Throwback: Vogue Talent Contest

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In 2012 I was, thrillingly, shortlisted for the Vogue Talent Contest, an annual competition run by Vogue magazine for writers under 25. Entrants were asked to submit three articles: a personal memory (800 words), a contemporary cultural review or examination of a fashion trend (500 words) and an opinion piece or polemic (also 500 words). I thought I would post my pieces here in case anyone’s interested and/or is thinking of entering. (If this is you then PLEASE go for it.)

This is one of the pieces I submitted – others to follow.

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Write a short feature article – a contemporary cultural review or fashion or beauty trend (500 words).

I love London’s big museums. It’s fun to explore the V & A’s sumptuous dress collection, or to be gently tickled at the Science Museum by an array of historical washing machines. Impressive as they are though, sometimes tapping through our great halls of antiquities can feel a little chaotic. Pop in for a restful half-hour and you can find yourself inadvertently joining a crocodile of schoolchildren, or tripping over an art student as they sketch cross-legged on the floor. But London has its calmer spaces, away from the madding crowd and from reproving glances through geek-chic spectacles. Once such space is the tiny and excellent Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street, just round the corner from the British Museum. Displaying cartoons, comics, and caricatures from the eighteenth century onwards, it’s a place of thoughtfulness and quiet delights. A visit here reminded me that I love London’s big museums, but I love its small museums more.

The Cartoon Museum is arranged into three main areas: a temporary exhibition which changes several times a year, the permanent collection of cartoons and caricatures, and an upstairs gallery for comic strips. For me, the best part of the Museum is its permanent exhibits, beginning with rosy-cheeked eighteenth-century satire and travelling through World Wars and bowler hats to the present day. Anyone with an interest in style will be fascinated by the works on display here. It’s partly the way they capture the ‘look’ of their time, like the beautiful spare lines of Fougasse (best known for his wartime ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ posters) which are somehow so evocative of the early twentieth century. But the Museum offers too an opportunity for light-hearted contemplation of individual style. Some cartoonists have favourite subjects like George IV’s muffin-top or the gloriously elaborate contraptions of William Heath Robinson, but there are subtler trademarks as well. Something about the shape of a nose that’s so recognisably by Ronald Searle, or the curve of a horse’s flank that makes you think of Norman Thelwell. Those interested in fashion can recognise the markers which distinguish Alexa Chung’s style from that of Mary-Kate Olsen, or a Calvin Klein dress from a McQueen. On the walls of The Cartoon Museum you can see this same expression of original style, concentrated into a compact window and a particular quality of line.

Although it’s a peaceful place to spend time, as you walk around the Museum you get a strong sense of the wider city. The cartoons’ satirical bites and gentle sideways looks at contemporary life are part of a spirited public conversation that’s been going on for centuries. The Museum’s size and the care with which its works have been selected and displayed mean that you can return to little details which amuse or interest you, as well as getting an impression of this form evolving and topical figures and events becoming historical. I left feeling that, like its exhibits, The Cartoon Museum is a perfect example of urbanity in a small space.

Hercule Poirot: Style Icon

I’ve never made a secret of my crush on Poirot. There’s nothing more exciting than a man who can unmask a murderess then invite you back to his Art Deco mansion flat to view his collection of paisley bow ties. It’s definitely the most stylish detective show:  bias-cut 30s evening gowns, wide-legged trousers, red lipstick, impossibly beautiful seaside-wear. There’s the buttoned-up elegance of Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon and her elaborately starched collars, or the eccentric crime novelist Ariadne Oliver, with her flyaway scarves and too many beaded necklaces. Then of course, there’s Monsieur himself, all impeccable tailoring and highly-polished shoes. This Christmas I’m planning to channel the little Belgian with rich classic patterns, shining leather, and a hint of Deco detailing. Although I’m tempted to complete the look with a silver-topped cane and a disconcerting habit of saying, ‘mon ami, I have been blind!’ in a tone of dawning realisation.

Warehouse lace collar jumper
Black Lace Collar Jumper from Warehouse

 

Warehouse paisley skirt
Boucle Paisley Skirt from Warehouse

 

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Shiny polished Ko Wood Lace Up Shoes from Whistles

 

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Art Deco-style Little Hex Studs from Wolf and Moon

 

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A cosy Christmas read from Waterstone’s

 

Metallic Taste

When browsing partywear I always find myself drawn to the pieces that glitter and gleam, to brocade minis, bodycon dresses in champagne gold, or lost-member-of-Slade-style silver boots. There’s something enticingly remote about shiny fabrics. They seem to gesture towards other places or times, whether recalling Medieval armour or looking forward to the cocktail hour. I love very structured pieces, the stiff leather and embroidered blazers which evoke spacesuits or military regalia. They’re solid, purposeful, yet utterly distinct from everyday life. Then there’s the shimmer and slink of the softer garments, all light and movement like a glimpse of something ghostly. Try and get close to metallics and you cloud their shine. (Try and photograph them and be confronted with a Hall of Mirrors-style selfie.) To fascinate and yet elude: the definition of glamour. Here are three shiny pieces I’d like to own.

