28 June 2010

Designer Michael Kors Honored for Classic, Common-Sense Style

The Detroit Free Press

Twenty-nine years IS a lifetime in fashion, yet Michael Kors' enduring youthfulness makes his two lifetime achievement awards this month seem a little surreal.

At 50, Kors is still the guy who bounces down the runway with a bona fide grin. He's the one who calls his mom his muse, the one who likes to do red carpets, the one who gabs it up with customers at trunk shows.

Most of all, he's the guy who still loves what he's doing, and he has no intention of calling it a "lifetime."

"In another 30 years, I don't know what they'll call it," he says, "a second lifetime achievement?"

Kors first sold his signature uptown look to Bergdorf Goodman while he was dressing windows. Now the Long Island, N.Y., native keeps company with socialites and stars, and became a celebrity himself on "Project Runway" with Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia.

His clothes aren't fussy, and he values function, so the pea coats, slinky cocktail frocks, wide-leg trousers and cozy cashmere also work for those without boldface names. (Kors has a second, less expensive line called Michael Michael Kors; and the designer recently opened a stand-alone boutique at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi.)

He favors the color camel, offset by crisp white and jet black. And, in Kors' world, anyone and everyone wears aviator sunglasses.

Kors has created a wardrobe that implies an appreciation for crisp classics. It's "luxurious but low-key and laidback," he says.

He has drawn inspiration from Italy's Amalfi Coast, Palm Beach, Calif., the Alps, the Greek islands, Hawaii and St. Bart's.

But there are still other places to explore. "I am doing a huge Australia trip at the end of the year. I'm going to Morocco. ... I've never been to Shanghai, and I'd like to go to Peru," he says.

Fashion designers need to be students of different places and cultures if they're going to stay relevant and hit the right trends, he adds.

"If you're a modern designer and involved in dressing people for real life, not costumes, the simple truth is fashion is about the zeitgeist. It's about what's right for the moment, so the designers have to be plugged in and aware of what's going on," Kors says. "You have to be aware of what's going on in art, politics, the theater -- it might be the way a girl tucked her shirt in."

Kors knows what he doesn't want to see more of: no more crazy clunky heels paired with microminis and no more rompers. They're both part of the overwrought style that came with the 2000s that seem dated now, he says.

"I am very happy that we're getting out of what I think has been a decade of too much excess. People felt like they've gorged themselves on fettucini alfredo, and now they're looking for something beautifully prepared and simple -- a fresh tomato and mozzarella, a great steak."

Don't mistake Kors for being anything less than a showman, though, when it comes to his catwalk. Twice a year he lives out his Broadway fantasy, creating a lively runway show that gets a further boost from a front row that has included Blake Lively, Bette Midler, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Simpson, Ellen Pompeo, Debra Messing and Eva Longoria.

He brought Gwyneth Paltrow as his date to the Council of Fashion Designers of America ceremony when he received the lifetime tribute from his peers. His second prize came from the Fragrance Foundation.

"Michael is a very warm person, very open and positive. He is great to be around," Paltrow wrote in an e-mail. "He is a compassionate person and not totally self-focused, which is rare for such a successful designer."

She adds: "His clothes are eminently wearable in a classic American way, never over the top or so constructed that you can't move your body or breathe, which is something I value highly."

The era of celebrity has changed fashion, Kors says, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Actresses, rock stars, supermodels -- and the first lady, for that matter -- can all serve as a divining rod for the broader fashion public, steering them toward flattering styles.

Still, he wishes a few more would try something new. "It would be nice to see ... a magazine cover with an actress in real clothes," Kors says.

24 June 2010

Plus-Size Revelation: Bigger Women Have Cash, Too

NY Times

Corseted into a size 18 white denim dress, wearing heels that made her about 6-foot-2, Gwen DeVoe, a former model and fashion-show producer, stepped onto a runway in Manhattan this week and made a pitch to retailers for the plus-size woman.

Those stores that don’t carry bigger sizes? “Shame on you, baby, shame on you,” Ms. DeVoe said. “Every curvy girl that has a dollar is willing to spend that dollar.”

So retailers are realizing.

That same day, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 28 percent of the adult population was obese last year, the highest percentage yet. Almost two-thirds of American women are either overweight or obese, according to the most recent CDC figures.

As doctors and public health officials encourage Americans to slim down, the fashion industry is embracing Americans as they are. Both mass-market stores like Forever 21 and Target and expensive designers like Elie Tahari are deciding the fattening of America is a big business opportunity, and are reinvigorating a market that had faltered during the recession.

The standard clothing that most stores have focused on in recent years fits fewer and fewer people. And as retailers search for ways to invigorate sales, plus size is one of the few categories where there is growth. The plus-size market increased 1.4 percent while overall women’s apparel declined 0.8 percent in the 12 months leading up to April 2010 versus the same period a year earlier, the most recent figures available, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.

“It just makes business sense,” said Ms. DeVoe, who founded “Full-Figured Fashion Week” last year to press mainstream retailers to embrace bigger sizes. “I’ve been told several times that no one fantasizes about being a plus-size woman, and that’s probably true, but the fact remains that you have to work with what you have.”

