHOR Armani but we have to a) shoot it because of the advertising and b) go to the shows as the Armani publicists are shameless about harassing you continually if you don't turn up to the sodding show)

The pippets

Mrs Mad tells me that the whippets & Maudie Littlehampton are very cross that I keep mentioning them but with no photographic evidence. Any excuse I say. So, without much further ado,

The Pippets (Violet on the left, ASBO/Billy on the right):


Asbo

Mopsy-dog

And Posetta Baddog (because she'll feel left out otherwise) And do admire the crispness of my new Leica lens:

Look - I'm English - What did you expect? Of course I'm obsessed with my dogs.

English Invasion

Mama is coming to stay on Thursday for five nights. She's feeling a bit January-blues-ish, flights are super cheap on the dreaded Virgin (I would boycott them because of their appalling telephone reservations system, and the fact they don't serve proper breakfast in Goat Class any more NY-LON, but they now have all my sodding Airmiles. And, of course they do have movies on demand. And they serve choc ices during said movies, so there are advantages) and it's not as if I am super-busy right now.

The whippets, Maudie Littlehampton (manipulative Jack Russell) & Iggy-Wiggy (ball of fluff/Maine Coone) are being looked after by R&C our beloved neighbours, who are airport-chauffeuring/house-sitting, & I have a Town Car booked to meet her at JFK so all is in readiness. Glamorous JK has offered up her Soho pad (now that it has new locks) so she even has an NYC base, if required.

I have told Mama to pack her thermal knickers, & she has emailed me to check up on my requirements from home. I reproduce below as I think it sums me up neatly:

"Please confirm to me what you would like me to bring - tins of Baked Beans, Marmite, contact lenses, plastic folder of receipts, Vogues and Grazias."

Ahhhh. The essentials of my life.

Milan Ready to Wear Collections: The Inside Story Part Three

The key thing about covering the Milan shows is that it's impossible without a car and a driver. The shows are spread out all over the city and the public transport system doesn’t seem to go anywhere near the show venues. The shows are every hour and, often, two an hour, so you would never get to anything on time if you took the metro. Average cost of a car & driver (including moderate overtime) for one week: EUR2000 ($2654).

My day started around 7am, but you can easily start an hour before that if you are an uber-groomed American magazine diva (& if you are Anna Wintour you have hair & makeup done professionally), followed by breakfast downstairs at 8am (39 Eur/$52) per head at the Grand et Milan but, fortunately for my expenses, included in my room rate), unless I had a breakfast with a publicist. Then I would totter out in my five inch platform stilettos to hop in my black car (door held open by uniformed driver) which would be idling on the pavement in a line of about 7 or so cars at 830 to take me to for the first appt/meeting of the day.

You rely on your driver to keep you sane during the shows. There's no time to eat (hence the importance of stuffing down large quantities of breakfast in manner of a grumpy dormouse filling its cheeks for the winter, although I expect that the nervy twiglets eschew breakfast for yoga or some such nonsense) so a good driver knows automatically to fill every spare pocket, door and niche (after all nature abhors a vacuum) in the car with sweeties, mini bottles of waters and tubes of Pringles.

Because that is all the nourishment you are getting till you eat at 10pm or later. (Can you imagine being in Italy and not having time to eat?) Some of the early morning shows lay on breakfast, if a Danish, espresso, glass of Champagne can be described as such, and you do actually see people eating - hell this is fashion, people eating is a noteworthy occurrence - because the show will inevitably run late and there is bugger all else to do except graze on carbs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Urban beauty

Walking through the snow-covered streets of the Lower East Side this morning, I came upon these bird marks in the shadow of the 19th century tenements on Essex Street. How beautiful in such an urban setting to see little footprints, more suited to a park, bang in the middle of the street in one of the most urban areas of Manhattan.

The Milan Collections: Part two

Milan is all about advertising. Editors covering the shows make no bones about the fact that they are there purely to ‘support’ the companies who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in their publications each year. Believe me, there is no other justification for sitting through a MaxMara show. The big advertiser shows ones are still helmed by their eponymous designers, Mr. Armani and his perma-tan at Armani, Donatella and her perma-tan at Versace, Cavalli & his perma-tan at Roberto Cavalli, Stefano & Domenico & their perma-tans at Dolce & Gabbana etc etc…Non-Italian,un-perma-tanned designers barely get a look in: Pucci had Matthew Williamson (UK) who’s just been replaced by Peter Dundas (Norway), and hmmm, oh Jil Sander has the genius Belgian Raf Simons at the helm.

