When researching American fashion advertising in the interwar period, I came across a J.C. Penney advertisement located in a 1939 edition of McCall’s Style News. The ad employs a comic book format, synthesising text and image to relay a narrative promoting the department store’s affordable, yet stylish fabrics. Readers are introduced to Ginger, a young woman who is initially portrayed as a pathetic character, a conventional trope of the tremendously popular comic book genre. After failing at her job interview, a defeated Ginger sorrowfully cries to her friend: ‘Oh Peg… What’s the matter with me?’ Peg proceeds to denounce Ginger’s dowdy dress and introduces her to the materials at J.C. Penney’s which Ginger uses to fabricate a stylish outfit for a second interview that she managed to get. Ginger is later pictured wearing her new patterned dress paired with a hat and bag, having successfully secured a job. The narrative ends with a neat resolution in which a newly confident and employed Ginger expresses her joyful realisation of the potential for fashion to elicit happiness and bolster confidence.
This advertisement sheds light on women’s shifting roles during the period and underscores the importance for women from all ranks of society to make sound fashionable choices. On the one hand, the advertisement affords women with power in that it situates women as viable and active participants in the working world, a realm previously associated exclusively with masculinity. The context of the Great Depression, along with the increasing visibility of women’s rights movements are two of several factors that resulted in more women needing to work. On the other hand, the advertisement problematically associates women’s success and happiness with outward appearance as opposed to ability and intellect. According to the advert’s narrative, Ginger failed to succeed in landing a job because of the dowdy nature of her clothing rather than a poor interview performance. Once she remedied her unfashionable appearance, she secured a job. Moreover, Ginger derives her newfound confidence not from the accomplishment of employment, but rather from her fashionable clothes, she expresses: ‘I never realized before how much confidence a smart outfit gives a girl!’ Additionally, she revels in the idea that she can be the ‘best dressed girl in the office’, as opposed to performing the best.
While fashion advertisements and comics are often deemed trivial, they play a hand at engendering, cementing and disseminating societal norms. Adverts such as the J.C Penney comic associate female success and happiness with appearance and, as a corollary, nourish the essentialist conception that women are merely ornamental. Although this advertisement dates back to the late 30s, the immense pressure for women to resemble beauty and fashionable ideals has persisted to the present day.
Under the glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais, a protest is taking place, a procession of women, signs held aloft, calling for female empowerment, as they stride confidently past the large crowds they have attracted. Its setting is a monumental screen print of a typical Parisian rue dubbed the ‘Boulevard Chanel’; its demonstrators, eighty models centered around such high-profile names as Cara Delevingne and Gisele Bündchen; the props, quilted megaphones and handbags dripping in Chanel iconography.
Indeed, the finale of Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2015 ready-to-wear show possessed all the ingredients for a potent collision of fashion and feminism, yet it left many a critic cold and confused as to its underlying intentions. A prevailing mood of discomfort regarding Lagerfeld’s seemingly hollow hijacking of the feminist cause for publicity purposes immediately permeated the international press, giving rise to concerns as varied as they are, perhaps, unfounded. While some dwelled on the apparent hypocrisy of this multi-billion dollar luxury brand’s attempt to promote a liberated individualism by way of exorbitantly expensive garments, others bristled at the narrow spectrum of ‘ideal’ female beauty represented by the designer’s casting of professional fashion models in the role of feminist activists. Protest signs carrying such slogans as, ‘Tweed not Tweet’, ‘Ladies First’ and ‘History is Her Story’ were widely derided as empty and naïve attempts to exploit the gravity of a highly topical social issue. Journalist Alexander Fury even went as far as to suggest that the show had been the very ‘artifice of anarchy’, a noisy, fussy publicity stunt lacking in any real, honest political statement.