That is not always so easy for retailers venturing into the world of larger shoppers. Some bigger women do not like to try on clothes in the same fitting rooms as smaller women. Plus-size stocks take up valuable storage space, and not everyone is big in the same way, meaning stores cannot count on, say, a size 16 dress fitting most 180-pound women — one might have a larger torso, another big thighs and another wider hips.

“There are variations not only in the frame, but if you’re looking at larger women, you’re also looking at the way fat deposits are arranged around the body,” said Susan Ashdown, a professor at Cornell who studies body shape and clothing fit by creating a three-dimensional scan of a person’s almost-nude body.

Plus-size clothes, which now generally begin at size 14, have been around for at least 90 years, since a Lithuanian immigrant, Lena Bryant (her name was later misspelled as “Lane” on a business form), turned a maternity-wear business into a line for stout women in the 1920s. There have been several efforts to make plus-size clothes more available, but, as the name of the 1980s-era plus-size chain The Forgotten Woman suggested, larger women have usually been relegated to stand-alone boutiques stocked with shapeless purple caftans.

“One of the things that happens with plus-size women is, as a rule, they’re pretty under-served,” said Bill Bass, president of Sonsi, a social networking and retail site for heavier women. “The big companies forget about them or ignore them, or make them go online to buy their clothes since they won’t have them in stores.”

Although Americans have grown steadily heavier in the last decade, women’s plus-size clothing still makes up only 17 percent of the women’s apparel market today, according to NPD. There just is not much supply or variation in plus-size clothes for women to buy, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. And the big retailers have mostly stayed away.

Cost is one issue. Plus-size clothes are more difficult, and expensive, to make than more traditional sizes. Material can be the largest portion of a garment’s cost — up to about 60 percent — and larger sizes require not only more of it, but sometimes different production processes.

“Its not just about how much fabric is required,” said Deepa Neary, a retail consultant at A.T. Kearney, a consulting firm. “You’re actually using wider bolts of fabric, and that sometimes requires special machinery to produce the garments. You often don’t get to pass that on to the consumer, so your margins are not as high as the regular-size clothing.”

And with limited floor space, retailers say it’s hard to display, say, blouses from size 0 to 24. So the plus market “unfortunately gets treated like an exile,” said Kathy Bradley-Riley, senior vice president for merchandising at the trend forecasting firm Doneger Group.

Given those difficulties, some companies have pulled back on plus-size offerings. Old Navy and Ann Taylor stopped selling plus sizes in stores in the last few years, and now sell them only online. Liz Claiborne, which still sells some plus-size clothing, shut down its plus-size line Elisabeth, along with Sigrid Olsen, which carried larger sizes. It sold Ellen Tracy, which also had a plus-size offering. But given the strong sales in the sector more recently, and women becoming ever more overweight, some companies are giving the plus-size market a second look.

The chain Forever 21, which is based in California, introduced Faith 21, its larger-size line, last year. Though sales were much stronger than the company expected, that did not mean it had mastered the category. “We have been working through the kinks even now,” said Linda Chang, Forever 21’s director of marketing. “It doesn’t come as easily as maybe the smaller clothing would.”

Last summer, Target began carrying a line called Pure Energy that translated young, trendy clothes to larger sizes, adding to its more mature plus-size offerings.

“We definitely view this category as a growth opportunity,” said a Target spokeswoman, Katie Heinze. After testing Pure Energy in some stores, Target decided to carry it in all 1,740 outlets.

Elie Tahari, the high-end designer, began selling a plus-size line this year, and at Full-Figured Fashion Week, more than 25 other designers showed their plus-size clothes to an audience of retail buyers and plus-size women.

Backstage before a runway show on Wednesday night, it looked like a sorority house before a formal: shoes everywhere, makeup stacked on tables, the smell of hairspray and baby powder, and women lounging about in silk robes.

On stage, Ms. DeVoe emphasized that plus-size women were ready to buy clothes.

As the crowd whooped, Ms. DeVoe shouted, “My pockets are fat!”

22 June 2010

Bottega's Fashion Fusion

NY Times

MILAN — To say that the menswear season has opened here with a mixed bag is to suggest the best and the worst of the offerings. On one side is an intelligent meld of fabrics and styles, as collections blend formal and casual with purposeful modernity.

On the other hand, the summer 2011 season seems as up-and-down as Italy’s soaking summer weather: heavy leather, more outerwear than beach clothes and an uncertain direction.

A tactile treat of textures and a zigzag puzzle of tailoring made Bottega Veneta’s show on Sunday a beacon of excellence. The fashion fusion served up by the designer Tomas Maier was appetizing because this was a show that mixed things up — beautifully.

That meld included a color palette that embraced, but never forced, spring green, naval blue and rust red. But the shades also played off the range of fabrics, the rough/smooth of perforated suede with wispy silk or just the subtle tonalities of a white silk jacket with ultra-fine cord jeans.

Everything was about mix that matched: Saddle bags piped in two shades of blue, two-tone boots or sandals worn with soft, boxy suits. And these were all unforced, wearable clothes.