It’s not just editors, models & stylists who fly in for the shows. Editors are seated in country blocks, and each House flies in its key publicists from the major markets to look after their country's editors. (In reality this means sending flowers & gifts to key editors’ hotel rooms, hosting dinners, organizing re-see appointments, doing the seating assignments and then scanning each row to check on editor attendance; absences – construed by publicists as lack of ‘support’ by the magazine - are duly noted when planning advertising schedules). This is not a job I envy as nearly every editor inevitably hates her seat allocation and the publicist then gets it in the neck when editor X turns up to discover that her arch rival from Y mag is sitting two rows in front of her.

This system of publicists looking after their own countries works well for editors if bullying publicists in person for better seats is a priority, but presents a major drawback if they are planning to skip the show of a minor advertiser in order to, say find a loo, or actually eat a meal sitting down (two things that don’t fit into the 12 show and eight re-sees a day schedule)or, sshh, head out to stock up at the Marni Outlet store before it's pillaged by the Japanese editor contingent. No chance that the absence will be missed by the eagle-eyed publicist.

It also fails if, say, the US publicist is busy celebrity wrangling and a US editor in chief is unimpressed to discover her seat is in the second row as happened at the Versace SS09 show. Unfortunately involved, I grabbed the first girl in sight with a headset - who turned out to be the Spanish sector publicist who could not have cared less about helping her. Mind you, faced with a brace of foreign hot, cross editors I’d have the same reaction.

Ethical dilemma

I had the most upsetting experience at a party in Soho this evening. I had been invited by X, a new friend whom I like very, very much, to the private birthday party of an elderly family friend, and was touched to be asked. It was a studio party, with a buffet in the corner, and guests coming and going all evening.

On my way home out of the studio door a woman, to whom I had been introduced in passing earlier, called out after me, pointing forcefully to a pot with money, in which she was collecting tithes for a birthday present. I gracefully said that I wasn’t able to contribute this time, and she asked me forcefully if I was a friend of X. Upon replying yes, she said that X needed to remember who had helped her in the past.

Failing to understand what this had to do with my personal circumstances, and quite surprised that anyone would chase an unknown guest for money, I went back up and said that I was so sorry. It was nothing to do with X, that I had recently left my job and that if I gave money I wouldn't be eating next week - (which is the sum of it – every single cent I have is accounted for until I get paid by my creditors.)

Her response was to tell me never to come back there again. I left and burst into tears outside - it was so humiliating.

I later found out that the woman was the wife of the family friend and she must have thought me rude for walking past her & her gaggle of friends in the foyer and not saying thank you or goodnight, but I had no idea that was who she was or, of course, I would have done.

Here’s the thing: should I have given something? I can only go by my own experience: I've thrown many lavish catered birthday parties for myself and maybe a third of the guests at most, the ones I know well, have bought presents. Should giving be obligatory by every attendee at a birthday party?

If I was in full time employment, I would have put ten or fifteen dollars into the pot without even thinking about it, just to be polite, even though I’m not sure I’m comfortable with being commanded to donate to a stranger’s birthday present. Should I have repaid the host’s hospitality by donating to his present fund (which he didn't know about, I hasten to add) even if it left me unable to buy my own groceries for the week?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Milan Ready to Wear Collections: The Inside Story Part one

I promised a few posts back that I was going to start my Guide to the Collections Abroad. This is part one, Milan.

The biannual fashion collections in New York, London, Milan & Paris are the nexus around which fashion magazine years are planned, but they aren’t always looked forward to with the glee that you might expect (Fashion! Foreign travel! All expenses paid! Celebrity! Parties! The Glamour! The shops!) The more usual reactions for those who have been on the hamster treadmill for some years are Jetlag! No sleep! Sore Feet! Always hungry! Standing in line for hours! Working with morons! Language barrier! What The Fuck Am I Going To Wear?!

Because here’s the thing: the shows are Work. Unless you are a shiny, just out of the box assistant or junior editor, brimming with youthful enthusiasm, the shows are Exhausting. Attending the collections as a senior magazine editor is not, as most people imagine, so much about seeing the beautiful clothes that remind you why you love your job, it’s about being nice to advertiser brands. Behind the stardust supplied by beautiful dresses, models and the odd celeb, is a schedule that brings you to your knees by the time Paris is over. There’s very little time for shopping and fun, there’s certainly no time to eat and those glam-looking parties you see photographed in Vague or on E!Online are cluster fucks of revolting people looking for photo opps and sleepy editors being nice to advertisers.

Whilst being blasé about having a wonderful job is a crime in itself, you do have to work very hard mentally to remind yourself why the circus is supposed to be enjoyable. Because however luxe and lovely the trappings in senior editor land are, if you are sleep-deprived, hungry and stressed they all rather fade away.