But as debates raged over potential misinterpretations of that significantly weighted word – feminism – and accusations of trivialization poured forth, the very point of the show itself appeared to have been not just overlooked, but also largely, and sadly, missed. The true stars of the show were, in fact, the clothes themselves, which formed, in the words of Vogue’s Suzy Menkes, a ‘back-to-Coco parade’, one which confirmed that the dynamic spirit of the label’s fiercely independent female founder still endures, nearly a century after its sartorial debut. Gabrielle Chanel herself was fashion’s greatest inadvertent feminist. She bestowed a freedom of movement and gender blurring right to comfort and function upon women, whose experiences of dress had, thereto, been characterised by restriction, adornment and submission. This specific collection’s layering of menswear-inspired elements (boxy tweed jackets, wide-leg trousers and sailor stripe knits) atop feminine basenotes of florals, unusually vibrant prints and classic Chanel monochrome palettes travelled to the very heart of the brand’s unique heritage, while, simultaneously, allowing the image of the modern, active woman to be effectively reimagined and updated for a post-Coco society.
It is important that such a presentation is not taken out of context as, after all, it seems illogical to dismiss the theatrical spectacle of the show’s format as mere ‘publicity stunt,’ when the very function of a fashion show is that of self-promotion and commercial endorsement. Unlike the design philosophies at the root of the Chanel brand, gender equality debates can arguably never truly be timeless, as constantly shifting social mores require them to move and morph with their times, never standing still. Therefore, to accuse Chanel of presenting a reductive view of diluted feminism seems a step too far, and the very fact that it is engaging in the discussion at all should be applauded. Fashion, viewed through the lens of feminism is likely to remain a problematic concept on many levels, but it should be recognized that attempts to exclude it from the conversation would only be counter-productive. The most negative aspect of feminism’s fraught relationship with fashion does not lie in the sartorial embrace of what it means to be a modern woman, in any era, but in the fact that the two spheres are being forced to uncomfortably co-exist as conflicting and contradictory ideologies. Lagerfeld’s riot of a show may not have brought about longed-for permanent change, but it has taken us one step closer to breaking down the seemingly obligatory boundaries between the two by, at last, allowing them to assume a much-needed dialogue that is imperative to the future success of both.
The expression ‘enfant terrible’ seems to crop up frequently when Jean Paul Gaultier is mentioned. Since the founding of his fashion house in 1976, the designer has become known for collections characterised by a canny, yet humorous take on current affairs, and a high degree of craftsmanship. As of September this year, Gaultier will exclusively focus on his haute couture line, which he launched in 1997. The designer cited increasing commercial pressures and the rapid pace of the ready-to-wear industry as contributing factors in his decision. He also expressed the need to satisfy his desire for creative experimentation and innovation through his continued work in couture. Gaultier’s brand, backed by Spanish perfume company Puig, will be kept afloat financially by the sale of the designer’s popular line of fragrances, and a soon-to-be developed beauty range. It has also been suggested that the designer may venture into the world of interior design and pursue creative collaborations.
The closure of Gaultier’s ready-to-wear line has come at a time when the growing pressure on designers is frequently discussed in the fashion media. Following a series of unexpected deaths and public meltdowns, some journalists have identified the increasing rate of global fashion consumption as the root of the problem. Additional shows, including, pre- and cruise collections, aimed at keeping buyers interested all year round, have considerably increased designers’ workload. There are those, such as Azzedeine Alaia, who have refused to participate in this gruelling system, although up until now his was a rare example. Will Gaultier’s decision, which goes a step further, to focus on one aspect of his clothing design, inspire others to follow his lead? Although this is not a likely possibility, the move does indicate a changed state of affairs in the fashion industry. While in recent years many feared the death of haute couture, now the consensus seems to be that it has instead become the last vestige of Fashion with a capital F. Haute couture is exempt from a direct commercial pressure, because it has become the essence of a fashion house and an artisanal heritage to be preserved. Lavish shows and rarefied craftsmanship are cultivated in order to produce a brand DNA that consumers can vicariously buy into when purchasing cheaper products. It is not surprising therefore, that a designer with a high fashion education, such as Gaultier – he began his career working at Cardin and Patou – should choose to shift his creative focus and brand strategy.