Instead of including formal evening styles, Mr. Maier showed swimwear, a category in which he excels. Briefs alternated with shorts as fresh beach silhouettes. The designer called this a show about “performance and possibility.” His own performance was stellar.

With the suicide of Alexander Lee McQueen still an open wound among his admirers and collaborators in the fashion world, was it a wise move for the Gucci group to hold a mini presentation of the Alexander McQueen label to prove that the show should and must go on?

“I didn’t sleep well last night — I understood how Lee must have felt,” said Sarah Burton, the designer’s long-time right hand, who presented well-cut, wearable clothes steeped in the English heritage that Mr. McQueen twisted so perversely.

Trench coats, cut at an angle, jackets with pleated backs and apron fronts, military pants and a dash of decadence in a Chinese robe and exotic slippers all touched on the brand’s imagery. But the original designer’s meld of the raw and the refined was inevitably missing.

Thinking of last season’s extraordinary menswear — Art Nouveau printed suits disappearing into a matching backdrop — was to be reminded that Mr. McQueen was not only deeply creative but an exceptional showman. His skills cannot be replicated. But the essence of his collections can be kept alive.

At Burberry Prorsum, the designer Christopher Bailey is expert at reinterpreting the archives. This season he found some fresh territory: motorbike riders, with their use of spiked studs on black leather vests.

Motocross leather pants ran down narrow legs until they reached either black Birkenstock-style sandals or shoes that morphed at the toes into rubber boots.

The heritage biker idea seemed forced. But given the rain washing the streets of the city, perhaps Mr. Bailey was smart to put front and center what Burberry does best: trenchcoats. The coats looked so shrunken and boyish that they would hardly fit members of the young Brit bands who were invited to sit front row. But here the hardware, as belts and straps, worked well with the theme and seemed authentic to Burberry.

It was unfortunate for Donatella Versace that the new Versace menswear designer Martyn Ball, 34, offered a rockabilly style similar to Bottega Veneta’s show of last season.

The inspiration was Bruce Weber images from the 1980s of Gianni Versace’s work — especially eye-popping black-and-white geometric patterns.

“I wanted it graphic, with optical prints,” said the late designer’s sister, referring to Mr. Ball’s choice of patterns, which were accentuated by a 3-D architectural backdrop.

The new suit cut was deliberately youthful, with its snug, short jacket and skinny pants, while the sportier jackets had inserts of dangling fringe. Reintroducing color meant a pale green shirt, perhaps with inserts of open-work.

The Versace brand is in a delicate position, as it tries to tempt a new generation while still serving the faithful followers. This collection looked like a half-way house.

At Calvin Klein, the designer Italo Zucchelli said: “I’m always inspired by the urban element of street style.”

Really? Who are the downtown New Yorkers who will wear a cut-off, midriff-revealing cape jacket with none of the Superman panache of the Caped Crusader? Will peppermint green jackets and matching shorts be walking the city’s High Line? And who will take a shine to suits that glimmer like asphalt on a wet road?

With this collection, Mr. Zuchelli, who has been doing a fine job at Calvin Klein, had a misstep. His fabric research seemed to be taken to extremes. Or perhaps the stiff, shimmering materials were, as the repeated soundtrack told us, “A Walk on the Wild Side.”

Sometimes the show eased into simplicity, as with graphic patterns inserted vertically on one side of a sporty outfit. But it seems a pity that the designer would abandon the spirit of “Mr. Clean” — especially as the minimalism that defines the Calvin Klein look would be so right for now.

Gianfranco Ferré is yet another house trying to build a modern identity from its late founder’s heritage. But why would Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi ignore Mr. Ferré’s architectural precision and bring to the runway the cliché of the artist – all floppy hats, baggy smocks and a poetic attitude?

The clothes were often appealing in the softness of a wrapped-shirt, the subtlety of an ochre jacket with ginger pants and the chic of a briefcase tucked like a clutch under the arm. But fancy brocade pants and liquid silk jackets neither had the linear style of Mr. Ferré nor a push for youthful modernity.

Giorgio Armani seems to have had a youthquake experience in his collaboration with Lady Gaga on the sex-and-storm-troopers video shot by Steven Klein. For the Emporio Armani show Sunday, the designer focused on heavy metal, not least as chains hitting bared chests and an all-black introduction to what the designer backstage called his “hard man.”

With eyelets perforating shirts and pants, biceps heaving under airy jackets and a print that looked like the earth cracking open, this was a startling new vision of the septuagenarian designer, who showed his humorous side, although some many not find black military uniforms so funny.

20 June 2010

Milan: Fashion Week in the Futbol Hub

New Zealand Herald

Allow me to state the obvious. I'm more likely to get excited by a good fashion show than an All Blacks victory. More interested in a well-tailored suit than a perfectly executed field goal. More intrigued by the career of a model than that of our greatest sports-stars.

However today I chose the soccer over the sartorial. And witnessing that 1-1 draw in a bar filled with the most aggressive Italian supporters in Milan trumped any fashion show.

There's nothing like leaving your home country to multiply your patriotism rates to new heights. GO THE KIWIS!

Now, back to the matter at hand.

