Friday, December 28, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


At the time of the nude run, one of Pointon's neighbours said he was a "lovely neighbour''.


Suzanne Giacometti, "spotted" on
Lambton Quay, Wellington

Even if she were not a dear friend, I'd applaud this "Style File" shot run in this week's Capital Times
1. Because - as always - Suzanne looks stylish but not try-hard or over the top.
2. Because she's une femme d'un certain age, not a kid - and well done that photographer.
3. Because she's smart, smart, smart - in normal life as well as on the page, and I love her answers to the routine questions:

In front of the Supreme Court, about to jump on a bus to Unity Books for the celebration of the 100th issue of New Zealand Books: A Quarterly Review.

I AM …
a Parliamentary Counsel; I draft legislation.

Suzanne Giacometti! I made it from silk fabric and lining that I bought from the Fabric Warehouse. The shoes and earrings I purchased on a tango-dancing trip to Buenos Aires.

it’s “slightly flamboyant,” says a fellow drafter of legislation.

shapeless, dull clothes.

well-cut clothes made of beautiful fabrics, and shoes and bags to match.

Dior, because his designs reflected the beauty of the female body, without sacrificing boldness, elegance, and taste.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Outwards and upwards

Dan Carter in his undergrunds

What a pleasure to read Douglas Lloyd Jenkins in this week's Listener on the subject of men's underpants. Wipe that smirk off your face - what I mean is that the piece is informative, well-written and entertaining, taking this everyday item of male attire as a worthy subject for investigation.
I've written of blokes' underpants before, noting the arrival on the scene of the bulge- and bum-enhancing items retailed by Marks & Spencer. But Jenkins ranges over centuries in his discussion of changing jock fashions. One particular juicy note is struck by his observation that, had historical TV drama costume designers really paid attention to detail, the viewer would have been left in no doubt how Mr Darcy's parents felt about  circumcision, so tight would his pants have been. Gosh. 
One delight is the number of elegant variations on male genitals that Jenkins comes up with - "male package", "key assets", "this body part", "male parts", "problematically positioned elements", "personal equipment", "bulge", "male componentry".
He points out, near the end of the article, that Kiwi men worry not so much about wearing "enhancing underwear" but about its removal: "particularly in amorous first-encounter circumstances - given that this is a moment with which men don't, in any way, want the term "disappointment" associated."
I laughed out loud, not just at the skill with which Jenkins expressed his point, but in recognition of the fact that - as a small-breasted woman - I have for the same reason always been nervous of enhancement by means of foam, wire and jel. Sooner or later, the truth will out.  

Unknown model displays a marvel
of engineering


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Veronika Maine-chance continued

So. One lunch hour, S, who is a very busy woman, returned to the store with her useless pants and, after a bit more palaver was handed $175. Money, I mean. Actual folding stuff.
What the ...! When I was given a piece of plastic and a deadline for redeeming it?
Thus did I make my third visit to the Willis Street store, to ask a Counter Person if someone could explain this discrepancy in S's and my treatment when we were returning goods for exactly the same reason. CP couldn't explain it but promised someone would call to do so.
They did. To my astonishment they bypassed my question altogether and said that if I brought the card into the shop I too would be refunded in cash.
In I went. But of course it was never going to be that simple.
Once more "the system" was to make its unreasonable demands on us mere mortals. It wouldn't let CP simply open the till and give me the money. Oh no. It had to be appeased by a ritual offering: I would have to buy something to the value of the card, using the card, then return what I'd bought, at which point I could I have my money.
This had to be explained twice before I dimly perceived that the purchase would be a charade and the return instant.
So this was how I came to be directed to the racks to pretend to choose what I was going to pretend to buy using my pretend card so that I could pretend to return it so that they could pretend to give me my (real) money back on the item I never wanted in the first place.
By now dazed and confused, I browsed in the hope of finding something I vaguely liked in the right size at the right price. I'd slipped into some kind of parallel universe and the chances of getting out in one piece seemed to be diminishing by the second.
But the human brain is a wonderful thing. It was only a matter of minutes  before I realised a) that it mattered not a jot what was pushed across the counter, and b) it wasn't my job to search the racks but CP's.
We settled on a striped blazer, on sale at $179. The sort of thing a private-school mother would wear to the school gala. I "returned" it enthusiastically.
Rapidly restoring my grip on the situation, I offered to hand over the extra $4 so that CP could proceed to dump the value of the blazer straight back into my account via EFTPOS. She did so. And with one bound I was free.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veronika Maine-chance