The thing to remember is that the Collections are essentially a series of trade fairs, where, instead of talking about rivets or semi-conductors, the participants talk models, make-up and silhouettes. They are not a week long whirl of joy. And, speaking of trade fairs, the general public are actively discouraged from any kind of participation, and the shows generally have little or no impact on the life of the cities.

After all, for the hotels & restaurants, fashion people are just better dressed than normal, business people who require lodging and food in the same way that any guest might. (Although in a slightly more demanding fashion, I grant you.) In Milan, the only Milanese who care about the shows are the Lotharios who prey on teen Eastern European models, the limo drivers who make more money in a week than they do in three months out of season, and the poor Milanese who are continually late for work because of the traffic caused by the hundreds of limos.

In England EVERYONE EATS BAKED BEANS

I was reading my new absolute favourite blog Belgian Waffle late into the night yesterday when I came across her description of the game "In England". This is not just germane to expats in Belgium. All English expats play it.

It consists of regarding your surroundings and saying, "In England this would be...". Basically it's a game of compare and contrast: sometimes the situation would be better at home, other times one is admiring of the foreign way of doing something. For example, in New York one might say, "In England you'd never get the bloody RMT Union to allow the Tube to run 24/7, it's so much more civilised here in Manhattan." or, conversely you might say, "In England, they'd never call a mess of congealed scrambled eggs an omelette".

It's the game that never tires.

Except many Americans LOATHE it. Because, of course, you can't criticise ANYTHING here. Sigh.

Sometimes I do long for the English attitude where, if you burned the Union Flag, no one would bat an eyelid. See - there's another example of 'In England', right off the bat.

Which also brings me to an email from an ex, Mr Avocado, who, upon reading the following line in yesterday's blog:
"*High class and shockingly priced deli/food store/home of deliciousness/purveyor of the $3 can of baked beans."

Commented:
Again with the baked beans, LLG. Honestly. They’re for proles here. And old people. You have a reputation to uphold. I mean.

IN ENGLAND they are a meal of high culinary virtue eaten by everyone from the Queen to, well, me. Seriously, they are a national treasure. Eaten on toast with lots of butter or with chips (Fries) & sausages. And they do not cost $3. More like 60p/90C. They also taste & look different: less sugar and a special green tin, and are probably the most missed food by expats abroad.

Wikipedia explains it thus, "There are substantial differences between the Heinz baked beans sold in the UK and the nearest equivalent US product (Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans). The US beans contain brown sugar where the British beans do not, and the US product contains 14g of sugar per tin compared to 7g for the British version (equating to 140 vs 90 calories). The US beans have a mushier texture and are darker in colour than their UK counterpart."

I was looking for a pic and just came across this blog entry from another expat extolling their virtue. Altho, granted, even the Europeans think it's weird how the English obsess about them. BA's euro-chic husband Marc is French/Danish and thinks they are the food of the devil.

Being good

I am on the Spending Very Little Money diet which is actually remarkably similar to my normal diet. It's just that this one involves avoiding bloody Whole Foods and the larcenous mark-ups therein, using up every scrap of food in my fridge & larder, even if what I really, really want to do is eat Nachos in a silver takeout tray from Pacquitos, and not buying luxury food like buffalo mozzarella, haloumi cheese or imported Kerrygold butter (also known as the food that makes me fat).

In itself all of this is Very Good. I am being Economical, Green, Seasonal (Turnips! Cabbage! Squash! Curly kale! More kale! More sodding kale!), Healthy, and Inventive With Menus. I'll be joining the Womens Institute soon. And, really, all this economising could really just be called a regimen minceur. Which is a bloody good thing too as I ate way too much delicious and therefore bad food chez mama this Christmas. Crumpets figured largely as did the dread Quality Street. Also Pops gave me a large box of Celebrations choccies at our pre-Christmas, Christmas lunch. This is what happens to the children of divorcing parents. They get fat by having access to twice the amount of chocolate.

BTW I do apologise to those of you who come to this blog in the belief that I will be blogging about my soi-disant glamorous Manhattan lifestyle. I hope to resume normal dilettante behaviour when someone decides that they need to employ me soon.

Meanwhile I leave you with a picture of the rat at the pre-Christmas, Christmas lunch at The Wells in Hampstead (an admirably dog friendly gastropub): Her thousand yard stare when she wants something she can't have (in this case the delectable remains of our shared crumble) was exactly the look on my face outside Dean & Delucca* in Soho this morning.

*High class and shockingly priced deli/food store/home of deliciousness/purveyor of the $3 can of baked beans.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Inauguration Day

Well, I'm off very early to Washington on Tuesday to join the masses. I can’t say it would have occurred to me to hang out in DC to watch the inauguration on the big screens but The Barrister is in town, and he bought me a day train ticket. And, of course, I’m now rather excited.