First up was Emporio Armani where inside, paparazzi were crowded down one end of the catwalk flashing furiously. Never one to miss a celebrity spotting, I ran over, camera at the ready, only to discover some Italian man I'd never seen before. Can't win them all.

I've often wondered how Giorgio Armani manages to keep his guests entertained for the duration of his shows whilst presenting 60-plus looks (the typical show has about 30).

Multiple models on the catwalk, that's how. Within 10 seconds of it starting, eight strapping lads were strutting it in full-leather outfits.

The Emporio man was on a techno Matrix trip this season, with leather pants, gothic sleeveless shirts, Neo-esque sunglasses and even a few onesy swimsuits.

Stalwart Armani fan Lady Gaga appeared in the finale - though not in the flesh - projected onto the back wall singing her latest smash hit Alejandro. The floodgates opened and out poured 20 models in the same leather army uniforms as her dancers in the video.

Over at Gianfranco Ferre, a lovely PR lady by the name of Valentina ushered me into the building with welcoming arms despite my lack of formal invitation.

A major difference between shows in our parts of the world and these markedly larger affairs is the designers' choice of venue. Many hold their shows in their own complexes, in special rooms designed for that purpose alone. It's easy to forget we're dealing with multi-national corporations here.

Gianfranco Ferre's is an enormous white marble space with geometric shapes inset in the floor. During the show Talking Heads' rock anthem Psycho Killer blared from the speakers, but the clothing was all Brideshead Revisited.

Foppish linen suits in creams, beige hopsack pants with oversized white crushed-linen shirts and floaty trench coats. The other influence appeared to be Southern gents - ticker stripes showed up on everything from linen suits to silk pyjamas and many outfits were worn with oversized felt hats. Perfect attire to spend a lazy day floating on down the river - Thames or Mississippi, you decide.

Speaking of large bodies of water, the sky outside Vivienne Westwood appeared to be dropping a few of them. The previous show had ended early and we had a lovely 25 minute wait in the chilly rain (Milan's summer is feeling oddly cooler than an Auckland winter).

We did have some fascinating visual entertainment, a number of camo-clad soldiers, semi-automatic rifles pointed firmly at the ground. Inside the venue, a stack of 80s television sets sat near the entrance, a solitary skateboarder tick-tacked his way along the catwalk and each seat came with a Swiss Army flask - to eliminate plastic wastage, according to the label.

There was no shortage of patterns, colours or textures in the collection - chalk stripes clashed with box checks, tartans with mud and paint splattered denim, knee high soccer socks with all manners of wigs.

Westwood's message was clear: get dressed in the dark, then, before you leave the house, throw on another loud garment (or ten).

That done, it was time to go watch some soccer. (I took the rest of the day off to celebrate the draw.)

03 June 2010

700-Hour Silent Opera Reaches Finale at MoMA

NY Times

At 5 p.m. Monday one of the longest pieces of performance art on record, and certainly the one with the largest audience, comes to an end. Since her retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art on March 14, the artist Marina Abramovic has been sitting, six days a week, seven hours a day in a plain chair, under bright klieg lights, in MoMA’s towering atrium. When she leaves that chair Monday for the last time, she will have clocked 700 hours of sitting.

During that time her routine seldom varied. Every day she took her place just before the museum doors opened and left it after they closed. Her wardrobe was consistent: a sort of concert gown with a long train, in one of three colors (red, blue and white).

Always her hair, in a braided plait, was pulled forward over her left shoulder. Always her skin was an odd pasty white, as if the blood had drained away. Her pose rarely changed: her body slightly bent forward, she stared silently and intently straight ahead.

There was one variable, a big one: her audience.

Visitors to the museum were invited, first come first served, to sit in a chair facing her and silently return her gaze. The chair has rarely, if ever, been empty. Close to 1,400 people have occupied it, some for only a minute or two, a few for an entire day.

Sitting with Ms. Abramovic has been the hot event of the spring art season. Celebrities — Bjork, Marisa Tomei, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright — did a stint. Young performance artists seized a moment in the limelight. One appeared in his own version of an Abramovic gown to propose marriage. Certain repeat sitters became mini-celebrities, though long-time waiters on line stared daggers at those who sat too long.

Thanks to the Internet many people saw all of this without being there. A daily live feed on MoMA’s Web site, moma.org, has had close to 800,000 hits. A Flickr site with head shots of every sitter has been accessed close to 600,000 times. Yet foot traffic has been heavy. By the museum’s estimate, half a million people have visited all or part of the Abramovic retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” of which the atrium piece is a small part.

The rest of the show, installed on the museum’s sixth floor, is a problem. It is made up primarily of videos and photographs of the artist’s performances over nearly 40 years, beginning when she was a student in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where she was born in 1946.

Her solo work from the early 1970s was hair-raisingly nervy. She stabbed herself, took knockout drugs, played with fire. For one piece she stood silent in a gallery for six hours, having announced that visitors could do anything they wanted to her physically. At one point a man held a gun to her neck. Her eyes filled with tears, but she didn’t flinch.