Let its website do the talking:
Veronika Maine has stores across Australia and New Zealand .... With a commitment to excellent customer service and a love of fashion, the Veronika Maine team look forward to welcoming you in store soon.
Now keep in mind that phrase "commitment to excellent customer service" and their claim to "high quality finishes" while I tell you a tale.
Just over a year ago, S bought a pair of skinny stretch pants from the VM store in Willis Street, Wellington. They looked great - full length with zips just above the ankle, and form-fitting without looking cheap, because the fabric was thickish and of good quality. So impressed was I that a couple of weeks later, I went to the store, tried some on and parted with $175. Not eye-wateringly expensive, but enough - I think you'll agree - to be confident they'd last more than one season.
As it turned out, they didn't. About to board a plane for Melbourne in September, I bent over to pick something up, and G pointed out that I was coming apart at the seams. My bum was about to be exposed, necessitating a quick change.
When I got back, I mentioned this to S, and when she checked she discovered her pants were splitting in the same way. It wasn't a simple matter of the thread breaking. The fabric was actually tearing on either side of the thread, making both pairs not just unwearable but irreparable. 
A week or so later we visited the store with our pants and politely expressed our disappointment to the person behind the counter. And this is where VM's definition of excellent customer service gets interesting.
Counter Person studied the pants, picking and pulling at the back seams while S - a sewer of the first order - suggested the problem was caused by using a needle not designed for use on stretch fabric.
Counter Person continued to pick and pull as if conducting a forensic investigation. Which apparently it was. Because unless we could return to the store with proofs of purchase, there was nothing "they" could do because we might have bought the pants on Trademe, mightn't we?
The idea that two middle-aged women had bought second-hand pants online, then either discovered they were damaged goods or else damaged the pants themselves, and cooked up this story as a way of getting the pants replaced by the original maker was so ludicrous as to border on insulting.
In vain did we protest that it was unlikely we could provide proof of purchase. A bank statement would do, she said. There was nothing to do but capitulate.
I pushed my pants across the counter for them to hold until such time as I returned with the wretched proof of purchase. Counter Person pushed them back, shaking her head: "No, you keep them for now."
I pushed them back again, shaking mine: "I don't want to have to bring them in again."
Still murmuring about company policy and what "some people" do try and get away with, she took our contact details and promised someone would be in touch.
And they were. A few days later I was rung by a young woman who said it was all cleared, and I should go in to wrap things up.
Back in the store, I dealt with another woman, one with an advanced qualification in Dealing with Difficult Customers. The chat-and-gush-and-smile routine never let up. She acted as if she were bestowing on me a wonderful gift and what a lovely time we were all having.
The pants were no longer in stock. So I ended up with a piece of plastic worth $175, which must be redeemed in the store within 12 months. I left feeling somewhat short-changed. A time limit on a refund?
S went down a week later to supply a copy of her bank statement. But oh dear, she had bought two items that day in 2011 and they needed to track back through their system to isolate the pants in question. This involved much communing with the computer, while S cooled her heels, waiting.
Finally - triumph! - they found it. Now, where were the pants?
At home, said S.
"Oh but we need to have them."
"Nobody told me that."
"They should have. You have to return the faulty ones otherwise ..."
Otherwise S could be pulling a swifty by holding onto a pair of pants she can no longer wear?
She drew herself up her full, very full, height. She spoke loudly and clearly, to the interest of other shoppers flicking the racks: if she were to come back to the store again, that would make three visits to sort out something that should have been dealt with in one. She stalked out.
I'll let you know what happens if and when S returns to the store with the useless pants.
Meanwhile, for your information, Veronika Maine, chat-and-gush-and-smile is not customer service. It's a smokescreen and a shield, designed not to help the customer but to defend the firm and its staff.
Customer service means, first and foremost, standing by your products. It means giving any reasonable customer the benefit of the doubt when you've sold products that turn out to be unfit for purpose. It means dealing with the matter swiftly and efficiently, and with at least one decent apology for the customer's disappointment and inconvenience. It means avoiding veiled accusations of foulplay and imposing still futher customer inconvenience. Smart retail outlets strenthen customer loyalty by the way they deal with customer dissatisfaction. Sure I'll have to go back to the store to "spend" my "refund", but that will be the last time. Veronika Maine has lost two customers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pop off!

I know you've noticed but bear with me as I record my own irritation. Nothing is red or yellow or orange anymore. Instead it's a "pop of colour". Or it just plain "pops".
Don't believe me? Go here and here and here. These all popped up (sorry) on the first page of a Google search. And Gala Darling makes sure to repeat her crime in the very next line, in case we didn't pick it up in the header.

How To Look Fabulous When It's Frigid Outside: My List Of Winter Essentials!
A pop of colour!

