Thursday, 22 September 2011

Of fashion and figs

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

One of the things I am finishing now for the book is the fashion chapter. For a while, I contemplated not putting anything on fashion into a book on beauty. I had waxed cross with fashion, and thought it had grown more silly than beautiful.

I think it was the trend for mustard yellow that did it. Do you remember that? There was one terrible season when all the experts tried to get everyone into yards and yards of mustard yellow. If that failed, they were determined on cobalt blue. I love blue, but that bright cobalt is a very unforgiving colour to wear, unless you are twenty-one, and come from Madrid. (It needs that wonderful strong olive skin.)

Then there was all that nonsense with the It-bags. These cost thousands of pounds and were properly ugly, baggy and saggy, with endless huge buckles and straps, and the designers kept sending them for free to Kate Moss and Siena Miller so they could say: look, look, Kate and Siena are carrying them so you must too. To which I replied, sometimes out loud: No I must not. And: bugger off.

Also, I did not like the shoe boot. Or boot shoe. Or shooboot. Or whatever it is called. And then Galliano, whom I had always admired for his what-the-hell sense of theatre, went all anti-Semitic, and the models seemed to get sadder and paler and thinner, and magazines aimed at so-called ordinary women still featured dresses costing three thousand pounds in the middle of a recession. So I gave up on the whole shower.

After all that, I have, in the end, done a fashion chapter. As a result, I have been buying fashion magazines, something I have not done since I was in my twenties. I have several of them sitting about the house. Today, on account of The Thing making me sad, I decided that it was time for a treat. I have earned a bit of cash this year, so I thought maybe I might spend some of it on one really beautiful item for the autumn. It would be part of my living well is the best revenge strategy. I could search through the magazines and find something lovely.

Grazia had just come out with a huge fashion issue, which I had bought for research. I’ll have a look at it, I thought, and perhaps there will be something I might like to buy. It might even be good for me. I live in a uniform of jeans, All Stars and sensible cardigans bought from the lovely John Lewis. Perhaps a wild, delicious, impractical item might be the very thing to stop me sliding into a dull middle-aged rut.

So I looked. And I looked. And I looked. And there was nothing there. There was only one object of true beauty in the whole mag, and that was a couture Valentino dress in dove grey chiffon, which was so grand it did not even have the price on it, and is the kind of thing only a film star or a new Russian would have the occasion to wear.

For a moment, I felt furious with fashion all over again. I remembered the days in the early nineties when Dolce and Gabbana used to produce coats of such raging beauty that they made you want to weep. Now it’s all Eurotrash disco hooker chic, which is not my idea of chic at all.

In the end though, I felt rather relieved. I thought of all the money I had saved. I went down to the village and bought a lovely Arran Aromatic candle that smelled of figs, and some contraband hundred watt light-bulbs. (I refuse to believe that energy-saving light-bulbs will contribute one whit to saving the planet; and they make everyone look as if they are dying of consumption. So I get the naughty outlawed ones, under the counter, and fight global warming by not flying on aeroplanes and buying local.)

My delightful fig candle is burning on my desk as I write this. I look into its steady flame and feel better. The Thing too will pass, as one of the wise readers remarked yesterday, and in the meantime, my room smells of figs.


Today’s photographs:

Can’t get enough of these delightful sheep:

22 Sept 1

22 Sept 2

22 Sept 3

My favourite view of the sagging old iron fence:

22 Sept 5

Looking over the dry stone wall, across my garden, facing north:

22 Sept 6

And over the other stone wall, facing south-east:

22 Sept 9

The light on the wild garden:

22 Sept 10

The geranium leaves are developing splendid pink tips:

22 Sept 13

The honeysuckle is having its last, wild fling:

22 Sept 6-1

22 Sept 7

This splendid fellow belongs to a friend of mine, and suddenly appeared, yearning all over The Pigeon:

22 Sept 8

That face is the look of love. Sadly, cruelly, the Pidge has no time for him at all, and ruthlessly chased down sticks, whilst ignoring the poor chap completely. This is her triumphant I have no time for toy boys look:

22 Sept 19

And this is her I am far to elegant to pay heed to rackety fellows pose:

22 Sept 21

And this is just sheer beauty:

22 Sept 22

And here is the hill:

22 Sept 23


After I wrote this, I went into the kitchen to start thinking about my supper. I had a feeling for kedgeree, with smoked haddock and saffron and chilli, and perhaps a pinch of turmeric. I turned on the news. The global economy is collapsing, apparently, although I do not really recall a day in the last three years when that was not happening.