In 1976 she started collaborating with the German artist Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. Some of their performances were punishing athletic events, as they slammed their bodies together or into walls. Others were almost aggressively passive. For a piece called “Imponderabilia” they stood facing each other, nude, in a narrow doorway in a museum. Anyone wanting to go from one gallery to another had no choice but to squeeze awkwardly and intimately between them.

Ms. Abramovic restaged “Imponderabilia,” along with some other works, for the MoMA show using actors. And although the nudity caused a buzz, the restaging fell flat. Two elements that originally defined performance art as a medium, unpredictability and ephemerality, were missing. Without them you get misrepresented history and bad theater.

Evidently Ms. Abramovic doesn’t agree. In 2005, at the Guggenheim Museum, she restaged vintage performance pieces by other artists (Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys) with herself in the leading roles. She recently established the Marina Abramovic Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, to be housed in upstate New York.

In the near future she will be collaborating with the director Robert Wilson on a stage work based on her life. By the sound of it, this project will mark her furthest departure yet from old-school performance art and into the realm of closely scripted theater. What it will have, however, is her charismatic personal presence, and that means a lot. That presence is probably the most important ingredient missing from the restagings. It is what makes the atrium performance compelling. For better and worse, it has carried Ms. Abramovic’s career.

One of her lifelong heroes is the opera singer Maria Callas, to whom she can bear a striking physical resemblance. Callas was a disciplined, risk-oriented musician, made vulnerable by a voice that began to disintegrate early. Increasingly, as she aged, every performance became an ordeal, an invitation to failure. Her willingness to face failure became the prevailing drama of her life. It was a drama of survival, and her fans had a part in it: she needed them to need her, so they did.

That’s that classic diva dynamic. And what we’re seeing in the MoMA atrium is basically a 700-hour silent opera. Ms. Abramovic, with her extravagant costume, her bent shoulders and her mournful gaze, is the prima donna. Visitors are cast as rapt audience, commenting chorus, supporting soloists. Unpredictability is in the air: Will she make it through the day? Will she faint from pain? Will she cancel at the last minute?

When I dropped by last week, one sitter, a repeater, sat across from Ms. Abramovic with his hands clasped to his chest, like a tenor about to burst into song or a worshiper transported in prayer. Perfect. That Ms. Abramovic will be collaborating with Mr. Wilson, a once-radical creator of epic experimental works and now best known for his ritualistic productions of Puccini and Wagner, is also perfect.

Of restagings I remain an unbeliever. Of Ms. Abramovic’s recent overblown solo pieces, seen in video in the sixth-floor installation, I’m not a fan. But the atrium performance works because she is simply, persistently, uncomfortably there. As of 5 p.m., she won’t be, though. The klieg lights will dim. The audience will move on. Something big will be gone, and being gone will be part of the bigness.

Dior T-Shirts on a 4 Year Old. Spoiled Rotten?

Daily Mail

According to her famous father, she is simply a strong-willed little girl, one with a propensity for wearing designer clothes, red lip gloss and kitten heels in public.

No matter that Suri Cruise is just four years old, she already has a wardrobe worth over £1 million and, as her father Tom told Oprah Winfrey earlier this month: 'Whatever she wants to wear, she wears it. .. She's got great taste too.'

So much so, that mum Katie Holmes is said to have commissioned designer Marc Jacobs to create a pair of custom-made high-heels for her young daughter, whose wardrobe is so extensive it's now spilling out into a guest bedroom.

As the most fashionable child in the world, the ripple effect Suri creates as she trots around New York is being felt thousands of miles away.

Here in Britain, and the rather more humble environs of Baildon, West Yorkshire, 37-year-old mother Danielle Watson is having a pink Dior t-shirt made for her four year old daughter Tallulah.

Tallulah spotted the original ‘I Love Dior’ design being worn by Sarah Jessica Parker and in her mother’s words ‘fell in love with it’.

‘Tallulah may be only four,’ says Danielle, ‘But like Suri Cruise she already she knows exactly how she wants to look. Every night before school, we both choose what she is going to wear.

'Both of us like her clothes to look matched and coordinated. Depending on the weather, she will pick out a skirt and leggings or jeans, but her pumps will always have to match.

‘Tallulah is always on trend. Even her pants and vests match. And her outfits are always colour coordinated down to her socks and bobbles on her hair ties.’

New research by retailer Debenhams reveals that what has been dubbed the 'Suri Effect' means that British parents are now spending more than £700 on childrenswear every year.

The figure rises to £850 for girls – admittedly a mere drop in the ocean compared to the cost of Suri’s high-maintenance look, but still an indication of just how far parents are prepared to go to ‘keep up with the Cruises’.

According to the poll of 1,500 parents, celebrity children such as Suri, and Gwen Stefani’s well-dressed three-year-old son Kingston Rossdale are driving the lust for expensive designer style ‘mini-me’ outfits and leading parents to hand over sums equivalent to an annual family holiday.

It seems that the days of hand-me-downs and ‘Sunday best’ outfits are long gone.

Parents now buy an average of seven dresses and five pairs of shoes for their daughter each season, while over the same time period, boys are showered with ten new t-shirts and five pairs of jeans.

