Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 8 December 2016

Clothes Maketh the Man… Or Woman

First let me state loudly and clearly that I do not like Theresa May… OK, I don’t actually know her, so this sounds like a hell of a judgement call. Let’s just say that I’m absolutely not in her camp, politically, and, ethically, I’m not thrilled that we have an unelected Prime Minister. We were asked if we wanted out of Europe, but not who would represent us if we decided to withdraw.

This post isn’t about politics, though. Generally, I’m either preaching to the choir or I’m surrounded by hatred, so politics is taking a bit of a back seat on the blog.

Today, I am standing in defence of Ms May.
Theresa May, leather trousers and The Sun's response

Yesterday, I saw a number of articles about Theresa May’s clothes, in particular a pair of leather trousers that she wore to have her photograph taken for a newspaper.

The trousers were leather. They looked good to me, but the point of the piece was that the trousers were very expensive. People don’t like that our Prime Minister is wearing trousers that might have cost close to a thousand pounds.

Would I spend a thousand pounds on a single item of clothing? Well, I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t. I know for a fact that my husband has spent that kind of money on very special items of clothing as gifts for me. Yes, it sounds preposterous, but I love clothes, and I keep them for decades; I’d never class myself as any kind of fashion victim.

That’s me though, or it’s you, or it’s dozens of women that I know who have the money and like to look good.

Of course, I’m not the Prime Minister.

It’s all about appearances, and it seems to me that there’s a terrible double standard at play.

Apparently, the majority of this nation wanted Brexit, and one of the reasons they wanted it was so that we could take a bigger role globally, stand on a larger stage, and be taken seriously as an international power.

The heroes of the Brexit movement, such as they were, were Messrs Johnson, Gove and Farage. 

Where do you suppose those gentlemen shop for their clothes? Where do you suppose that Tony Blair bought his suits? or Nick Clegg? who always seems to look better in formal wear than any of his contemporaries and colleagues.

An entry level, off the rack suit costs around a thousand pounds at Gieves and Hawkes, via their internet shop. An entry level bespoke suit starts at four and a half grand, and the skies the limit. Theresa May’s colleague, Boris Johnson might not be known for his sartorial elegance, but do you imagine for a moment that he doesn’t use a good Saville Row tailor to make his suits?

The difference is, of course, that we don’t judge men by the way they look… Or do we? Michael Foot might have been the most accomplished politician of his generation, but that Donkey Jacket did him no favours. Jeremy Corbyn’s casual approach to dressing has also been talked about. Can we take him seriously if he’s scruffy?

Tony Blair might be the epitome of this standard: a good-looking, elegantly dressed man who brought New Labour to power. We didn't talk about his suits, though, did we?

Men, and definitely male politicians have a uniform that they can rely on. They stick to the dark suit, light shirt and tie, and nobody thinks twice about it. Some of those suits cost five or six… or ten grand, but we don’t talk about that.
Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister modified the male approach, but stuck to a uniform of a two-piece suit in dark colours. She was already an expensive dresser when she became an MP; thanks to her wealthy husband she could afford to shop wherever she wanted to. She had numerous hats and expensive handbags, and then there were those pearls, of course. Do you know what a string of pearls costs? We’re talking thousands.

Margaret Thatcher was never ostentatious, though. She wore the same uniform as her male counterparts, her hair was coiffed, and kept in the same style for decades, and she was not beautiful, unless you happened to think like Francois Mitterand.

It’s all about sex, in the end, as it so often is with women. Thatcher wasn’t sexy, but she spent a lot of money on clothes. She was of her time, and she could be taken seriously, because she wasn’t pretty.

We can all imagine Theresa May having sex. She wore those leopard skin ‘fuck me’ shoes way back in 2002 at the Conservative party conference, and got noticed for them. 

Margaret Thatcher was taken seriously despite being a woman, but it was because she played the game like a man. It’s also because we were actually more respectful thirty years ago;  more respectful of achievement, and of authority.

Theresa May is lambasted, because she is a woman. We live in different times. If Theresa May made the same sartorial choices now that Margaret Thatcher made more than thirty years ago, she’d be laughed out of existence. If she dressed like Mhairi Black (whom I not-so-secretly adore) she wouldn’t be taken seriously on the International Stage that we’re all so keen for her to inhabit.

Do we really want our leaders, those who represent us in the World, to shop on the High Street? Don’t we want them to be impressive? Don’t we want them to be taken seriously? Isn’t image part of that? Isn’t image, increasingly part of that in our celebratory obsessed culture?