America is going to pot, Europe is ready to go smash, Japan is stagnating. It always interests me that no-one ever mentions South America when these doomy pronouncements are made.

I remember when the whole continent was written off as a matched set of Banana Republics. Now, almost all the South American economies are recovering well from the crash of 2008, with sturdy banking systems and steady growth. Even Columbia is described as a magnet for foreign investment. Peru’s banks are apparently the most robust in the world. But these places are obviously too far south to count, so the stock markets in New York and London panic and fall, and I wonder more than ever who is going to buy those £3000 frocks. (Elegant Peruvians, perhaps?)

As I make my thrifty kedgeree, I feel more grateful than ever that I got a fig candle instead of a Dolce coat. And I wonder if the little joke my sister and I have about getting goats and going self-sufficient, like Felicity Kendal in The Good Life, might not be such a joke after all.

Oh, and I know I should not gush and fawn over the Dear Readers. It is not becoming. But your comments yesterday were so particularly kind that I must take my hat off to every single one of you. I particularly enjoy it when people describe themselves as de-lurking. Yes, yes, I cry: de-lurk. I can’t tell you how it cheers me. Bugger The Thing; I have the Readers.


  1. That's quite a doggy hunk Pigeon has for an admirer! He looks young, though - she probably thinks "Whatever would we talk about?"

    Chasing sticks, perhaps?

  2. Another de-lurk here, just to say that I had the same quandary when I Came Into Money recently and wanted to get myself something truly wondrous with my ill gotten gains. In the end, I gave up and bought a big bottle of Diptyche Philosykos because I'm a total sucker for the smell of figs.

    Also, I was born in Forres which is *points vaguely upwards with finger* and a place I have never known as we left when I was a baby. I've always imagined the northern reaches of Scotland to be a barren place full of snow and grumbling over salty porridge but thanks to the lovely photographs on your blog I now know that it is actually divinely beautiful. Breathtaking even. Thank you.

  3. I love the black and white of the Pidgeon. Just when I think we've seen her every pose, she shows us another face. She is really quite talented.
    We can all relate to your Thing. I have a Thing right now and have been writing all about it on unpublished posts, just for therapy. Here's to all our Things passing quickly.

  4. Dear Tania, amazing comments about fashion - i just had that discussion with my best friend....
    I still read fashion magazines but find them becoming more and more irrelevant.... Just also read a comment from Christian Louboutin who said that women who care about comfort not style remind him of sad women sitting on a sofa with a bottle of wine!!! (I was actually driven to ask my teenage daughter if she had been in direct communication with Monsieur Louboutin!)To whit - fashion now is only for rich Russians and Middle Eastern ladies with huge amounts of disposable income and lonely lives. Long live the jeans, converse and cashmere sweater..... Cant wait for the book! xx ps sincerely hope The Thing has now become the thing (small letters) and rapidly diminishing.....

  5. ps dont wish to continue this rant about mr louboutin but - to add insult to injury - at the end of the comment he mentioned the word PUFFY!! Surely that is a down jacket, Mr Louboutin, non?? For what its worth i think the whole insanity of fashion was summed up by those mental shoes of alexander mcqueens that resembled cloven hoofs - hello Daphne Guiness! Ok, done now!

  6. I quite agree about the fashion thing - I often think it's all just a big elaborate joke where designers try to see how much they can get poor unsuspecting people to spend on truly hideous items...

  7. oh, er, gosh, i just realised you may be related to Daphne Guiness! I salute her courageous and individual style..... and i may never be able to enter this blog again!
    Also agree with Jess wholeheartedly
    ps it may have been the word puffy that set me off on this whole tangent (sensitive subject!)

  8. i just dont get that whole empire that diane von furstenberg has built on the wrap dress - i attended a Roman Catholic school in Glasgow during the 60's and 70's and they just remind me of what our school dinner ladies wore!! Obviously i am in the minority here...

  9. Marnilla - love the notion of lack of dog conversation due to age difference.

    Madame - hurrah for de-lurking. So pleased you have discovered the north is not quite as bleak as your imaginings.

    Susan - so delighted you recognise the wondrous talents of the Pigeon.

    Anon - never apologise; your fashion comments are making me laugh a lot.

    Jesss - the joke theory may well be right.

    Anon - so agree about those wrap dresses.