Danielle, who works in fashion PR and marketing and is married to a builder, is unapologetic about the £1,200 a year she lavishes on her only child.

‘As a little girl, I experimented with make up and to me it is harmless and just part of being a girly girl. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Little girls simply want to copy their mummies,' she insists.

‘It’s not that she wants to grow up quickly or I want her to grow up fast. In fact she is often running around in her dressing up clothes.

‘For me it’s important that Tallulah is well turned out and learns how to put clothes together. It’s a skill I feel will be important throughout her life.’

Recent purchases include three pairs of Ugg boots in pink, beige and black at £55 a throw.

Danielle adds: ‘But both Tallulah and I adore shopping and we usually go once a week. I must spend around £100 a month on clothes and shoes for her.

‘She loves to wear lipstick at the weekends and even has her own eye shadow. It isn’t toy stuff but samples from my make-up buys, such as Clinique.’

Danielle insists that the impetus for fashion comes from her daughter.

‘Many people seem to think when little girls dress like this, they are influenced by their mums. But Tallulah is always looking through fashion magazines and watching TV to pick up ideas herself.

'That doesn’t mean that’s all she’s interested in: she has a house full of toys, and loves reading books at bedtime and picking out letters as we drive in the car.

‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her experimenting. And it isn’t only me. My friends are the same with their children. We all turn up to school immaculately dressed and with our children immaculately turned out.

'I have never received any negative comments from friends or family about Tallulah. Complete strangers are always telling me how lovely she looks, which makes me feel wonderful.’

There are growing concerns however about this trend for turning young children into designer-clad miniature adults and about the forces that are driving it.

At a time when society is obsessed by beauty, looks and money some critics say it is merely another way to parade material success.

There are fears too that it blurs the divide between childhood and adulthood and draws youngsters’ attention to their own physical appearance at an age when they should be experiencing all the joys that unselfconscious youth has to offer.

And yet Lilliputian versions of adults styles are everywhere and style-conscious parents are lapping them up – Stella McCartney has now had several ranges for GapKids.

Designer Marc Jacobs has brought out a line called Little Marc which features miniature versions of his waffle-weave cashmere hoodies, priced at £250. He says: ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving a young kid a taste of the finer things in life.’

The French children’s couture house, Bonpoint, has even produced a limited-edition collection of just 66 hand-painted tulle dresses at a starting price of £350. The waiting list is, allegedly, already full with the likes of Kate Moss who is said to want one for her daughter, Lila Grace.

Further down the consumer chain, M&S has sold off-the-shoulder lurex sweaters for reception-age children, while women’s clothing store Zara produced Chloe-style sandals for little girls.

It’s hardly surprising then that High Street chains are rubbing their hands with glee as the ‘Suri Effect’ filters down to shopfloor level.

According to Kate Liszka, head of childrenswear at Debenhams: ‘The amount of money some parents are willing to spend on kitting out their kids in the latest catwalk fashions would pay for a family holiday.’

John Lewis has also noted changes in parent buying. ‘The trends in girlswear are reflecting what’s in fashion for womenswear,’ says Stacy Colvin, assistant buyer for girlswear and accessories.

Designs for boys are equally successful. ‘Children’s clothes used to be quite functional,’ says Ruksana Meach, buying administrator for John Lewis boyswear.

‘You bought them to last. Now people want something a bit more seasonal and exciting.’

Sophie Vickers, a 23-year-old administrator from Tyne and Wear reckons she must have spent about £20,000 on her 19-month-old son Theo.

A large of chunk of that was spent before he was even born.

‘I’d bought him 80 pairs of shoes before he could walk,’ she admits. ‘At three months I found out during a routine scan I was having a boy and went straight out and bought him a pair of Timberland boots. They cost £55 and he has never worn them but I couldn’t resist them.’

But Sophie, who lives with 25-year-old satellite television engineer Chris, hasn’t stopped at shoes.

‘Theo’s wardrobe is fit to bursting,’ she says. ‘It contains 40 pairs of trousers, 40 pairs of shorts, 40 T shirts, three leather jackets, seven hoodies, various shirts, ties and belts.’

Tellingly, she admits that such is the pleasure she gets from shopping from her young son, that she goes without herself.

I used to think nothing of spending £100 on a pair of Miss Sixty jeans for myself but now I will wear a pair of £10 jeans from Primark and splash out on Theo.’

With a salary of only £500 a month, there was never any chance that Sophie would be able to match the vast amounts spent by parents such as the Cruises, the Beckhams and Gwen Stefani and her husband Gavin Rossdale.

But she blew all her wages on trying to keep up with them, searching on eBay for babygros by Ted Baker and Diesel and changing Theo three times a day when he was a baby so he could be seen in the extensive wardrobe she completed with pieces from Gap, Next and Levis.

‘I probably had around 20 babygros, which was £350 worth, all in different colours,’ she says. ‘When Theo was first born, my entire £500 a month income went on him.

'I’m trying to be more sensible now, but it is hard. I know some people will think I’m mad, but I love it. I’ve never added up the cost but over all since he was born I must have spent £20,000.’

This vast sum includes the money she shelled out for four pushchairs.