Despite the difficult issues that contextualise Gaultier’s departure from prêt-à-porter, his final spring/summer 2015 collection was anything but a solemn affair. Instead, we saw a theatrical farewell in the form of the ‘Miss Jean Paul Gaultier Pageant’, which showcased the most iconic designs of the brand’s history. The ten-part extravaganza featured Gaultier’s signature nautical, striped shirts, asymmetrically cut, sharply tailored gender-bending suits, and a tamed version of the cone bra, in the shape of a corselet dress modelled by Coco Rocha. A lively assortment of characters, from Lucha Libre superhero wrestlers, footballers’ wives sporting paisley, sequins and denim, to boxers-cum-cyclists confirmed the designer’s love for all things related to popular culture. Gaultier has a history for challenging norms of taste, beauty and gender, therefore it was a shame that references to some of his more controversial collections were missing. It would have been good to spot a few men in skirts, for example – perhaps his most daring contribution to fashion history. Although models of all ages graced the runway, a greater diversity of gender, ethnicity and body shapes would have also spoken more clearly of Gaultier’s fashion legacy. Nevertheless, this final collection was an apt celebration of the end of a chapter in ready-to-wear’s history.
As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…
One of the most striking aspects of the current fashion weeks’ coverage is the shift of focus away from the catwalk and onto the streets surrounding the venues. Many posts from style.com, for example, headlined with street style, rather than designers’ latest showings. The dynamic between clothes, settings and photographers has gradually shifted emphasis, from professional models, in designer clothes, carefully shown to convey the latest season, to celebrities on the front row and, in the last few years, to a carnival of self-styled visitors, who perform for the cameras and each other. So, what and who are fashion shows really for nowadays? And who is watching whom?
Fashion editors – who move between the various players in this scenario – act as a conduit to the wider public through print and digital media, and bridge this move from centre to periphery. Whereas most editors used to be fairly anonymous, their every outfit is now commented upon, as they mirror bloggers use of self-presentation to build a distinctive identity. In each case, the way they dress has become a focus – a way to ‘democratize’ fashion, with the editors adopting street style tactics, as a means to assert their authority, and compete with the mass of ‘amateur’ fashion commentators.
As bloggers renegotiated the ways fashion was communicated at the start of the century, access to new styles via the Internet, and a closer, more direct style of writing and, importantly, photographing new styles impinged on traditional media. Using your own body as a way to display emerging trends appears more direct and linked to how the wider public uses fashion.
Ironically, couturiers originally tried to keep the press out of their shows – wishing to control access to their designs and the timing of their release. Now, changes brought about by the Internet, combined with recession-led conservative styles on the catwalk, have shifted the gaze again, and blurred lines between professional and amateur, design and performance.
Hot Fuzz: Shrimps
The newly launched girly and kitsch faux fur label Shrimps, the brainchild of 23-year-old LCF graduate, Hannah Weiland, made its debut on 12th September at London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2015. Rainbow-coloured beautifully-crafted fluffy pieces inspired by the Flintstones, Muppets and Popeye the Sailor provided a humorous and invitingly tactile contrast to the more austere creations seen in other collections. Enthused by the pop-art witticisms of Eduardo Paolozzi, sixties style and British humour, Weiland showcased furry mid-length coats with horizontal contrasting stripes, oversized clutches adorned with pearls, luxurious collars in hot pink or orange, and fur-trimmed biker jackets, all of which were made from the synthetic fibre modacryclic. ‘Why wear real fur when the potential for luxe faux fur is so rich and unexploited?’ quizzed the designer. The label makes faux fur, which, while not cheap, costs considerably less than the real thing – the ‘Wilma’ striped faux fur coat is currently £595 on Net-a-Porter and is made more desirable with its bright colours, pastel hues and overall silly charm. ‘Perhaps my obsession with fluffy animals is the reason why Shrimps came about — I’m imitating the animals I grew up with’. But with stockists Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and Opening Ceremony all queuing up to place orders for spring, the names of items, which include Pluto, Mabel and Dulcie, don’t seem quite so silly…
Dark Naturalism: Beauty at New York Fashion Week, Spring 2015
Many of the beauty looks featured at New York Fashion Week displayed takes on the city’s impeccably groomed, understated trademark style, and Derek Lam and Vera Wang’s respective shows were no exception. Shiny curls softly bounced, though with a subtle irregularity and loosened nature that prevented them being uniform and kempt. Faces were left fresh and dewy, lips glossy but in natural hues, and eyebrows full and merely brushed. The fine plaits that peeked out within models’ hair as they moved down the Vera Wang catwalk, quietly conjured an air of refined rebellion, encapsulating this insouciant individualism.