I always think it’s lovely to wear a pop of colour in cold weather.
Hey, fashion journos and bloggers - noun or verb - this is now officially a cliche! And, amongst other duties, it's your job to avoid cliches. Or don't you expect to be read? Do you and your editors assume we're all just looking at the pictures? In which case, get a real job!

Friday, October 19, 2012

This might sting a bit


It's been a long time since I last had a wiggly tooth. My final baby incisor fell out when I was 16. I was long past believing in the Tooth Fairy, or anything much except the unfairness of life, so no sixpence under the pillow for me. Just an embrrassing gap for the next 20 years. And a permanent memento of my delayed development in the form of my first passport photo.
Eventually it occured to me that I didn't have to keep cowering behind my hand when I laughed, that as an adult I could spend the money I earned on something that would make me feel better. So I had  a bridge made, and from that moment grinned freely and often. Sometimes when a grin wasn't even justified.
Imagine my dismay, then, to discover some decades on that I had another loose tooth.
I poked it. I wriggled it. I tried to believe I was imagining it. I went into denial for a week or two. I began poking and wriggling again, sometimes in the dead of night, as if I might be able to creep up on it before it had time to pretend to be loose. I had dreams of losing all my teeth and being unable to make myself understood or eat anything but baby food.
Finally I went online in the expectation of being told not to worry, that everyone from time to time got wiggly teeth, and that it would soon see sense and tighten up again.
In fact, online told me I probably had gum disease. Worse, it said that this was most likely caused by poor dental hygiene.
I reeled back in horror and fled to the bathroom. I flossed so long and so fiercely that for an hour afterwards all my teeth hummed and moaned. Then I made an  appointment to see the dentist.
She didn't call my tooth loose or wriggly - she called it "mobile". I thought that rather overstated the situation, as if the damn thing were practically nomadic. Nor did she tell me not to worry. She said I had done the right thing in coming to see her and that something would have to be done.
You know when they say that you're not going to get off lightly. There will be pain, quite a lot of it, and mostlyu in the wallet.
I won't bore you with the details. The upshot is that the tooth is loose not because of my sloppy personal habits but because for 30 years it's been having to do a disproportionate amount of the chewing work. 
I must learn to chew on the other side of my mouth, and that's where she will construct a second bridge to take the strain.
If it it all goes to plan, my smile will be unaffected. After I've recovered from paying for it, that is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tweeting (the old-fashioned way)

It's pushing it for a style blog to get "twitchy", but I have to tell someone - two regular visitors to the fuschia outside my bathroom window are a pair of hihi or stitchbirds. They caught my eye the other morning as I peered out looking for the source of the constant twittering. (Years ago, in another house, I ignored a similar sound, then discovered it was caused by a local cat ruthlessly decimating a nest of baby thrushes over the course of an afternoon.)
The pair I saw was banded like this one, so I knew it was special. Hihi are one of the country's rarest endangered birds.

They were back again just now, this time sucking upsidedown on either side of a cluster of native fushcia blooms, talking incessantly to one another.
I was outside, only about a metre away, but they ignored me (a feature that helped identify them, as they're know to be too tame for their own good). Torn between continuing to watch and wanting to fetch my camera, I stayed rooted to the spot until they moved on, still chattering.
The picture shows a male. The female, you won't be surprised to hear, is somewhat less showy - a drab olive.
So this was about style after all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Princess of Balaclava

Seen on Carlisle Street with her attendant Dad, she was modest but dignified, as befits a real princess.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Free and Selfe

For decades now teens have been turned out onto catwalks and before the camera looking drugged, starved, terminally ill, and as if they are trying to think deeply about the meaning of life and failing. No doubt it will go on a few decades more.
So I make no bold claim for noting a new trend in modelling. It's nice, though, to know of a couple of successful models who are bucking convention. And no, I'm not talking about this personification of the current pretty-zombie look ...

Andrej Pejic

Yes, Andrej is a boy's name, and Andrej is officially a boy. I don't even want to get into what this has to say about fashion's perception of womanhood. 
I'm speaking, rather, of two (so far as I can tell) genuine women - Charlotte Free and Daphne Selfe.

Charlotte Free

Free (and it is her real name) is a 19-year-old Californian with the bloom of youth on her cheek, and blond-pink hair. So far, so ordinary. But here's another shot of her ... unshaven armpit and all.

