Monday, 31 October 2011

The Paris Diaries: Halloween

"Don't move", my own mirror reflection whispers to me as I start re-drawing my eyebrows so they'll look like Vampira's. The eye-liner pencil feels soft and a little ticklish on my skin. "I hope my costume'll look cool enough" I think to myself. "Everyone wears such fabulous clothes in this kind of parties and I hardly had any time to decide what I'm gonna wear. The dark circles under my eyes are perfect for Halloween, though. Where is my Touche Éclat? Damn. I really need to sleep more. Or maybe these things just won't go, whatever I do. Maybe I'm starting to not be so young. I'm not twenty anymore... To hell with it, I feel better now than when I was twenty. I wore denim jackets when I was twenty, for God's sake! I could pass for twenty-three. I could even pass for twenty if I didn't wear red lipstick everyday. Where is my red lipstick? There. Well. Not so bad". I look at the mirror. With my fringe pulled to the sides and my face covered in rice powder I actually kind of look like the original Vampira. The taxi is waiting downstairs. I grab a patent leather belt and tighten it until my waist measures 45 cm and I can hardly breathe;I sprinkle some Black Orchid on my décolleté. thirty seconds later I'm on my way to the hippest club in town.

I open the car's door and put both my heeled feet on the floor. My black velvet dress is so long it trails along the wet asphalt. I actually really like my costume; I bet no one else will be dressed like Maila Nurmi. I bet...
I look at the smirking people in front of me and freeze in panic. Oh no. This can't be. Why do these things keep happening to me? Trying to hide on a doorstep as some kids pass me by and scream the words "David Lynch!", I grab my phone and mark a number. "Ray" I say "get here. Now. No one here is disguised".

From my hiding doorstep, feeling a bit like a sucker version of Orson Welles in The Third Man, I can see the people queuing outside the club. Click click click, every single girl here is wearing towering Louboutins and amazingly short skirts. Luckily I don't have to wait long: soon I can see a corpse bride, an Indian chief complete with plume and all, and a silhouette in a Napoleon hat which looks very much like John Galliano. Proudly they make their way to the door among the sneers of the Loubie-wearing crowd. "Thank God you're here! Wasn't this supposed to be a Halloween party?" "oh whatever. Let's just get inside", says Ray.

We walk through glittering golden corridors and heavy red velvet curtains, turning heads as we go. Looking for our host, we accidentally step into a room with black shiny walls furnished only with several pale tree trunks. A small group of people is sipping champagne, sitting nochalantly in the twisted trunks. It looks more like a Fellini or Antonioni scene than a David Lynch movie. They look at us in bored perplexity. I hear a voice behind me: "You guys look amazing!". Our chic-looking host welcomes us. It is a Halloween party after all.

The dancefloor is a curtained stage with red and blue lights. The DJ is playing 50's rock and roll. I dance for a while before realizing the floor is getting crowded with people we don't know; the girls (is it my imagination or are they all blondes?) are wearing different types of little black dresses, stiletto heels and 2.55 bags and they do the twist with straight-looking boys in checkered shirts. I sit and stare in amazement: I haven't seen so many straight boys together in years. Matter of fact, except in menswear shows, I haven't seen more than one straight boy at a time in years. So this is what my life has come to. Oh well, who wants to be surrounded by straight boys in checkered shirts dancing "perreo" style to ska music.
Then something magical happens. Madonna's La Isla Bonita starts sounding and two friends of Ray come to say hi. One of the boys is wearing a Dracula cape embroidered with ostrich feathers, and the other one is dressed as a zombi and his hair is sprayed the colour of green candyfloss. As we sing "last night I dreamt of San Pedro", the feathered dracula whispers in my ear: "sweetheart, you are a goddess!". I feel at home again.