In my mind, Theresa May can do no good, politically, but I have no problem with her dressing for her role. She always looks good, and she clearly enjoys clothes. A stylist might want to adjust her look a little, calm it down, make it a little more ‘conservative’, but at least they’ve got a great canvas to work with, and, if she’s still dressing herself, she's saving us money on a stylist and a whole new wardrobe. We talk about Theresa May’s clothes because we notice them. I don’t have a problem with that, but clearly others do. It’s much harder to notice men’s clothes.

Those who wanted Brexit, those who still believe we can wield significant power on the World Stage can’t have it both ways. In a World where status matters, Theresa May can’t pop to her local Debenhams and shop for bits and pieces in the sale. The men don’t do it, and it’s a double standard to expect May to do it. 

Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Pirelli Calendar 2017

The Naked Selfie
I’ve been woefully absent from this blog for a little while, now.

You can, if you’re interested, check out my antidote to fashion blog, where I do offer the odd opinion among the stuff about what I’m wearing, but I haven’t been here much, lately.

When I began this blog it was intended to be about ‘writing and other stuff’. At some point, the other stuff took over. I’m a woman with opinions, and I have aired them long and loudly, here, over the past few years.

This year has been extraordinary, and, yes, I’ve had a lot of of opinions about what’s been going on in the World… Of course I have. Just for once, I think that virtually everybody has… And that might be the only good thing that’s come out of all the political shenanigans that have been happening, globally, over the past year.

There’s been upset and anger, sadness and even grief over the political courses that we have taken recently, but it’s virtually impossible to talk about without becoming incandescent or attracting hatred… Or, in my case, very probably both.

I am a socialist and a European.

I think that’s enough said.

Today, I thought I’d get back to the kind of post that I used to write… A post about the small stuff that informs the bigger stuff, and affects our lives, how we feel about and respond to each other, and how the World turns.

I had a pop at the Pirelli calendar around this time last year, and here I am again, to talk about the 2017 version.

This will be the 44th incarnation of this iconic corporate ad, but I doubt it will be the last. The calendar has been shot by German photographer Peter Lindbergh, known for his fondness for realism in photography. He prefers his models to be wearing less make-up rather than more, and he keeps retouching to a minimum.

This all sounds great, but it can only go so far. His notions are romantic, but hardly realistic. He has said,

"This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.”

Well, OK, then, but not everyone isn’t affected by the terror of youth and perfection; this kind of pressure effects woman vastly more than it does men. No one cares that Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood were never handsome, or that George Clooney is ageing. The same can’t be said for their female counterparts.

He has also said,

"A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today’s commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?”

Well, he can feel that way, if he likes, but the truth is that a fashion photographer’s job is to sell clothes. Most of high end fashion has very little to do with this contemporary woman in her time. And, the kind of social and human reality that fashion reflects is tied up in class and status, in the difference between the haves and the have-nots. This bloke isn’t shooting for Marks and Spencer or Primark, after all.

The 2017 Pirelli calendar is a collection of black and white photographs of extraordinarily beautiful women. The line-up of actresses who took part is nothing if not impressive, as you can see: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong'o, Charlotte Rampling, Lea Seydoux, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet, Robin Wright, and Zhang Ziyi. 

There is a range of ages and body types here, but all of these women are physically perfect in their own ways, and all but two are white.

Lindbergh claims not to retouch, but you can bet these women have been lit to within an inch of their existences. I imagine there’s also a burden on the make-up artist to produce a flawless no-make-up make-up to show these women, all of them actresses, at their very best, and then, of course, there’s the bevy of hairdressers and stylist, who work their own particular magic.

Just as we saw with Annie Leibovitz’s photographs last year, everything is in ‘classy’ black and white, everything is posed and calculated, clothes appear to be optional at best, and there’s that bloody wind machine again.

Pirelli has done a wonderful job over the 44 editions of the calendar getting itself an awful lot of coverage that, had they decided to rely on advertising, would have cost them a small fortune. It’s a colossal con perpetrated by industry on the masses, and it’s nasty. Sex sells… always. It’s one thing buying ad slots, it’s entirely another being given thousands of column inches in editorial for free. The Pirelli press release comes out each year, and the media responds. Let’s not forget that the calendar is exclusively a gift from Pirelli to its clients; we won’t ever get to see it in its original form. We’ll get to see the photos through the media.

There’s little doubt that these actresses look glorious in the photographs taken for Pirelli by Lindbergh. For some of them, it would be tough to look anything but radiant. For them, it’s just another job, and one that gives them more exposure, but can we stop pretending that the Pirelli calendar is about anything but sex.

Lindbergh is a photographer of beautiful clothes and beautiful women, and that’s fine by me, but he is not a philosopher; he can’t pretend that he is photographing the soul. If that ever happens at all, and I doubt that it does, it doesn’t happen in a studio with the World’s most beautiful, most famous actresses.