She says she's a feminist. And while a determination not to shave and an insistence on colouring her own hair at home might not meet some people's definition of the term, good luck to her. I like her style.
Daphne Selfe is by no means another new face on the international modelling scene. This is her back in the day ...
Daphne Selfe
But even putting aside the silly 50s pose, I reckon she looks a hundred times more arresting now ...
Daphne Selfe
Selfe is 83. She left modelling when she married and had children (as you did back when they were taking pictures of women like that first one). Then, in 1999, she appeared in Marie Claire and her career took off again. 
"I’ve never had anything done to my face,” she told a reporter. “Not that [botox] poison, not a face-lift. I think it’s a waste of money. Anyway, I couldn’t afford it!
“I’ve never really bothered with skin cream or anything like that, although I might use a bit of Boots."
She went gray in her 40s, and gave up coloring her hair. “My hair is long now because it’s cheaper. I don’t have to do anything but put it in a topknot or a French pleat,” she said. “It avoids that old lady permed look ..."
What a beauty!

Velvet fantasy

Today, in Caffe Mode

This sweet young thing laughed when I asked if I could take a picture of her luscious silk-velvet coat - her boyfriend had just expressed his dislike of it. He wore a conservative gray suit. Beside him, she was a walking work of art.
Certainly the coat's unstructured floppiness, hood and lavish embroidery veered towards the hippie end of the style spectrum, but the wearer's bright red lipstick struck a contrasting note.
N, who was with me, suggested she change boyfriends.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Urban romantic

Last week, on the St Kilda tram

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How not to win customers and make sales

Hi-i! Can I help you? Right, not a problem, but just so you know, like it says on the sign, it’s 25% off everything unless it’s already marked down in which case it’s $25 off a second item of the same value or less if you sign up for our loyalty programme or are you already a member and … yes, lovely top, isn’t it, so versatile, a friend bought one and she came back and bought that dress over there and she wore them together at the weekend and it was a great look, and yes, that’s a cool jacket and a good price for quality, isn’t it, no, that’s meant to be like that or perhaps it wasn’t steamed properly when it came in, I’m sure it would iron out, oh yes, those pants are so versatile, day into evening, that’s a lovely skirt with that flower print right on trend now, sort of spring into summer, it would be lovely on you and perfect with those shoes there, no the coral ones, but the red is nice too, would you like to try those, might as well see now you’re here, having a day shopping are you, well, if there’s anything I can help you with … oh, OK, by-ee, have a nice day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Not exactly melons, Mum


If I was ever professionally fitted for a bra before yesterday, I’ve repressed the memory. The first decades of my so-called adult life I spent in a state of permanent embarrassment and apology for my perceived inadequacy in the breast department.
“Two eggs in a handkerchief,” quipped my mother. I was 15 and had been suffering torments of shame for several years. Mum, I should add, was generously endowed. So for years I donned my 10As in the privacy of the changing room and repelled all attempts to join me, professional or otherwise.
Then along came feminism. On a wave of ideological optimism, I ditched bras altogether (note: ditched, not burned. Did anyone actually ever burn a bra?). It was a good thing to do, because eventually I came to accept my girls the way they are, feel glad even for not being full-breasted – nothing to sag or to garner unwelcome male attention.
Then, when I decided late last century, to relaunch my breasts into a bra, I discovered a 10 would no longer do. Welcome to middle-age, I thought, fastening a 12A. My back had broadened, obviously.
Of late, though, I’d noticed that part of me – a small part – was escaping the top of the cup and giving me that tell-tale double bulge. This is what encouraged me to consult a professional. Still, I was taken aback to be informed, in Bras and Things somewhere in Melbourne, that I am actually a 12B. Ta-da! Not exactly melons, Mum, but definitely large eggs!
While S and I faffed around in adjoining changing rooms, we were subjected to a looped tape of a manically cheerful female telling us of all Bras and Things had to offer. It included something called “level three cleavage”.
When questioned, our flesh-and-blood bra operative said what we were each trying on was level one. She passed me a level three to try.
It barely contained my nipples, so stuffed were both cups with jel and foam and god knows what other packing materials. While the part of me that wasn’t nipple was cantilevered in the direction of my chin. The effect was gruesome. I couldn’t get it off fast enough. I’m fine with level one, thanks. Level one, 12B.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


At a recent milonga, I remarked to N how nice B was looking that evening. A moment's appreciative inspection, then he shook his head. "Yes, but she's too young for fishnets."
I thought I must have misunderstood. "You mean ... there really are some great things that should be reserved for older women?"
"Yup. Fishnets have to be earned. You gotta get your stripes."
Wonderful! And I'd like to know if there are any other items of apparel or personal decoration this applies to.
In the meantime, men who appreciate fishnets but don't, for one reason or another, want to wear them on their own legs, can buy this tie here.