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Metallic Silver Tinsel Mini Skirt by Jaded London at Topshop

 

Metallic closet square jacquard dress
Closet Square Jacquard Dress from John Lewis

 

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Silver Mirror Perspex Lips Clutch by Lulu Guinness

Dream Clothes

Some people are not made for summer. My horror of insects coupled with an extreme reluctance to bare any skin below the neck makes it an unhappy time for me. Generally my sole concession to the warmer months is to wear black tights of a slightly lower denier (#beachready). No, it’s this time of year I love, full of twinkling lights and woodsmoke and thoughts of curling up with a hot drink and a Nancy Mitford novel. I happily fill Pinterest boards with beautiful nightwear, picking out artsy printed dressing-gowns from Toast; blue and white The Snowman pyjama sets; long white nightdresses, the sort you’d wear to venture into forbidden wings by candlelight. My favourite fantasy nightwear though is cosy and luxurious: jewel-coloured slippers to cosset the feet, silk pyjamas fit for a 1930s starlet, and a plush raspberry dressing-gown to make me feel like Noel Coward. If Noel Coward had made fewer devastating remarks and spent more time recumbent under a Slanket watching Jonathan Creek.

toast dressing gown
Silk Velvet Dressing-Gown by Toast

 

Olivia Von Halle PJs
Lila striped silk-satin pyjama set by Olivia von Halle

 

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Ruby & Ed Velvet Bow Ballerina Slippers

 

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Nancy Mitford: The Complete Novels in a beautiful new Penguin edition

The Night Before

My late grandmother once smuggled two bottles of Champagne out of a party at Blenheim Palace by slipping them under her brocade coat. She explained to me, reasonably, that the men’s dinner jackets were too close-fitting for the task. If you’re not trying to conceal fine wines about your person, women’s eveningwear has few practical advantages. But then, something you use for a few hours on special occasions can afford to be more fun than functional. This preference for the short-term and decorative is epitomised by the evening bag, crucially incapable of accommodating much more than keys and a compact mirror. No diary or work pass or emergency plasters: an evening bag signals your departure from the everyday. It’s a little canvas for rich embellishment and an enclosed private space to carry with you when you’re out.

I found the bags below in a cardboard box at my grandparents’ old house. They looked a little sad in a room with no heating and a view of mauve, shivering trees and the swollen Thames. I prefer to imagine each one perched on a lap at the theatre, or nestled amongst glassware at a formal dinner. Or indeed, thrust into a dapper man’s hand while its owner wraps a Krug bottle in a beaded shawl.

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A simple flapover style elaborately embroidered, with a coral pink lining and side panel.

 

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A glitzy drawstring jellyfish.

 

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Intricate roses overlaid with silver thread and beading.

Wolf and Moon

Just a note to say that I’ve found the perfect earrings, and they’re made by Wolf and Moon. This little company in Hackney makes Art Deco-inspired pieces in witty, modern mixes of Perspex and wood. Their earrings are dropped but not heavy, unusual but not wacky, and flash with panels of peacock blue and glittering gold and black. I’m besotted.

Crystal drop earrings
Crystal Drop Earrings
Little cluster earrings
Little Cluster Earrings
Hex earrings
Hex Earrings

Visit: Mademoiselle Privé at the Saatchi Gallery

Even those without an active interest in fashion will be familiar with some of Chanel’s motifs. The quilting, the crossed C’s, the pearls, the tweed, the No. 5 perfume bottle. They’ve become icons of the insouciant chic embodied by Coco Chanel herself, their enduring appeal reinforced by Karl Lagerfeld’s playful yet glamorous interpretations. Looking back through show photos from the last few years we see the Chanel checks enlarged or turned on their side, the classic suit’s proportions shrunk or exaggerated, the crossed C’s logo emblazoned on trainers and fruit machines. Chanel seems fascinated by its own image and heritage, and it’s not the only one: currently the brand is being celebrated with a show at the Saatchi Gallery in London, titled Mademoiselle Privé. The gallery describes it as, “a journey through the origins of CHANEL’s creations capturing the charismatic personality and irreverent spirit of Mademoiselle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld”.

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Inside, all the familiar Chanel icons were present and, just like in the runway shows, were combined and presented in fresh and appealing ways. Visitors could see an indoor garden inspired by the crossed C’s logo; an oversized rotating model of a diamond necklace designed by Chanel in 1932; a sculpture of a camellia, another of the house’s emblems, fashioned out of its signature tweeds. The Chanel suit was deconstructed into hanging strips of fabric which people could walk through, the sound of sewing machines whirring in the background. My favourite was the Chanel No. 5 room, containing vats of the fragrance’s component notes which opened and closed, sending sensuous wafts through the gallery. It was an immersive way of engaging with the brand and its products, full of glamour, beauty, and fun. I did feel however that by locating an object or an act in an art gallery you invite contemplation of it, and make a claim for some sort of profundity. Although attractive, the exhibits didn’t have a lot of substance to them, revealing nothing new about either Chanel or the visitors to the show.

The Chanel No. 5 room
The Chanel No. 5 room

But then, they weren’t intended to. It occurred to me that Lagerfeld reworks Chanel’s icons but never changes the essential building blocks. He may be “irreverent” in his presentations but he does seem to revere the imagery at the heart of the brand, playing with it but never dissolving or discarding it. Lagerfeld knows the power of Chanel’s classic icons and combines this with an understanding of how to make people look and remember in the 21st century.

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Fruit machines

For me the most interesting aspect was the involvement of smartphones. Photography was encouraged, and visitors could download an app which opened up new aspects of the displays. When viewed through a phone the exhibits became animated: a painted door on the wall swung open to reveal Mademoiselle at work, and sculptures writhed and refashioned themselves into new forms. Chanel well understands how smartphones and social media can help disseminate its message, staging incredible shows which combine grand spectacle with small Instagrammable details. Being urged to use our phones in an art gallery made me realise how integral they’ve become to our ordinary experiences of seeing and recollection, and how Chanel has harnessed this to strengthen its brand. I’m not convinced that Chanel belongs in an art gallery but I admire its genius for image, and for me and millions of others its witty, elegant designs remain the indisputable height of chic.

Mlle prive