In England, I’m the queen of blasé. Hanging out in the Mall to watch a Royal Wedding? Pah. State funerals? Nah. Opening of Parliament? fuhgeddaboudit. There’s a better view on the telly. But, this time, I think he’s right: I'd be a fool to miss it. Anyway, I'm a tourist in America, so I may as well admit it and enjoy the experience.

Should it stay or should it go?


I've been mulling over whether or not I should Ebay this jacket for a while. It's vintage and I would guess from the pretty silk satin lining and beautiful finishing that it dates from the 1950s. I'm not sure what the fur is: it's very soft but incredibly thick & heavy, so I think it may be shearling.

I love the glamour of the fur behind my head when I raise the collar, but I fear it's too boxy a shape on me, unless I drop two sizes and that's a pipe dream. As I've only worn it twice in a year, & space is at a premium here, I think it should probably go.

Upon realising that I have too much stuff

No longer being in fulltime employment, my finances aren’t exactly in glistening form. Resigning from my job in the middle of a recession wasn’t exactly a sensible move, although one necessary for my sanity. I’ve had to cut down on my day to day expenses: no taxis, no dinner at Waverly and, above all, no shopping.

That last has been surprisingly easy to maintain. I can honestly say that I have lost all interest in buying any of the things I used to lust after. No more do I pore through the glossy catalogues that clog up my mailbox or press my nose to the glass windows on Bleecker.

It helps of course, that I bought my London home in 1999, and live in a Village shoebox here in New York, so have no need of cookware or interiors stuff (one of my worst shopping vices) right now. As for clothes, not only am I carrying 10lbs of winter overweight right now which takes the edge off desire, but I’ve turned a mental corner. Shopping just seems to have lost its thrill for me. I have a wardrobe stuffed with beautiful clothes, shoes & bags, and there just seems no reason to add to any of it. Actually what I want to do is get rid of it all. I feel quite ill when I look at all the stuff I have that I bought through insecurity or emotion rather than through need or real desire.

I think I’ve been coming to this point gradually for over a year now. When I looked, for this piece, in my wardrobe to see what I bought since I started my job at the beginning of last year, the list was slim. A handful of simple silk tunics & shifts for work in the summer. Zara in Paris furnished me with a black body con dress for everyday, a denim pencil skirt, a black wool bubble skirt and a couple of pairs of shoes that cld pass for designer for winter. A cream & black polka dotted silk shirt from New Look Limited Edition. Two bargains: A camel coat reduced from $800 to $100 in the DKNY sale, and a $70 (from $1200) black knitted silk YSL shirt & matching thin scarf in the sample sale. My new found earning power meant some investment pieces: A classic tux, a leather biker jacket and a beautiful black, bell skirted winter coat from Theory. And my mother bought me some thigh-high black suede boots from Jaime Mascarolo in Paris during the SS09 collections . And that was it. For a fashion editor that was mighty slim pickings for two seasons.

But the common thread between all those pieces is that they are part of one simple style. They all work together. They are all chic, maybe even grown-up. It’s taken me a long while to get here. My personal style has always been schizophrenic, but working in a Serious Job all last year, with no time to shop or even to worry about clothing myself, made me streamline my style automatically. Restricted packing for the Milan & Paris collections in September made me downsize too: 16 days away in one suitcase. It helps too that now I’m in my thirties, I can recognise the person I am, have no need to experiment, and no longer try to be someone else through my wardrobe.

So, this week, I have made the most enormous pile on my bed of every piece of clothing that I’m not quite sure about, all the pieces I've collected and don't wear, every flea market bargain, each sample sale rush of blood to head, all the tops that don’t quite stretch over my bosom. And I’m Ebaying the lot. That should pay the rent for a while.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slough of Despond

The temperature has dropped again, and with it my spirits. The locksmith has just charged me $383 that I do not have to replace the high security cylinder component of JK’s high security deadbolt. He explained that it is not the key, nor me, nor the deadbolt, but the little pins inside the cylinder that are buggered and that It Was Merely a Matter of Time before the key got stuck inside. We did a spot of Show & Tell and I now believe this to be true, rather than a device to ultimately part JK from her money, or the result of any inept stupidity on my part.

I just wish that a) it had not happened to JK’s lock whilst I was in charge and b) on the coldest day of the year as the chirpy Israeli locksmith needs to keep the door open in order to do his stuff. In fact he has been here for an hour so I guess the money is going somewhere - rather than just into the huge coffers in locksmith land. He is now telling me that the deadbolt is kaput also but that is he replacing that for free as I was close to weeping. Small mercies. Sigh.