I dare you!
The image at the top, by the way, comes from a lovely site called Fishnets and Fedoras. As does this one, taken in a Florida shopping mall.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Uniform disapproval

I must have been looking the other way when the New Zealand Olympic uniform was unveiled a couple of days ago. My first sight of it was the Dominion letters pages this morning, where an image (not the one above) accompanies a declaration that the writer is revolted by it. She claims to cringe every time she sees the uniform and to feel sorry for those who have to wear it. She takes particular exception to that "naff scarfy tie thing", and says the men's blazers "look like they've been borrowed off a wealthy cousin who went to a private school".
I pretty much agree with her. I can't accurately claim to be revolted, but I do find these over-grown schoolchildren a dismal sight.
Designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet has, as the media like to put it, "hit out" at the uniform, not its appearance but its offshore design and manufacture.
The contract was apparently won by Rodd & Gunn - retailers of faux rural attire to city dwellers who, in the course of a year, go nowhere near rods, guns, mud or countryside (unless safely enclosed in their 4-wheel drives). The Olympic garments have all the hallmarks of the firm's conventional drear. (I intended inserting here a couple of images from R & G's stock in trade, but having browsed their website, I'm too depressed to follow through).
The firm's Australian-based designer used the 1948 Olympic uniform as her template. The blazers from both eras are said to be almost identical. So far, so historically accurate (if that's what you after). But surely a 21st- century twist was called for. The over-grown schoolboy-effect is reinforced by those drainpipe pants. Back in the day, weren't these tight blazers balanced by wide trou? Now that would have been a more stylish look.

Sadly, the women's outfits lie beyond the quick fix. Boy, is that dress miserable - the print, the shape, the naff scarfy thing and all. And when you consider that most of those compelled to wear it will be under 30 ... .
Some spokesperson or other said, rather defensively, that the fabric is a custom print, and the best Italy has to offer. To which the response can only be, so what? The overall effect is so grandma-ish that I imagine its wearers not leaping hurdles and swimming at top speed, but in dire need of a walking frame.
So, just to cheer ourselves up, here are some images of genuine 40s style.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From the ridiculous to the .. er, sublime

Kate, Wills and Harry in transit down Whitehall the other day, in aid of Gran's birthday.
Why on earth am I posting this? Because I can. And because the hats alone are worth a closer look. Especially hers.

I'd be much more comfortable in what the chaps at the back are wearing. I guess it's because I'm such a commoner.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A challenging analysis of the difference between thongs and g-strings

I stumbled across this intellectual gem some time ago, and - since my last post was on the subject of knickers and other knick-kacks - the time seems right to share it with you. Pay attention because things get complicated. 

Weren't you thrilled to hear she'll blog later on writing and poetry, and might even read out a poem? Makes you glad to be alive in the digital age, doesn't it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

An open secret

At a loose end in Honolulu in March, I went along the road from the hotel to the Ala Moana Centre. Many of the stores in this consumer temple - Amani Exchange, Burberry, Betsey Johnson, Chanel Boutique and so on - were too pricey to even interest me. But I decided to try Victoria's Secret, where at least I might be able to afford a pair of knickers. As it turned out I got four pairs of these for $28.

And trying them on entitled me to the full benefit of the VS experience. A lusciously lit circular area off to the side of the large store gave onto six or eight individually named changing rooms. Here's the interior of mine, a pink and perfumed blend of nursery and boudoir that was nevertheless seductive, even to this sceptic.

I don't know where I had got the idea, though, that VS products were ... well, to use an old-fashioned word, tasteful. Cute? Of course, Pretty? Naturally. Sexy? Sure. But this?

Porn-wear. And this? 

A porn pose, just to ram home (sorry) the point.
What do little girls going into these stores with their mothers make of this stuff? What do their mothers tell them?
I can only sign off, Bewildered of Wellington.

Addendum: A young male informant says these two outfits are "no fun", "a bit cheap" and "too signposted".
Three cheers for chaps who like something left to the imagination! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Man about town beside the sea

Spotted on Sunday at Days Bay. As far as I could tell, his teeshirt was an airy arrangement of mesh and fringe. And I'm fairly sure it didn't come from Hallensteins.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nothing says I love you like deliberately induced ketosis