‘I spent £400 for the first one, which is good for wet weather, and £195 for the second, a three-wheeler which I just had to have because everyone was buying them, and a third for £100 from Fenwick, which is my favourite. I’ve since bought a fourth to take on holiday as I don’t want my favourite one damaged in the aeroplane cargo hold.’

Her partner, not surprisingly, questions her extravagance. ‘Chris gets fed up,' Sophie admits. 'He often says to me “Just how many shoes can a toddler have?”'

At two Sara Weightman’s daughter Acacia, has only just started walking – but she already has at least 20 pairs of shoes.

‘It’s ironic that she is a late walker who is only now taking to her feet,’ admits 32-year-old Sara, who lives in Carlisle with her partner Darren McLean, a 32-year-old systems administrator.

Many of the little girls shoes have either never been worn or only worn a handful of times.

‘She had a lovely pair of faux suede boots but by the time her feet had grown into them, it was the summertime,’ recalls Sara. ‘Then I had sandals that she’d grown out of before it got to the summer.

‘There were also some red satin shoes I bought her to crawl in – only again they didn’t really go with anything so she only wore them a handful of times.

‘The pairs of Puma and Adidas trainers I bought her when she was six months old have only been worn once. The trainers were so pretty I had to have them but then I realised they would only look good with jeans and I prefer Acacia to wear a dress.’

To a certain extent it was inevitable that Acacia – a first grand-daughter on both sides of the family – should be spoiled.

‘Within weeks of the birth I had been given around 25 dresses – many from Monsoon and costing around £30 to £50 – plus more than a dozen pairs of beautiful shoes,’ says Sarah.

But family gifts were as nothing compared to the clothes purchased by her mother.

‘I love buying her shoes and clothes and so do her family and she is a proper girly girl who loves wearing them,’ says Sara. 'I also feel that how you present yourself is important and want to pass that on to Acacia.

'Darren laughs – although he loves seeing Acacia look nice - but I can’t bear to see her dressed in shoes that don’t match her dress, for example.’

Tellingly, Sara says she believes that lavishing her daughter with beautiful clothes will actually encourage her daughter to want to do well for herself in life.

‘When I was 18 my parents gave me a car for my birthday and I would only have to mention to my mum that I liked an outfit and she would buy it for me,' Sara says.

'But I didn’t come to any harm. Instead, I grew up wanting to do well for myself so I could continue in the same lifestyle.

'So I believe that as Acacia gets older she will want to be able to buy lovely things for herself.

‘I can imagine many people will think she shouldn’t be so indulged but I believe children should be spoilt.’

02 June 2010

In Tennis, Fashion Police Look the Other Way

NY Times

Helen Wills Moody created a stir with her outfit at Wimbledon in 1935, much like Venus Williams has at this year’s French Open

Venus Williams’s serves have long been a big focus of her every match, but never more so than now.

Williams, the world’s No. 2 women’s player, has created quite a stir at the French Open by playing in a lacy, see-through black dress that she designed. Her short, flouncy skirt has photographers snapping furiously at every lunging serve, as the loose, frilly bottom flips upward to display near-sheer, skin-tone undershorts that reveal every curve, particularly from behind.

Photographs of her backside — Is she wearing underwear at all? — have stormed the Internet, much as they did in January, when she wore a yellow dress with a similarly nude look underneath during the Australian Open. Investigations of a personal nature have begun anew.

“It’s really about the illusion,” Williams said after a 6-2, 6-4 second-round victory against Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain on Wednesday. “Like, you can wear lace, but what’s the point of wearing lace when there’s just black under? The illusion of just having bare skin is definitely, for me, a lot more beautiful.”

Controversial sartorial choices have been a part of tennis practically since the game was invented. The permissible line — the hemline, sure, but mostly the metaphorical one — is broadly interpreted.

The Women’s Tennis Association Tour rulebook states only that players “will be expected to dress and present themselves in a professional manner.”

It continues: “A player shall wear appropriate and clean tennis attire and shall not wear sweatshirts, sweat pants, T-shirts, jeans or cut-offs during matches. A player may be asked to change if the referee deems it necessary. Failure to do so may result in default from a tournament and/or a fine.”

(The issue of “grass court shoes,” including details on the allowable diameter, height, slope and hardness of the “pimples,” consumes most of two full pages.)

No player has been fined for breaking the clothing rule, said Andrew Walker, the tour’s senior vice president for global marketing and communications.

He said that there had been internal discussions about Williams’s outfits, but that they had been deemed appropriate. Besides, during Grand Slam events, the local tournament officials play fashion police, using an almost identically vague rule.

The French Tennis Federation, which runs the French Open, determined that Williams’s dress and undershorts would be allowed. With all the attention they are getting, they may actually be encouraged.

Tennis fashion, so often an oxymoron, stirs chronic debate for both the professional men and women. Rules have not prevented questionable fashion decisions ranging from 1970s-era short shorts, Rafael Nadal’s pirate pants and sleeveless shirts, Roger Federer’s personalized courtside jacket and headbands, and Andre Agassi’s color-splotched shirts and faux hair.