What a non-productive blah of a day but, I guess in the balance of things, it is better that it was non-Proper Job I who turned the key today, rather than her housekeeper on Monday, or JK on her jet lagged return, and was able to do the waiting and overseeing of the locksmith.

Bollocks

What to do? I am currently inside JK's apartment in Soho but her front door key is stuck in the outside lock. It turned fine to let me inside, and still locks and unlocks but I can't remove it, & I can't leave to buy any WD40 as obviously I can't lock up. I am now boiling the kettle to see if steam/hot water will expand the lock and maybe the key will wiggle out. This is the extent of my bright ideas...HELP! Otherwise it's the locksmith, I guess..

New York winter continues...

Kerist it’s parky here right now at a numbing -7C (21F) but according to weather.com the wind chill is making it feel more like -13C (9F). The snow probably isn’t helping that either. The cabTV weather forecast called it frigid. (A word that in England is only used by rude men to refer to girls who won’t put out. Not those who are chilly.) Tomorrow it will feel like -21C. Blimey. Forget fur coats, I shall need fur knickers.

To be honest, I’m not cold at all today as I have been lugging my enormous Tumi case up and down umpteen flights of stairs all morning, whilst dressed in my vintage fur coat. After my West Village date last night, I stayed over at CA’s place two blocks away on Perry so I could be there for the laundryman first thing. (I stay there on occasion and, in return, clean & tidy for the odd visiting guest whilst she is in London). I then hauled my case back down her three flights to grab a cab this morning to Soho where I hauled it up four flights to JK’s beautiful jewel box flat, where I am staying for a week or so whilst she is travelling. (My official East Village bed is currently occupied by The Barrister & bird who otherwise would be cosy-ing up together on the sofa.)

And, brilliantly, a thoroughly charming email from F arrived this morning who felt he had to break the news to me that he remained unmoved by my myriad charms but could we please be friends? I hooted with laughter, and emailed him back directly with a link here. (Working on the theory, which I pointed out to him, that if we are to be friends, and I do hope so, he should know that I write this blog as do all my friends. Some people don’t like figuring on here. Others actively engage. Yes, Barrister, I am talking about you.)

On-line dating in Manhattan...the story continues...

As my old readers know, I believe the stigma that surrounds on-line dating is properly outdated. (Hello mother.)I In a city of single people, perversely it seems harder to meet men, so I'm a big fan of any dating method that means I don't have to catch the eyes of random punters in bars. I have a built in embarrassment meter that goes off the moment I see someone looking at me and, instead of tossing my hair, meeting their gaze and smiling back, I just sort of shuffle, go red, look at my feet, stare at the wall, anywhere except at them and then continually bewail to my girlfriends that no one ever asks for my number.

My other problem in this city is that it seems almost impossible to make male friends. I love my boys in London, and miss them quite extraordinarily. J, C & N are all in long term relationships now, but we’ve been friends since school or university and their girlfriends, wives etc have never been bothered if we want to go down the pub, or have dinner together. Here it’s just not the same. Women seem to get quite cross if you so much as say hello to their partners. It drives me bonkers. After all, I’m hardly likely to jump their (frequently unattractive) catches in the middle of the dance floor. And single men seem generally just to be on the pull here rather than looking for female friends.

So, back to on-line dating. God I've met some shockers here. And, equally, I suspect there's one guy, R, out there who uses me as his on-line dating horror story - I'll divulge at a later date. But, if truth be told, the older I get, the more I wonder if I’m really cut out for being in a proper relationship. Serial dating seems like a convenient bulwark against other people’s expectations that I should be in a relationship, and means I can pretend to myself I am making an effort in that direction, whilst never really having to follow through. And, best of all, it’s a great way to audition men for friendship. Case in point: the first man I ever met on a blind date, The Barrister, is now one of my greatest friends. (And he has a fabulous girlfriend now. In fact they are both on holiday in NY, staying in my apartment.)

Speaking of friendship, I’ve had two on-line dates this week, both bizarrely with men who gave up careers in their thirties to go back to school to train in the same profession. There’s a lot of coincidence in the on-line dating world. X & I closed down the West Village restaurant bar in which we were drinking on Tuesday night. Really great company, funny & smart but none of that elusive sparky attraction between us as far as I could discern. I'd like to be friends.

K, on the other hand, tonight, had shocking halitosis which rather coloured my opinion of him as I could hardly bear to look him full in the face. However, halitosis, or not, he was perfectly pleasant but there was zero connection, nothing at all on any level. The entire date felt like treading water until I'd gladly finished my sole glass of wine and hopped it.