This was furthered by the shades of violet that were washed over the eyes in each show. At Derek Lam, brown eyeliner, and mauve lipstick smudged onto the lids avoided a classic, explicit finish, and merged the product with the skin. The purplish tones were emphasised with mascara of the same shade. At Vera Wang, similar tones were apparent in a heavier manner, here without the definition of mascara. Colour surrounded the eye and was extended below the lower eyelid, creating a sunken effect.
While praised by media coverage for injecting colour, the shadows’ considered placement and thorough blending create not so much a colour pop, as a suggestion that they are part of the skin, and therefore represent bruising: in-keeping with the rest of the looks’ naturalism, but focusing on an unconventional and controversial condition of the skin. They recall the haunted, hollow eyes that prevailed within the ‘heroin chic’ look of the late 1990s, when fashion images depicted models styled as drug abusers, their rake-thin bodies and lack of vitality enhanced by a haze of smoky shadow. Just as at the end of the last millennium, the suggestion of violence is never far beneath fashion’s seemingly impenetrable surface.
As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…
“I love New York, I’m a New Yorker, I can’t imagine living anywhere else” – video, DKNY S/S 2015
The city of New York has played a role in the shaping of American fashion since industrial professionals such as Eleanor Lambert and Dorothy Shaver worked to promote original American design in the 1930s and 40s. As the site of the country’s garment industry as well as, in advertisements, a prime space of imagined consumption of clothing, New York became synonymous with fashion over the course of the twentieth century. Since its creation in 1988, DKNY, the less expensive extension of Donna Karan New York, has utilised the city as a tool of branding. DKNY even defines itself, according to its current website, as “the energy and spirit of New York. International, eclectic, fun, fast and real.” And the presentation of DKNY’s S/S 2015 collection on 7 September in Lincoln Center began with a video that visualised these ideals. A rapid patchwork of faces, clothed bodies and minute details of New York spaces – from the subway to wire fences and graffiti-covered brick walls – the video set the tone for the show, which presented models of various ethnicities in sporty and colourful garments. Styled by Jay Massacret, the models conveyed a quirky femininity in their A-line skirts and boldly patterned garments. They painted a portrait of style found, according to the video, as “you walk down the streets…different energies, different styles…a lotta noise, colours.” The show thus extended the definition of New York to its outer, less affluent spaces. And the models, dressed in sweaters and neoprene bomber jackets, recalled 1990s B-girls. With their sunglasses, foam stacked trainers, and gelled baby hair and braids (conceived by Eugene Souleiman), they commemorated inner city street style – today a part of American fashion heritage – and the specificity of this image to New York.