But in tennis fashion, the deepest curiosity usually focuses on women and what they reveal. Suzanne Lenglen, for whom one of the major show courts at Roland Garros is named, arrived at Wimbledon more than 90 years ago, creating a sensation with her bare arms and a calf-length pleated dress. Helen Wills Moody, one of the game’s greatest champions, often wore skirts above her knees and a sporty visor.

In 1949 the American Gertrude Moran wore a short skirt at Wimbledon that intentionally revealed lace-trimmed undershorts. Court-side photographers crouched as low as possible to get a shot up her skirt. Moran, nicknamed Gorgeous Gussy, was appalled at the attention.

“We weren’t talking Frederick’s of Hollywood,” she told The Orlando Sentinel in 1988.

Some things never change. Three years ago at Wimbledon, Tatiana Golovin wore red under her white dress. After some scrutiny, tournament officials, in an official statement, ruled it underwear, not shorts. Red underwear was permissible.

The next year, Maria Sharapova wore a tuxedo-inspired get-up. It broke no rules, not counting those of good taste, according to her second-round opponent, Alla Kudryavtseva.

“It’s very pleasant to beat Maria,” Kudryavtseva said afterward. “Why? I don’t like her outfit. Can I put it this way?”

There have been other sartorial flare-ups. Anne White came to Wimbledon in 1985 wearing a tight, white bodysuit. At the United States Open in 2002, Serena Williams, Venus’s sister and the current No. 1 player, wore a skin-tight, short-shorted number that looked as if it might have been molded for a superhero.

“This is more of a cat suit,” she explained at the time. “It is not a wet suit.”

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is a premier attention-grabber. She wore a sort of cowboy hat at the United States Open in 2005, and said on Monday that she was fined $10,000 for it. Tim Curry, a spokesman for the United States Tennis Association, said Wednesday that the fine was $1,000. But Mattek-Sands has had referees approve and disapprove of her outfits before taking the court. “It’s really a hazy line,” she said. “So I think it’s cool when people push it.”

She has toned down her attire — now 25, she is more into tattoos, she said — but gave Williams’s lacy black dress an enthusiastic endorsement. Photographs of Williams on the Internet from the opening day of the French Open, she pointed out, gave tennis attention it probably would not receive otherwise.

Mattek-Sands said she tired of seeing Tour players looking and dressing so much alike.

“You see two girls, blond hair, wearing the exact same thing head to toe,” she said. “If I can’t tell them apart, no way a fan’s going to tell them apart. So it just brings, you know, something unique to the game.”

That is the attitude of the women’s tour, too. Players are brands, of a sort, and they can dress as they and their sponsors see fit, provided ... well, that is the uncertain part.

Williams seems unbound by convention. She enjoyed the mystery that surrounded her is-she-wearing-any Australian Open outfit, and she took delight in knowing that her latest design, meant to invoke wonder, had done far more than that.

The tight-fitting top has thin red straps and red piping for a corset-style look. Her push-up black bra and straps peeked out from underneath. She capped the ensemble on a cool and breezy Wednesday with a white visor.

A French reporter told Williams that fans surveyed in the stands mostly approved, and that one man said it was “good for my imagination,” although it does not require much.

Her sister Serena showed Williams a photograph from behind. Williams said she did not know that the undershorts would match her skin so well. And she is not about to change now.

“The design has nothing to do with the rear,” Williams said. “It just so happens that I have a very well-developed one.”

01 June 2010

Fashion Goes Affordable with Zara

Hindustan Times

High-end fashion goes affordable in Delhi with Spanish clothing brand Zara opening their first store in the capital.

The flagship store of Inditex Group, Zara is a joint venture between Inditex and Tata's retail arm Trent Limited. It opened its first ever outlet in the capital at Select Citywalk Mall, Saket, on Friday. It was launched by former beauty queen and Bollywood actress Lara Dutta.

"With Indian women becoming more fashion conscious, we thought that this was the right moment to expand our base. The entry into the Indian market has a significant strategic importance as the country remains one of our top priorities in the Asian region," Jesús Echevarría Hernández, chief communication officer of Inditex Group told IANS.

The high street fashion store offers from classic to trendy and upmarket outfits in women's wear, men's wear and kids' wear sections. Those who crave for an edgier look will also get the clothes of their choice. The price of the outfits range from Rs.345 to Rs.8,000.

"We will be changing the collections twice a week depending on the customer demand. Our staff at the store will take note of what customers are looking for, whether they like more denims or whether they are looking for more cottons and we will fulfil their demands accordingly," Hernandez said.

"Fashion must not be expensive. We believe everyone should be able to afford it so we have kept the price range accordingly," he added.

The unisex clothing range is accompanied by wide range of accessories like footwear, handbags, scarves, neck ties and leather goods.

Asked if they plan to rope in any brand ambassador for their clothing range, Hernandez said: "We don't plan to hire any brand ambassador as we want people to decide themselves."

The group will also be opening an outlet in DLF Promenade, Vasant Kunj and Palladium Commercial Centre in Mumbai.

Other brands owned by Inditex Group are Pull and Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Uterque and Zara Home.