Monthly Archives: May 2011

Hats off to the royal wedding

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Of course I watched it, although only slightly longer than enough to see the dress, check out the wedding crowd, and witness the spectacle. Who didn’t?
Although the drama and secrecy around the dress was a public relations coup, expectations were also raised very high so I was a little surprised to like it as much as I did. Actually I loved the dress. It was sculptural, elegant, and as somebody pointed out, very Tudor. Perfectly balanced as a statement of style within tradition and offering no challenge to the accepted order of things, it was in marked contrast to Diana’s dress, that fantasy of princess wish fulfilment.
The bridesmaid was both sexy and demure in a very English way, yet in this very grand spectacle the best show was surely the hats – even before Beatrice arrived. Posh stuck hers to her forehead, there was that weird lozenge one, and lots of wide brimmed things that would have been very upsetting for the people behind. And obviously these hats were worn to counter the ordinariness and invisible-making conventionality of their incredibly dull suits. Somebody gave them all a lesson in what to wear to Royal Weddings and it wasn’t Gok. Once upon a time only men had to wear boring suits while women were expected to be colourful and expressive (and wearing beautiful colours is still one of the best things about being a woman).
So at this wedding televised to a global audience of millions and touted as a trend-setting moment par excellence, hats were these women’s best and probably only opportunity to express personality, flair, or fashion leadership. A few took up the challenge, but in the end it was no contest. Beatrice took the cake. It wasn’t fashion leadership and it wasn’t good taste or fashion flair but it sure got attention. Flouting respectability and its demand for subtlety, acquiescence to Fashion Rules, and appropriateness, Beatrice almost upstaged the bride. Since the wedding I’ve seen that hat a hundred times to one image of the bride. It got attention on TV, print media everywhere, in my inbox, staff room and elevators. Then Fergie announced on Oprah its next appearance would be for charity auction where it raised over £81,000 for children!
Have you noticed that the fuss has been less about the hat than about Beatrice for wearing it? Perhaps because Beatrice is first of all her mother’s daughter-daughter of that disreputable, incredibly vulgar, tasteless woman! So even though she is a princess, Beatrice will never fit in, can never really belong. I suspect she understands this, and also knows something very important about being loud and proud about who you are. I respect her for that, and for having the guts to wear that extraordinary hat.
And besides, I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

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Time and the weather: Fashion week in Dunedin

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March 5-10, 2011
Tuesday 5pm
Fashion week in Dunedin kicks off to the drone and spectacle of a lone bagpiper in the rain. Arriving from all directions, Dunedin’s fashion glitterati are herded into the Allied Press building then down a corridor of astonishing 1970s wallpaper, through a cobbled lane and into the old press room. It’s like walking backwards in time, reminding me that everything in Dunedin, including fashion, plays second fiddle to history. A wall of press photographs showing a century of fashion-as-worn underscores this point, reminding me how silly some fashions look in hindsight and that really fashion has a very complicated relationship with the Now.
Among the crowd of familiar faces and the well-dressed is an occasional fashion stand-out, including Charlotte Smith, curator of the Darnell Collection looking glamorous in a vintage gold dress and eyelashes. Another is the DADA woman of Dunedin with her huge glasses. Like New Yorker Iris Apfel, her fashion persona radiates from these glasses, and her fashion statement is expensive-exclusive. In the crush I see Emily Cooper looks trés chic in a little coat from Hong Kong and Liz Ung, stylish in quirky smart layers. I don’t see the Russians in that crowd but see them next day in the paper.
A lot of people are wearing black.

Wednesday 6pm
Starlight shopping is a great idea: fashion shops stay open till late, customers are wooed with champagne, red carpets, and the beguiling absence of men and children. Small groups of women wearing dark coats search for their big find, that rush of shopping success. Although fun, the champagne probably doesn’t help. The speed manicure in Ruby is as delightful as the clothes, the décor and the service – what a great shop, absolutely best in town. The trendy white polish takes forever to dry and makes browsing impossible, but by about fifteen minutes before closing time I am really hitting my stride. Suddenly I realise I’ve missed the Geek/Chic Fashion Show, where public library staff parade vintage clothes from Modern Miss.
Thursday noon
I drive around the block twice looking for a park near the Public Art Gallery for the lecture by Japanese Australian designer, Akira Isogawa. A hundred or so people are turned away from this event which is full by 11.45. Akira delivers an engaging and intelligent overview of his approach to fashion, which is a mixture of art and surrender. Everybody laughs as he describes creating a unique texture by heating giant sequins in a wok.
4pm
I interview Charlotte Smith in her hotel room overlooking the stormy ocean at St Clair. In another twist on fashion and history, items from her vintage couture collection are to be shown in the iD Fashion Show. Yes, vintage. What we used to call a really good score second hand. Many of these are couture, so it’s quite a few steps up from the Op Shop on the corner.
Everywhere I look are vintage clothes, shoes, hats, and gloves in colourful, glorious profusion. It’s very refreshing to hear Charlotte’s views on fashion (it’s a living thing) and vintage fashion (it’s for wearing; it should look somehow current, not stuck in a time warp). She shows tremendous strength of character by refusing to reify the clothes. Pondering her extraordinary luck as inheritor of the Darnell Collection and the way it shapes her life, I must say how perfect she is for the role.
8pm
I battle my way through wind and freezing rain to the iD International Emerging Designer Show, and it’s worth it. The clothes are an imaginative mix of darkness and colour, fashionability and wearable art. My favourites are Kate Bolzonello’s cloud shapes, Renuka Pana’s beautiful trousers and her mature palette, Aihua Wei’s astonishing coils, and Nour Hassan’s dark cube dress. I am assured that those grim black shrouds by Marie Kelly are quite lovely up close.
I wear red and get my picture in the paper. Kerry McKay and Pamela Brown both wear beautiful colour combinations, and everybody else wears black.
Friday 7.30am
Somehow I get up in time for the iD Designer Breakfast. It’s delicious and I enjoy sitting next to Charlotte and chatting to Damien Woolnough, editor of Australian vogue.com. Damien and I agreed that fashion is something to choose, not follow. Fashion talk – I love it even at that hour.
Quick visit to Emily Cooper’s Silkbody and Tamsin Cooper’s new showroom, for yet another glass of champagne.

Saturday 8pm
The climax of fashion week is the iD Fashion Show. Held in Dunedin’s high gothic, tourist-attracting Railway Station, I am confronted again with the glossy, cold stones of history.
I am wearing turquoise and red, and a hat. The mayor is sitting in front of me and I notice his special occasion shoes with their very long toes and shiny patterns (could it be fake alligator with glitter?) Nearly everyone else wears black. A chilly draft blows on my back throughout the show, the models plod up and down the incredibly long runway and the music is too loud. I see lots of great clothes but I don’t see anything really new.
Perhaps I am overwhelmed by history and the weather, but I want to forget that I live such a long way from nearly everywhere, and that the best of this city might be in the past. Above all I want to be warm.
It’s been a long week.