I've emailed X to suggest meeting again, and I'd better come clean about my lack of romantic interest, altho I'm pretty sure it's mutual. I shall not be contacting halitosis boy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shopping in London's West End

My lovely friend JK here in Manhattan does something rather important and glamorous at an international fashion company. She's off to England to check out their new London store tomorrow, and has asked me for some quick shopping recommendations based around her hotel on Conduit Street. She's only got one day tops, so I've given her a very short shortlist, based on the stores I try to visit when I am in town.

Fenwick on the corner of New Bond Street & Brook Street. Wonderful accessories department with huuuuge, soft as kittens, knitted cashmere scarfs in the sale, and a fabulous millinery section. Great lingerie, interesting small label buy, boutique beauty brands. The Henri Bendel of London. (They have other stores outside of London, but they are quite, quite different.)

Dover Street Market.
Owned by Commes, I think it’s probably the best curated fashion & design store in the world of the Corso Como/Colette ilk. I’ve posted about it before here. And the Rose Bakery on the top floor is home to delicious scones and cakes. Lovely cuppa tea.

B Store on Savile Row is one of London's brilliant independent boutiques, with a buy from some of England's most interesting & upcoming designers and a great place to get an overview of high fashion from the UK. Just seconds from JK's hotel on Conduit Street.

COS on the corner of Regent Street & Great Marlborough Street for brilliant everyday clothes with a high fashion nod. Forget that it is owned by H&M, and just gloat over the quality & fantastic pricing.

I could seriously care less about Topshop. I think it’s way over priced now, and the quality of the fabrics and make is conversely worse. Still, I guess the Oxford Circus store is worth a visit for the sheer scale of the merchandise. The shoes can be interesting.

Marks & Spencer
‘s flagship store at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street. Accept no substitutes, this is the only branch worth visiting in London. Brilliant bras & knickers at a quarter of the price I have to pay in New York (granted, I am pretty well-endowed, but still…) I stock up on piles of black lace knickers every time I go home. (Because bloody NYC laundries seem to boil/shred everything.)

New Look flagship store just by the Marble Arch M&S. The store was designed by Future Systems, and although they diluted the shopfit almost immediately (the original aisles were impossibly cramped), it still has a fantastic silver stepped entrance, & great wee shopping carts. 90% of the store is filled with fast fashion, and the new-ish Limited Edition range is really very good indeed if you can truffle it out. ( I am still wearing the black 100% wool bubble skirt I bought last winter, which everyone comments on, and only cost £35.)

Mid range shoe shopping: South Molton Street, top to bottom. Every shoe store on the British High Street.

Libertys first floor fashion & shoe department. Great buy. Glorious building. I do love a proper department store, even if this one is terribly grown up.

Just down the road from Liberty is Beyond Retro, one of the few vintage stores in the West End. Prices are obviously higher because of the West End location, but definitely worth a look.

Of course Selfridges is on the way to M&S and New Look from Bond Street, but you could spend days in there and not finish. I prefer to keep my shopping on a smaller scale.

Attic rummaging

Whilst I was in the country over Christmas, I also spent hours up in the attics of our house; the one over my bedroom in particular. It’s a glory hole full of unpacked cartons from 28 years ago when we first moved to Northamptonshire, rammed with the detritus of past decades: I came across bashed up Globetrotter suitcases, records, books, photographs, bric a brac, glorious old linen from my Great Aunt’s house, and clothes including a pristine 1930’s lace wedding dress, a silk top hat in its original case, my original 80s Cure & Smiths T shirts, and all the clothes I wore between 1988-1996. From the ikat jackets and silk skirts I bought on my GAP year in SE Asia when I was 19, to my Leaver's Ball (equivalent of Prom) evening dress, I was in memory lane seventh heaven.

I found lots of great stuff for the dressing up box I’m planning for my goddaughter Amelia’s fifth birthday in two year’s time. Everything else went into the one neat trunk which is now acting as an archive for key pieces from my mother’s and my old wardrobes. Not sure what I will do with these eventually, but I just cannot bear to give or throw them away

But, for all the archiving, I also managed to fill maybe eight ginormous garbage sacks (bye bye to all our bashed up childhood toys) which went to the municipal tip, and another ten of the same with clothes for the local Hospice shop.

Goodness I love purging.

No more take-out

I still feel guilty that I was barely in London over my last trip but, because of the emotional turmoil and various illnesses in my family, I wanted to spend more time at home in the deepest, darkest countryside in Northamptonshire (about an hour & a half from London). I ended up driving down the hideous M1 just three times to the city and, although I got to see all my brilliant godchildren, my very pregnant cousin and a handful of my best friends and their infants, I wish I had had more opportunity to just hang rather than flit in and out of people’s lives.