The Times told us recently that prospective brides - in the US; where else? - are opting to be fed by nasal tube to shed weight fast for The Big Day. Romantic or what?
Via their affianced nostril, a yummy blend of protein, fat and water drips into their stomach for up to 10 days. Because this stuff doesn't contain any carbs and amounts to a mere 800 calories a day, our happy brides-to-be, in effect, start eating their own bodies.
And in other news ...
In the kind of "research" that tends to prompt mocking belly laughs from non-social scientists, a Canterbury University student (yes, right here in New Zealand) has found that women threatened by female images in the media own more shoes and handbags, and shun trousers. Women who are insecure irrespective of media images, on the other hand, tend to avoid accessories too because these would draw unwelcome attention.
The threatened-by-media-images group, she speculates, use accessories to increase their physical attractiveness, but avoid trousers because these reveal their figures. The generally insecure who dodge accessories too, dress anonymously to avoid attention of any kind.
Gosh, we didn't know that, did we!
Fortunately, the report includeds no stats, so there's no point counting our shoes and handbags - not to mention our scarves, belts, gloves, hats and jewellery items - in an attempt to discover measure exactly how insecure we are.
And finally, French researchers - yes, you guessed it, sociologists -  tracked around 450 transactions on tips left for seven waitresses over two months. They discovered that waitresses who wore red lipstick were tipped half the time by male customers, whereas those who wore brown and pink lipstick, or none at all, were tipped less than a third of the time.
But - surprise! - waitresses' make up had no noticeable effect on tipping by women.
This discovery, the researchers portentously announce, has important implications for women in the hospitality industry, particulary those working in bars and restaurants frequented by men.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Woman in freak porridge accident

In spite of being plenty old enough to know better, I've been skipping breakfast for years. So, with the onset of the cold weather, I decided on a new regime. Just as I was plucking Harraways Rolled Oats from the supermarket shelf a few days ago, I bumped into A. Who, after the greetings, told me exactly how to make my breakfast porridge in the microwave. By morning two, I was really looking forward to the result.
Morning three and I was running late for a non-negotiable meeting time. I scuttled through the shower, threw on the sandy-coloured Topshop dress I bought from Karen Walker's Wellington shop, and topped it off with a long necklace comprised of three bronzey chains (the sort of bling you can pick up in Buenos Aires for a song).
I prepared my porridge as per A's excellent instructions, carried it steaming to the table and sat down.
Unfortunately, a whiplash effect ensued - I stopped moving forward but the chains did not. By the time my bottom hit the chair, the three long strands - now loaded with hot cereal - swung back to follow me. The result was a liberal coating of porridge down the front of the dress, not to mention my arms, the table and some of the floor.
Moral of the story? If you dress before you eat, dine in an inverted rubbish bag for your protection.
And look ... it's an idea that's already hit the catwalks. The hat is presumably designed to fend off overhead attacks by other people's porridge.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shoes as art

These are my new shoes.
I'm seriously tempted to leave it at that and sign off. Because look at them! They speak for themselves, don't they. Yet I'm equally compelled to speak, not for them but about them. Or, rather, about me in relation to them. No, wait, not even that.
Sorry, I'll start again.
On Saturday I bought these shoes at Minx in Otaki. Because the sight of them made my blood race in the same way a wonderful photograh does, or the sound of the bandoneon in tango music. I haven't worn them outside the shop yet. The point is, I hardly need to wear them. I bought them so I could bring them home and look at them as often as I like. Like buying art. So there they've sat - on a stool in my bedroom, rather as on a pedastal - and each time I see them, I'm flushed with pleasure that they exist.
For the more practical minded, I'll add that they came within my purchasing power because they were reduced from $256 to $180. The blood-red element is wonderful hairy cowhide. And I'm not the only one to fall for its odd charm - Cheryl bought a dark green version, and Fern, ankle boots in cobalt blue.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


A few days later, also in  Balaclava's Las Chicas, I met Monique. She was leafing through a pile of new glossies and, assuming they were supplied by the cafe, I asked if I could have one she'd finished with. In fact they were hers, but she was still happy to lend me a Marie Clare. The text turned out to be in Chinese, although the pics spoke a universal language. Before long I asked why.
Monique designs and sells handbags, which retail in Australia and New Zealand. She sources her leather in India and was combing the magazines for inspiration. She gave me a booklet, showing off her designs.
That's one of her bags on the table - a classy dark green leather. And here's another I'd love on my shoulder.

No, not him, silly. He's far too deep a thinker to be any fun.
This talk of accessories reminds me of one of the most famous lines in theatre - "A handbag?!", as spoken by Dame Edith Evans, playing Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. A line my friend E (no, not that E, the other one) delivered in a school production, in a less OTT manner, but nevertheless freighted with aristocratic dismay. The high point of her acting career, she says, when she experienced all the power of holding an audience and making it laugh.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Bunny with attitude

Spotted on Monday at Las Chicas, Carlisle St,
Balaclava, Melbourne.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meawhile, nine out of 10 don't give a rat's arse