Monday, 24 October 2011

How to become Woody Allen's muse in 10 easy lessons

He might be short, neurotic and balding, but Woody Allen is also one of the biggest cultural icons of our time. He has turned sex into an existential and philosophical matter, and he has turned existentialism and philosophy into laughing matters. No one had ever done that before (although Groucho Marx had hinted it). You may not like all of his movies; I have different feelings about them myself. I think Annie Hall is one of the great films in movie history; Manhattan Murder Mystery, Radio Days or The Curse of the Jade Scorpion are fantastic classic comedies; Hannah and her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors are insightful works about the human nature; and Anything Else should forever be forgotten. Whatever you think about the man and his films, one thing is certain: Woody has created a lot of unforgettable feminine characters. In his films, women are never mere sidekicks to leading men: they are always protagonists, and often have more power, more intelligence and more emotional depth than their male counterparts. And they also have great style (next to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Annie Hall is the movie character that inspires most girls when they dress up in the morning). So what's not to love about Woody Allen's muses? They have the wits, the charm and the style; in short, they can conquer the world. And now you too can become Mr. Allen's next muse! Just follow my 10 easy lessons. Success guaranteed!

Lesson 1: Embrace your inner nerdy intellectual.

After years of hiding what I really was to most people (a philosophy graduate who read Dickens at 11, quoted Bogart at 15 and mentioned Walter Benjamin in jokes at 20) for fear of being seen as a total freak (yeah, I was bullied at school for preferring Gershwin over the Backstreet Boys) I decided to come out of the closet and not give a damn what people thought. After all, if I mention Orson Welles in a conversation and people don't know who he is it's their problem. So go ahead, put your glasses on, wear clothes that hint your Columbia education (cozy cashmere sweaters and masculine-cut trousers are comfortable and culturally-conscious enough) and show to the world that your main concern in this life is whether Rousseau or Hobbes were right about humankind.

Lesson 2: Play femme fatale

As arty references go, you can't get much better than Hollywood's golden age film noir. And since you are a bit of a cultural nerd, of course you have read every line Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett ever wrote, so acting like a femme fatale should come naturally to you. Seducing men like this is easy: just add a sophistication touch to your usual Phd-in-progress look (a shiny brooch or bracelet, long gloves, a satin blouse or red lipstick), be mysterious about yourself (answer questions with other witty questions) and look down on men as if they were worms asking for mercy. This allows you to be sexy while staying powerful and independent, and it works with Woody every single time.

Lesson 3: Big, chaotic, messy families are the new black

Quit being embarrassed by your huge 150-cousin yelling family. A house inhabited by 38 people who love to eat, gossip and fight during Christmas/Passover can be annoying, granted, but hey, that's life! And not only that, it's way more colourful and fun, and has infinitely more dramatic possibilities than your average perfect waspy family.

Lesson 4: Expand your mind

All feminine characters in Woody Allen's pictures have one thing in common: they never stop evolving, growing and expanding their horizons. I think "I've started taking courses at Columbia" is one of the most repeated sentences in Allen's filmography. But it doesn't just have to be university courses. You have thousands of options, from Freudian therapy to art workshops, music lessons or zen meditation. Ultimately, expanding your mind helps you heal and strenghtens you, so you become happier with yourself and you are able to re-shape your life to find it more satisfactory (which in Woody's movies generally leads to breaking up a romantic relationship. Oh, the ironies of life...).

Lesson 5: Get the androgynous look on

There's no doubt about you being a woman. If you have followed the four previous lessons you are indeed an extremely feminine creature, and you show it through your gestures and actions. You don't need to show it any further with a Wonderbra and a strapless red minidress. Keep some mystery and some ambiguity by choosing to wear boyfriend jeans, crisp white shirts and woolen blazers. Any man who knows what femininity really is about will recognize it in you, even if you are disguised as Annie Hall. And any man who doesn't is just not worth it.

Lesson 6: Empower yourself...

If you carefully analyze Woody Allen's pictures, you'll often see him comically trying to take control of situations in a constant but subtle battle of the sexes, while, as a matter of fact, it's the women around him who lead things most of the time. All you need to know is that you have the power!

Lesson 7: ... but don't be afraid to be vulnerable

The fact that Woody's muses are generally empowered doesn't mean they are superwomen. Far from it, they are frequently subjected to situations that make them feel vulnerable, sad or insecure. All girls, at one point or another, feel identified with these moods. Why hide them? Woody never does.