Audrey Hepburn’s Granddaughter Emma Ferrer Makes Her Modelling Debut
Fashion has made no secret of its fascination with Audrey Hepburn. From the mid-1950s films Sabrina (1955) and Funny Face (1957), which dramatised the gamine actress’s transformations through Hubert de Givenchy’s couture, to subsequent pronouncements that a new model has something of her eyebrows or quality of movement, fashion has remained entranced with Hepburn’s delicate, extraordinary face and waif-like, ballerina body. The latest model to be cast in Hepburn’s mould is her twenty-one-year-old grand-daughter Emma Ferrer. Ferrer, who to date has been an art student in Florence, is moving to Manhattan and embarking upon a modelling career. Her debut into fashion was the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, where she was photographed by Michael Avedon, the grandson of the famous Richard, who worked with her grand-mother. Although Ferrer, has been ballet-trained like her grandmother and shares her deportment, she is not Hepburn’s doppelganger in either appearance or life experience. Nevertheless, in the photo-shoot, she has been made to adopt Hepburn’s characteristic poses, for example: her face in profile and tilted up to exaggerate her neck-length; or in a Funny Face style frieze-frame of quirky spontaneous movement. There is something sad and forced about asking a young woman to literally take her grandmother’s position, and in my opinion, the photo shoot is too derivative to be inspiring.
Still, the fashion industry’s interest in Hepburn’s granddaughter indicates that it values a model’s symbolic value in addition to her physical attributes. One speculates that when Lanvin asked Ferrer to make her catwalk debut at their Spring Summer 2015 show on September 25, they wanted to exhibit not only her beauty in their clothes, but the aura that manifests in her blood-relation to Hepburn. It’s too early to tell whether Ferrer will follow the successful path of Georgia May Jagger and other descendants of fashion royalty, but first, her collaborators have to allow her to emerge from Hepburn’s shadow.
Carey Gibbons is a Fourth Year PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, supervised by Professor Caroline Arscott. She was born and grew up in Memphis Tennessee, lived in New York City for ten years, and came to the Courtauld in 2009.
What are you wearing?
A black sweatshirt with a giant shark made out of rhinestones and little orange spikes for the teeth, a black fake leather skirt, black leggings and black lace-up ankle boots.
Where did you find the shark sweater?
I got it from the Forever 21 store in Chicago in January.
What has been its biggest adventure to date?
I’ve only worn it a few times, but I wore it with James (my boyfriend) to the Apple store and we took a bunch of photos on their computer. I guess you could say this shirt brings out my playful side.
Why did you want to look playful today?
It was raining and I was feeling down so I put it on and I felt more upbeat and motivated. Because a shark is a fierce creature it helps me attack my day with ferocity, perseverance and determination. Bam! (pumps the air with her fist)
Is this what you wear to the Courtauld typically?
Yes, it’s pretty typical. I like wearing clothes that incorporate animals in some way. I have a lot of clothes with animal print. I have animal jewellery. I have a shark-tooth necklace which is really important to me and a fox necklace made out of rhinestones that I really like wearing.
Is there a practical aspect to what you’re wearing?
I wear black leggings a lot because they’re really comfortable. My boots are flat… I like to wear flats or low heels so that I’m comfortable.
How does being a PhD student as opposed to a staff member or undergraduate influence how you dress?
I think if I was a staff member or a postdoctoral fellow, then I would make more of an effort to look professional, but for now I’m celebrating the opportunity to wear whatever I want and express myself through my clothes.
What makes you stand out from other Courtauldians?
(Laughs) I seek to combine the sweet and the vicious in my clothes. I would say that other Courtauldians exude a less eclectic vibe and they go for one dominant style, whereas I celebrate my contradictions!
Is there anything about your appearance or dress that marks you out as a Courtauldian?
Courtauldians imbue poise and confidence. Despite going for an eclectic look, I always try and look like I’m composed.
Has your PhD in Victorian illustration inspired your dress sense at all?
Since studying Victorian illustration I’ve become more interested in prints and I’m really into designers like Mary Katranzou and Clover Canyon. I was also captivated by the use of embroidered prints borrowed from imaginary ethnic groups in the Valentino S/S 14 collection. I like experiments with line and pattern to create a mood or evoke a fantasy world.