Still, I had a lovely time with my mother (once we stopped our traditional fighting – two days after I arrived, we had such a huge blow up at Bicester Village Outlet Centre that she refused to get in the car with me & I drove home without her. Oops). But, once we cleared the air, we got back to our normal roles - me: scattering of possessions throughout the house; Muv: shouting at me to tidy them away before the whippets made off with them.

I cooked most nights on my mother’s incredible pro range playing Ready, Steady, Chef in the fridge and conjuring bowls of deliciousnesss out of random ingredients; we watched all the DVRd Christmas telly we had missed (How shockingly bad was Jonathan Creek?)and worked our way through the 4.5KG (9lb) tin of Quality Street sweeties on the larder shelf. (And discovered that my utterly bloody sister had thieved every single chocolate-covered caramel finger before she went back to London. Evil little bugger.)

Now that I am back in New York and have all the time in the world again, I feel inspired by my Christmas cooking, and am cooking twice a day. Last year I had a breakfast almost every day at Balthazar or Pastis, and often a work dinner too at some restaurant or other. And if I wasn’t pressing the flesh, I was eating endless take out at my desk. One day I tipped up my keyboard and grains of rice fell everywhere. A definite sign that one can eat too much takeaway food. All wrong. I am determined that 2009 will be the year of cooking - and eating - proper food. (Apart from the odd excursion to my favourite Manhattan restaurant, Bobo.)

Definitions of funny

God I’ve missed blogging. I have so many things I want to write about that I fall asleep writing copy in my head. And such bliss to be my own editor again too, instead of some witch who continually asked me, “Why isn’t this copy funny? I want funny. Tell me, are you just not funny? I need funny. Can you really not do funny?” GAH.

YES I CAN BLOODY DO FUNNY. The problem is that she and I differed on both the meaning and the appropriate need for funny.

Of course, I never actually said this. I just lowered my lashes and got on with being funny elsewhere.

Lingerie. A guest blog from The Barrister

I'm not in the habit of welcoming guest bloggers, but The Barrister, a old and esteemed English friend & blog commentator, has just emailed me with one of his occasional rants which made me chuckle. This time it's about the ugly mispronunciation of the French word 'lingerie' in English.

Although I'm not sure I agree with him - certain foreign words become bastardised over time - the English pronunciation of 'Peugeot', or even 'restaurant' Anyway, it certainly deserves a wider audience.

"I listened to the dread (Sam) Roddick on (BBC Radio Four's) Woman's Hour talking about her business Coco de Mer (a very upmarket sex shop) and was astounded by her pronunciation of a few words, but one in particular.

Have you any idea why intelligent people of apparently adequate education pronounce the word lingerie as lorn-djer-ray? I find it as unfathomable as it is offensive.

"Lingerie" is a word that one can just about invest with some panache; sophistication at a pinch. "lorn-djer-ray" is disgusting, completely shattering the delicate filigree of a sensual moment. I cannot imagine anything more likely to propel me off an artfully-lit sofa than the utterance of such a noise.

And worse, this absurd, obscene pronunciation has Absolutely No Relation To Any Language Known To Man. Where in Nature does 'lin' emerge as 'lorn'? Why twist the elegantly smooth 'zhair' to the clunking 'djer'? And 'ray' for 'rie': how on Earth does that work?

This is an absolutely artificial noise. I simply cannot understand where it can have come from and how it can have acquired its current penetration. I do know, however, that I will continue to resist it and am powerless to ignore it."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Golden Globes red carpet fashion

So: the Golden Globes last night. Given my profession, I do feel it behoves me to at least vaguely engage with red carpet fashion, even though it seems to me to be increasingly redundant to judge a woman’s fashion sense based on her ability to pay $10K to hire a stylist to wrangle dresses on her behalf. After all, the likes of Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman or Meryl Streep are hardly fashion plates off duty.

I don’t really care what the stars look like, but I am interested to know which designers are being represented on the red carpet. In the current fiscal climate it makes better economic sense for a house to dress a star and to see those pictures endlessly printed in the world’s media than to fork out hundreds of thousands on a one hit wonder print ad in Vague. Still it’s an extremely expensive business: several couture versions of a dress may be made in a designer’s Parisian atelier (as Theyskens did so successfully at Nina Ricci for Reese Witherspoon at the 2007 Oscars) and there is absolutely no guarantee that the dresses will be worn by the often capricious stars.

This is why many houses cut to the chase and just pay an actress to wear the dress. (Come on, you didn’t think the whole affair was anything less than transactional did you? The star pays the stylist, who brokers the deal, and the house pays the star. Everyone wins.) I don’t think it serendipity that Armani’s patronage of the Sydney Theatre Company of which Cate Blanchett is Artistic Director coincided with the normally Balenciaga-loving star suddenly appearing in a series of Armani horrors at galas and Armani shows a few seasons ago. (I love that Cate Blanchett uses her stardom to such good effect for the community, rather than trousering the cash herself.)