Lesson 8: Black is the new black

At a loss for what to wear? Some things never go out of style, and head-to-toe black is one of them. Choose a little black dress or a V-neck cardigan and a scarf worn over trousers for an "intello-bobo" chic look (yeah, the French have the perfect words for this kind of things). Top it with a bohemian accessory for a maximum muse effect.

Lesson 9: Wear the right attire in bed

I don't mean sexy lingerie (altough of course feel free to wear it) but actual pyjamas. In Woody Allen's films many crucial dialogues take place when the characters are in bed. Comfortable apparel is hence mandatory: silk pyjama pants, cotton knickers and oversized t-shirts are perfect...

Lesson 10: Know your Cole Porter

Music is as important as New York in Woody's movies. He is a big fan of jazz, dixieland, Gershwin and Cole Porter. Learn to sing It Had To Be You and your training is completed: you are now Woody Allen's next muse... or at least a living version of his feminine characters!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Brits in Paris

Fashion week isn't what it used to be. Or maybe we are starting to get old. In any case, it is clear that, as Bob Dylan would say, things have changed. It feels like it was only yesterday that we impatiently awaited the PFW craziness, crashing into every show dressed in impossible outfits (and more than impossible heels) and partying every single night like there was no tomorrow. A couple of years have gone by. Now fashion week means stress and a hella extra work. When we come back home from the daily shows and meetings (we now get invites and have seriously lost practice on crashing) we have reviews to write, e-mails to send and very little energy to party. The fact that the fashion week scene has enormously changed in the past few seasons doesn't help, either: we used to know everyone at the shows, we got snapped by Bill Cunningham or Face Hunter when we least expected it and all the excitement was about the new collections and fantastic clothes. But now suddenly it's all about people desperately wanting to get snapped (or "papped," as some pretentious EGObloggers like to call it) by the several millions of "streetstyle bloggers" following the show parade. The collections really matter very little to most people and even Lindsay Lohan is allowed to enter and spoil the coolest designer parties. And with the possibility of comfortably watching the shows live from home, I've been wondering whether the whole fashion week circus is at all useful... until I started visiting the showrooms.
Graced only by industry people (press and buyers), the many collective showrooms scattered across Paris during FW are the real deal. Once there, you can get a close-up look at the pieces, get details and press releases about the collections, see a cabin model wearing the looks on demand and even chat with the designers around a cup of coffee. For me, this means really experiencing fashion week in luxury. In the last days, I've been strolling around the city with Ray and Fréderic, visiting some of the best ones. My favourites? the Americans in Paris CFDA showroom (featuring some hot talent like Pamela Love, Prabal Gurung and Eddie Borgo) and, of course, The London Showrooms, just around the corner from "chez moi" and which showcase the cream of the crop of British talent. If you know me you know that my fashion softspot is Brit design (most of my work actually involves making English designers known to the French public through features and reports in French magazine L'Express Styles). I couldn't exactly say what gets me going about British designers, but I guess it's a mixture between their sense of humour, their pop-yet-culturally-referenced collections and their unbridled sense of creativity. For the Brits, fashion is not about clothes; it is about pushing the boundaries and experiencing beauty. I took some quick iPhone snaps on my London Showrooms trip. I hope you'll enjoy them!

Felicity Brown's fabulous ombré gowns

Mary Katrantzou's rainbow-licious prints!

In love with Mary K's fish pattern.

Mary Katrantzou's shoes, made by Louboutin

Piers Atkinson's cherries have now become iconic, but her other designs are just as kawaii

Jordan Askill makes sustainable jewellery and sculptures

Louboutin everywhere

Simone Rocha's ultrafeminine lace & plastic collection

David Koma detail

Cozette McCreery's amazing Sibling knits.

Todd Lynn's impossible heels (guess who made them)

Louise Gray made a mega cool mess out of her desk

Drawings by Holly Fulton

Holly Fulton is big on details... and I love that!

Racy harnesses at Fannie Schiavoni

Mesh and pastel shades at Mark Fast

For Louise Gray it's all about sequins

Mark Fast's Louboutin raffia wedges