Faces and feet are out of focus or cropped out of the frame, whereas breasts and bottoms are emphasised and given a literal and psychological sexual charge that both objectifies and abstracts bodies of all shapes, shades and sizes. Such deliberate technical shortcomings, combined with the gaudy colours of cheap Kodak Instamatic film, inject a gritty realism into these confessional photographs that draw the viewer in with a highly developed aesthetic sensibility. They have the appearance of spontaneous observation and form part of a project entitled Meninas do Brasil [Girls of Brazil], which wasstarted by the Rio de Janeiro-based Brazilian documentary and fashion photographer Mari Stockler in 1996.
Stockler was inspired by a song, written by the Brazilian composer and singer Dorival Caymmi, ‘Um Vestido de Bolero’ [A Bolero Dress], which she heard whilst on holiday in Salvador da Bahia. It describes an awkward young woman who dresses in an eclectic ensemble combining a burgundy jacket with a green, blue and white skirt. Whilst shooting a short film in the poorer suburbs of Rio de Janeiro a few months later, Stockler was reminded of Caymmi’s song when she witnessed an interesting fashion phenomenon unfold before her eyes: ‘I realised that something very powerful was happening. It was a kind of “haute couture” made by anonymous designers. The interesting thing is that these anonymous designers were very influenced by Azzedine Alaia. They used to buy old fashion magazines from the 1980s. This was before Jennifer Lopez or Salma Hayek became successful in Hollywood for their Latin American sexiness’. Alaia’s designs, as customised and reinterpreted, resulted in spandex trousers, tops, shorts and body suits in a variety of colours, shapes, structures and sizes with different patterns, holes, transparencies and details. Stockler enthused: ‘The girls were wearing them day and night. All kinds of bodies with a funky second skin’.
She became captivated and began to photograph girls in the streets, discos, samba halls and shopping malls throughout Rio, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Belem do Para and Salvador. Dancing, chatting and laughing with them, she understood her role as a recorder of their activities, but not a choreographer of their actions: ‘None of them saw me as a “professional photographer” and this was a big condition for the image. I was with them with no critical distance.’ The tilted camera angle and blur seen in the resulting images shows that Stockler worked unobtrusively. She is never represented in the photographs, but her presence is felt in the varied ways that the subjects react to her and her camera. Stockler developed a technique that she had been taught by the Brazilian artist Regina Case, whom she describes as ‘the master of intimacy’, to get ‘very very close to them in seconds’. When asked if she posed her subjects in a certain way, Stockler recalled a scenario that produced one of her favourite images in Meninas do Brasil: ‘I never asked them to pose for the camera. There were cases of provocation as in the example of a group of three women. When I arrived they started to make fun of me. Meanwhile, I was photographing them. One asked me what kind of dress I was wearing (my clothes were different from theirs) and if I was wearing panties. I remember this as that I was wearing my husband’s underwear (I don’t know why!) and I decided to show them this. I lifted up my dress and they laughed a lot. I considered that one of my best shots’.
Concentric diagonal lines lead the viewer’s eye to a central triangle and button of a cotton dress. Its simple construction is composed of eight panels of fabric inventively joined on the bias to construct a dynamic motif of vertical lines. Two circular pockets with horizontal lines applied to the skirt and a vertical column of buttons that opens the garment clash with this diagonal current, and enliventhe play of colour and line. Like the faux pocket at the breast, the dress teases, tricks and amuses. Although its creator, French designer Emmanuelle Khanh (b. 1937), employed whimsical and trompe l’œil details throughout her career, there was an increased interest in geometry and distortion in mid-1960s pattern design.
The dress was part of the Spring/Summer 1966 collection produced for the label I.D., created three years earlier. Its artistic director, styliste Maïmé Arnodin (1916-2003), mediated between Khanh and a network of other professionals—manufacturers, textile producers, retailers, graphic designers, journalists and photographers—to see the garment to completion. A 1966 article in Le Monde discussed stylistes, whose role, which was ‘growing nonstop as fashion industrialises,’ was to counsel their manufacturer clients on future styles and colours to render last year’s fashion obsolete. The article even surmised that stylistes premeditated the trend for Op Art, which, ‘presented with a great splash in magazines before going on sale, was almost outmoded before it was woven.’
