It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

Subscribe to the Fashion Abecedaire newsletter

Twitter @FashionAbecedai

Email: fashionmemex(at)

Hilarious, witty and often unexpected, Rachel Johnson’s A Diary of the Lady, My first Year as Editor keeps the publicity momentum started with Chanel 4’s fly-on-the-wall documentary The Lady on the Revamp going. Engaging and endearing, her writing makes you want her, and her magazine to succeed. So much so that, 30 pages in, I decided to actually buy The Lady. The 5 October issue had a wonderfully ironic black and white cover picture of Coco Chanel on a Schiap shocking pink background, extracts from Justine Picardie’s Chanel biography and a guide to being a SWOFTY (Single Woman Over Fifty). Not exactly relevant to my life, but rather relevant to society.

You could dismiss The Diary of a Lady as a mere publicity and money-making stunt aimed at widening readership. If this is the case, I fell for it. I now check the mag’s cover every time I pop by the newsagent. Even though this is far from being one of my regular buys, it has gained a very special, weird and unexpected place in my heart. I don’t want it to fail, and I hope that Johnson will write a Diary of the Lady II. Or at least that she will start a behind-the-scenes blog on the mag website.

Picture: The Guardian

Posted at 11:42am and tagged with: magazine, Justine Picardie, chanel, The Lady, book review,.

This is a book about Chanel, the woman rather than Chanel, the fashion house. Although fashion is present at every turn of page, Justine Picardie mainly focuses on the personality and the personal life of the designer, splitting her book chronologically according to the significant people in her life, lovers and friends. Writing a biography of Chanel, Picardie is up against heavyweight such as Paul Morand and Edmonde Charles-Roux. She quotes the first many times but nearly ignores the second.

Coco Chanel is, as ever with Picardie, thoroughly researched. Writing about someone who built her legend on contradicting lies the way Chanel did, Picardie doesn’t decipher the true from the false. She states all facts and stories. At best she points out the unlikely ones. Was André Palasse Chanel’s son or nephew? Was she really entrusted with a mission to start peace talks during the Second World War? Picardie lets the reader decide. She never hides her emotional attachment to her subject, describing how visiting Chanel’s intact flat Rue Cambon and slipping on her coat feel. Because of this direct link of single-sided fascination and admiration between Picardie and Chanel, it is impossible not to get attached to the designer somewhere along the 335 pages of the book. As a result the last chapter, depicting a successful ageing woman recognised by her peers and contemporaries, a fashion legend present and future, but alone, oh so alone, is incredibly sad.

Justine Picardie, Coco Chanel (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010)

Posted at 9:51pm and tagged with: chanel, Justine Picardie, book review,.

There will be demonstrations in Paris tomorrow. So far, so usual. This might make getting from one défilé to the other slightly more difficult than during your average Fashion Weel.

This is unlikely, however, to reach the proportions the Spring shows were met with on 6 February 1934. The demonstrations they faced have since been dubbed riots and coup d’état. According to New Yorker journalist Jean Flanner, quoted by Justine Picardie

"Taxi strikes plus riots coming during spring fashion shows estimated to have cost big houses one million franc each".

The effect on Chanel was incalculable. Her spring show took place, as usual, on 5th February, narrowly missing the riots, but the atmosphere in Paris was anxiously febrile, and orders may have been affected.

Picture: Place de la Concorde, 6 February 1934

Quote: Justine Picardie, Coco Chanel (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010) p 231

Posted at 9:52pm and tagged with: Chanel, Paris Fashion Week, Justine Picardie,.

The fashion industry reliance on models from Eastern Europe isn’t new. As is often the case in fashion, Coco Chanel initiated the trend. After the Russian Revolution, in addition to employing Moscow-born perfumer Ernest Beaux to create Chanel N°5 and Cuir de Russie and having an affair with Grand Duke Dmitri,

Chanel employed exiled Russian aristocrats as sales assistants and models at Rue Cambon; not necessarily as an act of charity, but as the living embodiment of the fashion and scent she was selling to her customers, who had followed her lead in embracing Slavic charm.

Quote from Justine Picardie, Coco Chanel (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010) p 137

Posted at 7:00am and tagged with: chanel, model life, Justine Picardie,.

September, its shortening days, cold breeze, overcrowded public transports and wardrobe dilemmas. It’s not summer anymore, but winter isn’t there yet. We still have fresh memories of the most recent holidays, barely softening the fact that the next ones are months away.

September, “the January of fashion”, with its phone-book-size magazines, month-long waltz of catwalks is a good fashion month. Two books discussing the lives of two pivotal fashion personalities are to be published half-way through the month.

Isabella Blow, by her former assistant Martina Rink with a foreword by Philip Treacy, looks like a coffee-table book. Although I haven’t had a chance to see it yet (it is out on September 13th), I trust publishers Thames & Hudson to only get the best of the best on their catalogue. From their press release, the book looks like a collection of memories rather than a narrative:

Martina Rink has brought together all those who were moved, influenced, discovered, and inspired by Isabella, in a volume that celebrates not only her life but also her outrageous personality, which left an indelible mark on all who met her. Texts and personal letters written exclusively for this book have been collected from legendary names in the fashion world, from Mario Testino and Manolo Blahnik to Hussein Chalayan and Anna Wintour. There are photographs by some of fashion’s greatest photographers, including Rankin, Donald McPherson, and Richard Burbridge, and illustrations by Hilary Knight and Paul Smith, in a homage to Isabella that celebrates her astonishing life.