  10. I do love magazines and have to restrain myself so I don't buy them all every month! I do like looking at the pictures of beautiful clothes and seeing what is new.
    But sometimes I find myself hurling them away in disgust. I am so often disappointed by the standard of journalism, especially in Grazia, some of it is execrable bad. An August issue of American Vogue is a particularly painful memory. It does seem difficult for them not to write in that breathless, gushy way and I particularly loathe articles of the style 'my funny old life and funny old him indoors'.
    I'm so with you on the stuff as seen on xyz star and then pointing out that you too can have it if you spend a fortune on it. The weekly gossip magazines are particularly bad in this respect and never seem to point out that the stars get sent most of their stuff for free.
    I am also amazed by how much disposable income these magazines seem to think we have; I would consider myself quite well off but a lot of the stuff that they dismiss as 'high street' I still think of as quite expensive.
    And I also have a thing about the types of books they recommend as most of them fall into chick-lit/Richard and Judy book club type books and I think surely their readership, if they expect them to buy all these fancy clothes and handbags costing as much as a small car, must want something more demanding and better written than the books they are recommending.
    Think I'd better stop now....

  11. Well, re Grazia - I respect Paula Reed greatly on a personal level - she does a lot of work for cancer research - but she obviously must cater to the readers and demands of her editor.... I think we are straying back, Tania, to your comments on having a daily column...

    I detest Dan Brown - for comfort reading it simply has to be Cold Comfort Farm and Agatha Christie...

  12. Jo - so agree about the prices. Not very new austerity at all.

    Anon - I'm actually quite fond of Grazia; it was more the lack of desirable clothes that I found disappointing. And am with you all the way on Stella Gibbons and Mrs Christie.

  13. I have also been talking more than usual about the fashion with some friends especially in regards to the shoe fashion. First it was all chunky and ugly and now it is very dominatrix or just a general prostitute-look. I am wondering how long the desire to have women look like prostitutes in heels you obviously cannot walk in shall go on. Erika

  14. Tania I do love Grazia also in a hairdresser flip moment - and i still stick to my personal admiration of Paula Reed (suggest reading "Cancer's not like that actually" by Kate Carr).... xx

  15. Tania, I think one of the things I love about your blog is that you write about so many of the things I have conversations with myself about.

    It is lovely to find a kindred spirit who loathes mustard yellow, ugly shoes, heavy bags, and tarty fashion. And who asks the very important question where did all the beauty go? Also, you are the only person I know that owns a mushroom brush (apart from me).

    I have been saving my pennies this year and of course they are now burning a hole. So far, I have seen two dresses I would consider buying, but of course very expensive. So I will most likely end up buying flowers and plants instead, and scrape together what remains in the wardrobe from last year.

    I used to be a lurker here (i'd always called it "blurking") and I can recommend popping out to say hello.

    I hope you have a lovely weekend.

  16. i have a mushroom brush also!!! Bought in Bordeaux many years ago...

  17. It's probably my age but I am currently thinking (a lot) over a gorgeous wallpaper design rather than the current fashion weeks. So I understand choosing the candle over a dress. And I never thought I'd say that.

    I fear the Pigeon will only encourage her Toy Boy by ignoring him. (I'm not speaking from experience.)

  18. I'm guilty of lurking for a while now. I did try to post a comment on the phone banking debacle, but for some reason it didn't work. It was to do with the small voice of reason whispering that they were trying to protect your money... I did understand your frustration (been there), but I was just wanting to think about the situation from their perspective.
    Sorry to hear about The Thing, but glad to hear you managed to put it into perspective with some sibling support and discussion.
    Regarding fashion, I've no idea about it; it simply is not on my radar - never has been, is not and I hope it never will be. I occasionally wish I was a little more informed, but only for my daughter's sake. However, she seems to manage quite well and is deveoping a style of her own, so I don't see it as a drawback.
    Wishing you better days ahead. x

  19. Would taking a look at what's happening with ethical fashion re-kindle your excitment about fashion perhaps?

    I thought the brands exhibiting at Esthetica, the ethical section of London Fashion Week, were rather more interesting (From Somewhere made some amazing dresses out of old Speedos, and you can wear them in the sea as well!) and beautiful than most of the major fashion brands.

    And then there's Ecoluxe as well. And that's just in the UK. has more on what's going on. There really are some very talented designers out there who are also concerned about planet and people. (Though I will confess that most of them still seem to think that a size 12 is large.)


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