An English woman named Samantha Brick, variously described as an ex-tv presenter, a journo and a columnist, but more probably someone who's famous for being well-known, has caused a storm by, in the first place, publishing an article whose theme was that there are "downsides to looking this pretty", then by appearing on tv to back up her claims that "10 out of 10 men" fancy her, while women hate her because of her beauty.
Thousands registered their outrage by email and text. I can't discover the main thrust of their missives, only that they were, to use Brick's word, "bile"; nor do I know how many were fired by men and how many by women. I'm guessing, though, that a good number of both would have taken issue with her self-assessment, and given her robust feedback of their own on her looks and their appeal to the opposite sex.
While it's tempting to be similarly snarky, I'm reluctant to take any woman to task for believing she's good-looking enough  Most of us are painfully insecure, and that insecurity causes no end of problems - from spending small fortunes on doomed and/or inadvisable ways of becoming more beautiful, to anorexia and bulimia, and clinging like limpets to the wrong man because we think no-one else could possibly love us.
And, since it turns out Brick lives in France, what she says about the way women freeze her out might have some truth to it. My informants - one native-born French woman, plus a New Zealand man and a New Zealand woman who have each lived for a long time in France - tell me that many French women do indeed see themselves in competion for men, and treat attractive women accordingly.
So that said, would I, if given the chance, enjoy having Brick at my dinnertable? Er. no, thanks. Rampant narcisissism makes dull company.            

Friday, April 6, 2012

Look, Janet, look – Clarks shoes!

Janet and John, 1949

Prompted by previous posts about Clarks shoes, Peter Cross of Auckland recalls being a Clarks guinea-pig.

Back in Castle Cary, Somerset, in the early 60s, there were two shoe shops. An upmarket establishment run by Hubert Laver, next door to Parker’s ladies and gentleman’s outfitters, and a downmarket cobbler’s shop run by Les Cleal and his grown-up son. Both have long since gone. As far as I recall the Cleals concentrated on repairs, but sold boots and Tuf shoes on the side, while Mr Laver only sold shoes, mostly Clarks.
Clarks produced the sort of footwear that was popular with grownups, and for good reasons. “Clarks” were hard-wearing, comfortable and timeless – in other words, old-fashioned. The sort of shoe sensible middle-class parents would buy for their offspring, and working-class ones if they could afford them. Typical of their range was their T-bar sandal, the sort of footwear worn by Janet and John in those dreadful early readers, and by kids depicted in Ladybird books, where earnest boys and girls explored a rock pool or something equally worthy.
For a time Clarks made a feature of measuring the width of your foot as well as its length, and their products came in widths ABCD. So if, as in my case, one foot was slightly wider than the other, you could get a size 3C left and a 3D right. This innovation was much publicised at the time but was probably quietly dropped as the commercial implications became clear. I’ve never seen anything like it since. 
My old mum, never one to hoard things, had possession of her grandmother’s wedding shoes. They’d only been worn once and were still in the box. I guess they would have been made in the 1880s and remarkably they didn’t even have a left or right foot but two identical ones. Clarks had a shoe museum in Street and she loaned them to the firm, and, as far as I’m aware, they must still be there somewhere.         
In a sense Clarks dominated the local landscape in that their Glastonbury Tor trade mark was visible from the town, and their headquarters and main factory was in Street, a dozen miles away. And between the mid-50s and the early 90s, a satellite factory manufactured insoles in Cary itself, employing 200 people at one stage.
The only footwear that interested me and most boys then was football boots. Kids would spend all year talking about the sort of boot they anticipated getting as their main Christmas present. A continental boot (more a shoe really), made with soft black leather without a toecap and perhaps a flash of colour, was talked about a lot.  There would be a brief honeymoon period when the new boots would be admired and cherished by their owner, before  he started to covert another model; perhaps ones with removable studs.
Although indifferent to shoes, I’m sure I wasn’t the only boy to feel pissed off when Clarks started using some of the girls at our school as guinea pigs for their new products. It was overseen by Marion “Fanny” Felix who taught needlework and was also deputy head. Every so often a guy from the factory would arrive at school and fit out volunteers with various shoes. While still at the sensible end of the spectrum, these shoes could occasionally be more daring than a schoolgirl was supposed to wear. This guy would return from time to check on the shoes and there was a threat that some would be taken back to a lab and never returned, but in reality mostly they were given back for keeps.
Then one day it was announced that Clarks would be bringing along boys shoes, and I got my one and only pair. Brown suede they were, and for a day or two my pride and joy. Within a week, however, the sole had started to distance itself from the upper: no doubt protesting against playground football. Apart from experimenting with new designs, they also tested new components, in this case glue. And so like everyone else I wandered around in them until they broke up and I went back to shoes made by a competitor, no doubt with a reputation for making a less durable product.
Despite Clark's size, it remains a private company, with 81% shares owned by members of the family and the rest by employees. They are also a Quaker company and like others, for instance, the big chocolate families Cadbury’s, Rowntree and Fry’s, were model employers and philanthropists. My parents were members of three public libraries and got through a dozen books a week between them, but their favourite library by a long shot was the one in Street, which had been paid for by the company. The public swimming pool in Street, a huge outdoor job, head and shoulders better than the rest, was another donation. The company owned houses they built and rented to their staff. On the downside, for many years Street was a dry town, so residents had to go to one of the outlying villages to get a drink. And I recall hearing that the husband of a woman I knew called Christine Pitts lost his job at Clarks when the couple got divorced.
Mind you, everyone in the manufacturing side of the business has lost their jobs in England now. The factory in Castle Cary closed in 1992, and well before this, production had begun to move overseas. The family continues to prosper, making a profit on sales of 125 million pounds in 2010, but the shoes are now made, according to the same entry in Wikipedia, in India, Cambodia, China, Brazil and Vietnam. Charity may have started at home but it hasn’t stayed there.  
Ladybird Books' Peter and Jane