Despite not owing a single magazine in which Blow’s work is featured, I admire the instinct she demonstrated in discovering people like Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan. Pictures of her (and of the Queen) convinced me that women in the 21st century should still wear hats, and I indirectly owe her my collection of headgear, all the feathery, felt and velvet numbers neatly piled up next to my shoes. I hope the book will convince me to finally wear them.

I haven’t read Justine Picardie’s Coco Chanel (out on September 16th) either but, again, I trust the author to write of very good biography of Mademoiselle.

Chanel has been written about a lot more than Blow. Coming up with a new, interesting angle on her life is probably difficult. Is a new biography life really necessary? Can Picardie do better than Edmonde Charles-Roux? Picardie’s books are generally well-researched, and I hope she got access to new material.

Picardie’s fashion writing has been on my radar for a while now. I think she’s one of Harper’s Bazaar best writers.  From Daphne to My Mother’s Wedding Dress, I have found her books easy to get into and more importantly, hard to put down.

Isabella Blow picture from The New York Times

Chanel and Dali picture from Mimifroufrou

Posted at 10:24am and tagged with: Justine Picardie, Chanel, Isabella Blow, book,.

In My Mother’s Wedding Dress, Justine Picardie tells a gingham dress-related memory which has change the way I see Christopher Kane's Spring 10 collection.

Ruth was already feeling left behind, when I put on my gingham uniform in the morning. Sometimes she dressed herself in it, and I had to persuade her out of it, though at weekends and holidays, she insisted she be allowed to keep the uniform on. “It’s not even a very nice dress,” I told her, trying not to get crossed.

"It is," she said. "It’s a lovely dress. I want it, it’s mine."

"It’s not yours," I said, but eventually, it was, and another one exactly like it, when she joined me at the junior school.

My sister did not eat her lunch that day, or the next, kept her mouth shut for a week , until the headmaster, a kindly man named Mr Appleton, called me into his study. “Is there anything wrong at home?” he said. “Anything the school should know about?”

"No," I said, smoothing the crease out of my cotton dress examining the squared lines of gingham, a if it were a cryptic code that might be broken after sufficient time.

Years later, when I was the same age my parents had been in that uncertain time, and suddenly feeling my own balance to be precarious, I went shopping, and without thinking bought myself a short blue cotton gingham dress. I wore it throughout a dangerous summer, and then gave it away. I did not want patterns to repeat themselves; feared I was somehow tempting fate.

Picardie’s book is very good at describing the passage of clothes through garments, at weaving together memories and clothes, the meaning of outfits and the meaning of life, the pattern of a dress and the recurrent patterns in life.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if Christopher Kane was in charge of designing school uniforms in the fashion of the outfit in the picture above? Of course, you would be unlikely to find it for £3.75 at Tesco

Quotes from My Mother’s Wedding Dress, Justine Picardie (Picador, 2006)pp.41-7

Pictures from

Posted at 10:51pm and tagged with: Christopher Kane, Justine Picardie, book, memory,.

Note at the end of Justine Picardie’s Daphne:

The text of this book is set in Berling roman. A modern face designed by K.E. Forsberg between 1951-58. In spite of its youth it does carry the characteristics of an old face. The serifs are inclined and blunt, and the g has a straight ear.

I wish all books had notes explaining which font was used and why.


Mlle. L.

Font picture from Aquinas College page. It using Berling roman “as the standard (text) copy type for publications.”

Previously on Fashion Abécédaire: Heaven holds a place for those who pray

Posted at 5:41pm and tagged with: the librarian, Justine Picardie, Typeface geekery,.

I am currently reading Justine Picardie's Daphne. I haven’t been that enthralled by a book in a long long time. Yesterday, I actually considered not going to work to be able to finish it. I believe there should be reading days alongside sick days, but this is for a different time and a different economy.

In a twist echoing his own life, the forgotten Branwell Brontë is the fourth main but invisible character of the book. I pride myself in being a Brontë fan. By the age of 16, I had read Charlotte and Emily and Anne. And yet, up until two days ago, I had no idea they had a brother.

According to Picardie’s narrative

"Branwell was disgraced because of the discovery of his scandalous affair with Mrs Robinson, who was not only married, but fifteen years older than her son’s tutor"

I’d like to think Mike Nichols Charles Webb decided to name his Mrs Robinson from Branwell’s life. His book was published in 1963, Daphne du Maurier’s The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë, the biography which introduced him to the world was published in the UK in 1960.

Though this might just be a very out of character excès de romantisme.


Mlle. L.

PS: The picture is of Menabilly, du Maurier’s house and the original Manderley

Posted at 6:07am and tagged with: The Librarian, du Maurier, Brontë, Justine Picardie,.