Still, budgets are being squished everywhere and, as I expected, there was scant evidence of minor designers dressing anyone or anything approaching edgy or risky on the red carpet. No house can risk a dud frock in this climate. (Although I do have to take issue with Renee Zellweger’s Carolina Herrera frock, because it only worked when seen full length. Cropped in on the torso the proportions didn’t work. An oddly rookie mistake from the usually red carpet reliable Herrera).

My whole attitude to the celebrity parade was summed up by the glorious Kristen Scott Thomas who, upon being asked what she was wearing, replied simply, “Skin”.

And so the circus begins again...

The preliminary schedule for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week has just been announced. No huge surprises there, bar the already announced credit-crunch absences of Betsy Johnson et al.

Frankly, the shows are becoming one big waste of time: the images & video are on style.com and elsewhere on the internet, the biggest buyers of fashion aren’t necessarily in the same climate zone as Europe so the traditional Fall and Spring/Summer seasons are increasingly irrelevant, and the enormous cost of being at the collections for designers, and the bloated teams of buyers & editors has become extraordinarily hard to justify.

I’ll be posting more on this later but thought, with the advent of show season, that this would be a good time to start a series on what it’s really like to attend the shows as a senior editor, perched in the front rows. I’m going to start with Milan for the simple reason that a few months ago I wrote some briefing notes on the scene at the Milan collections for a Hollywood screenwriter, which ended up becoming a rather long, and very cathartic essay. First installment to follow.

Blogosphere

I’m a little out of sync with the blogosphere: I didn’t have a spare minute to keep up when I was working full-time (much to my chagrin). I was barely able to scan the New York Times & London Times websites each morning, and so I’m discovering that many of my links are out of date and that several blogs I loved have shut up shop.

I was even more upset today to discover that Definitely Stopping at Two is going out of business. She’s a great friend in the real world (we spent NYE together), and one of the funniest writers I know. Bah.

I also wanted to say thank you to Tessa Scoffs & to Nonsense on Stilettos for the loveliest welcome back posts. If I'd known just how many uplifting emails & comments I'd receive when I started blogging again, I'd have done this a month ago! Anyway, do let me know if a link is erroneous or defunct or, indeed, if you’d like to exchange links.

My dating odyssey continues...

I'm not sure what I can add to the following email I received from a 28 yr old guy in Connecticut through my on-line dating service.

"I want you to be completely honest...

I have a serious question for you:

I wonder if you can imagine everything it might mean to you, when you're with a guy, and this guy knows you so completely, and is so strong, so capable, so loving, that you absolutely trust him to take care of your happiness for the rest of your life, knowing that your trust is well-founded, and fall so deeply, hopelessly, helplessly in love with him that you just give yourself to him completely, and you know you'll do absolutely anything he asks you to, just to please him.

Have you had this yet?

I will be in your area as of January 01..."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Keeping warm in the snow

Goodness it’s cold here in New York. Still, I’d rather be battling the snow than dripping in August’s humidity and it doesn't take rocket science to stay warm. My new weapon is a formidably chic mid-thigh length black wool, hooded cape, bought first for cycling when Spring arrives, but which I have discovered is genius for the Winter.

Instead of looking like a bulbous Michelin man in a coat made too small by umpteen layers, its elegantly capacious folds can camouflage lots of sweaters. I paired it with a denim pencil skirt, three layers of cashmere, woollen stockings pulled over my ribbed Falke tights, elbow length leather gloves and my Hunter wellies to walk to supper in the West Village with JK last night. Only my nose peeking out from the hood felt the cold.

Inside it’s more of a challenge: the ancient cast iron radiators in my apartment aren’t quite effective enough against the draughts from the sash windows. During the day I drink endless cups of tea, do my floor exercises and hop around to the new Kaiser Chiefs & Killers albums whilst thinking up story ideas.

Staying warm in bed on my own is more of a challenge. Over Christmas in the English countryside I stuffed the whippets down my bed and toasted my toes on their warm tummies. Unfortunately, there is not such ready access to whippets in Manhattan, and I just do not understand the allure of pyjamas. Not only are they claustrophobic, they bunch up around my legs and make me feel as though I am going to bed in my day clothes. Still less do I get the brushed cotton, Bridget Jones variety printed with penguins or fluffy bunnies. They are Pour Les Enfants.

Instead, I’ve discovered that it’s perfectly possible to be toasty without looking like a kindergartner by reverting to the 1950s with silk or satin lace trimmed nighties, cashmere bedsocks & bedjackets. And, of course, I add two hot water bottles, a proper duvet and the extravagantly high thread count sheets I inherited from my mama.