Although limited by industrial constraints, Khanh looked outward to a culture saturated by new graphic trends. In 1965 and 1966 Op Art was a constant feature in the everyday visual landscape of France and abroad. The play of lines on her dress recalls the concentric squares in Frank Stella’s Line Up (1962). This painting was reproduced in Michel Ragon’s article in the July 1965 issue of French Vogue entitled Op Art? Sa Place est dans la rue. Stella’s painting was part of the The Responsive Eye exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1965, which popularised the movement and inspired, as Khanh recently admitted, her 1966 collection. She added that the dresses’ ‘clashing lines…broke the rhythm,’ which ‘made the silhouette vibrate.’ Cyril Barrett similarly wrote of Op painting that what ‘first confronts us is a stable and often rather monotonous repetition of lines, squares or dots. But as we continue to look at the simple structure it begins to dissolve before our eyes. The dots seem to flicker and move; the lines undulate; the surface heaves and billows.’ The moving body would have accentuated these effects. Ragon’s title alluded to the fact that this movement, as other critics argued, belonged out of the museum and ‘in the street.’ Likewise, Barrett described it as ‘an artform which was what every good dress or advertisement should be—eye-catching.’
Barrett, C. (1971) An Introduction to Optical Art, London: Studio Vista.
Khanh, E. (n.d.) unpublished manuscript.
Mont-Servan, N. (1966) ‘Le role des stylistes’, Le Monde, 2 June.
How to dress for work? – This is a question women have been grappling with for at least a hundred and fifty years. How to appear appropriate, professional, fit into your environment, while looking stylish and individual? The Courtauld Institute’s receptionist of 12 years, Teresa Fogarty has another, more practical concern to add to the list – how to cope with the freezing winter air that blows into the foyer each time someone opens the front door!
As she says, ‘It’s quite awkward dressing smartly for work because I need to keep warm.’ So, Teresa has developed a well-edited selection of cashmere knitwear, neat trousers and colourful accessories to meet the challenge and project a stylish image to our visitors.
On the day we talked, she was wearing navy cords, and a matching cashmere cardigan and knotted scarf, with touches of bright primaries on a blue and white ground. Like a newsreader – her ‘audience’ usually sees her from the waist up – and her accessories draw focus, while also providing the needed protection from the elements, as she says, they ‘make an outfit and brighten everything up.’
Her eye for detail and coordination taps into workwear fail-safes that have developed since the 1930s. Soft textures, worn with tailoring and interchangeable separates are the key to her look. “I love cashmere…It’s so warm without being heavy,’ she says, ‘I generally go to Marks and Spencer’s or occasionally Jigsaw.’ Scarves are another favourite – a multi-striped silk one from Paul Smith proving to be especially versatile, its subtly varied colours coordinating with many different outfits.
Aside from her work outfits though, what is Teresa’s favourite fashion memory? Well, it turns out that she spent her teenage years hanging out at Biba. And, in keeping with her sharp eye for colour and cut – she wore a delicate blue-grey 1940s-inspired Ossie Clark dress for her wedding after-party in 1976. Bought in an Ossie Clark outlet in TopShop’s Oxford Street branch, it wrapped around the body with a tie at the waist, and in characteristic Clark-style, had a scooped out back and soft, billowing sleeves caught into a tight cuff.
Theresa remembers this as the most important outfit of the day – in contrast to her actual wedding dress – this contemporary fashion classic expressed her personality and love of dressing up in the evening – ‘I thought this [dress] was so special. The way it touches you and hangs from the body is so different…just makes you feel different…I suppose it’s all about the cut.’
And it is this appreciation of fabric and fit that informs Teresa’s choices, and shapes her work – and evening – wardrobe.