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Design for living

My favourite local cafe makes a terrific latte but its magazine choice is dire. According to the nice young owners, anything worth reading, like New Zealand Books or Vanity Fair, mysteriously vanishes out the door with their oh-so respectable customers. So on days when I have no-one to talk to and no mail to read, I comb through an aging pile of huntin', shootin' and boatin' publications, and usually end up with Cuisine. I like to cook and eat, but I'm not into food fetishism. Still, I can usually cadge or recipe or two. This morning Vogue Living came to light. But after a five minutes or so of inspecting glossy rooms designed and - so they would have us believe - lived in by even glossier people, I decided the damn thing is a mental health risk. These people "live" in a manner that sooner or later will make any normal person want to creep back to the cluttered little hole in the hillside they call home. and lock the door. It's generally accepted that pornography, along with women's and fashion magazines, inflicts social/psychological damage. Well, so do these "life-style" bibles. It's only a matter of degree.
And, just to cap off my disdain, round about page 325 I came across the gushing phrase "high-end collectibles". Sounds impressive, doesn't it. Until a moment's reflection tells you that all it means is "costly crap".
All this has reminded me of a 1950s song by the marvellous Flanders and Swann, with the same title as this post:

We're terribly House & Garden at number 7B,
We live in a most amusing Mews, ever so very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden - the money that one spends
To make a place that won't disgrace our House & Garden friends.
We've planned an uninhibited interior decor,
Curtains made of straw,
We've wallpapered the floor.
We don't know if we like it
But at least be can be sure:
There's no place like home sweet home.
It's fearfully Maison - Jardin at number 7B.
We've rediscovered the chandelier:
Très, très very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden though at last we've got the chance.
The garden's full of furniture and the house is full of plants.
It doesn't make for comfort but it simply has to be
'Cos we're ever so terrible up-to-date, comtempo-rar-ary.

And winding up:
Oh, we're terribly House and Garden
As I think we said before,
But though Seven B is madly gay -
It wouldn't do for every day -
We actually live in Seven A,
In the house next door!

Flanders and Swann

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Country Road leads up the garden path

This is the 92% linen, 8% nylon top that caught my eye in Country Road this morning. I loved the hot colours (which aren't at their best in this image), the fine knit, and the length. Tried a couple on, decided on the SX, and handed over my $64.90. Went home well-pleased to have something cheery to wear for Easter.
But oh no, on unwrapping it from its tissue I spotted a hole in the sleeve/bodice seam, where the fabric had given way. Right where it showed. 
Since I still had my jacket on, I marched down the path, jumped in the car and drove back to town. Slipped $1 in the meter on Lambton Quay and strode into CR with the offending item.
The woman behind the counter was pleasant. She inspected the hole and went off to see if there was another SX on the rack. There was. And that one had a hole in it too, at the back this time. Pleasant Woman made a phone call to track down any others. There were none.
By now, I wanted the damn thing really badly. I asked if she could knock down the price and I'd have a go at fixing it myself.
No, she couldn't, she said, because she wasn't the manager.
Could the manager then?
No, because CR didn't like to sell imperfect goods.
Excuse me, I didn't say, but you already have.
The two items would have to go to a "tailor", she said. And, still pleasant, went about organising my refund. No apology, though. Which surely ought to be de rigeur when faulty goods are returned.  Or is it CR policy to leave quality control to their customers?
So an empty-handed return to the car, to find a $12 ticket under the wiper for an expired meter.
Happy Easter!