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20-09-2004
  1
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September 19, 2004

Focus: London Fashion Week opens today, but who needs a catwalk? The new look is charity shop chic
Julia Llewellyn Smith


Once it was all so easy. Six months in advance, the dedicated fashionista studied her Harpers and Vogue, picked up her Motorola and speed-dialled Browns, Harvey Nicks and Selfridges to reserve the bag, the coat and the shoes for the upcoming season. If designers decreed loon-pants were in, then a dozen pairs were bought in bulk, if red was out then the local charity shop could expect a consignment of scarlet frocks by morning.

But over the past couple of years something frightening has happened in fashion. The strictures that once governed the Ab Fab set as tightly as latterday Ten Commandments have dissolved like aspirin in a glass of Bolly, leaving them in a bewildering new world where the only rule is that there are no rules.

Just a couple of years ago Lisa Bryan, 36, used to dress in head-to-toe Prada with perhaps the odd Gucci accessory thrown in. “Now it’s all changed,” says Bryan, a former banker turned full-time mother, from Shepherd’s Bush, west London. “Labels are totally out, instead you’ve got to customise perhaps one designer piece with as much vintage and high street as possible. The worst thing you can do is look too put-together.

“Today, I’m wearing Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, which cost about £120 but which I’d ideally pretend I picked up on eBay for quarter that, a T-shirt I’ve had since school with Simon Le Bon on it and some pink cowboy boots which used to belong to my mum. I’m going to combine those with a poncho I got in New Look.”

From Diana Vreeland to Jackie O, the truly chic have always created rather than followed trends. Yet now mainstream fashion has gone pick’n’mix. It is no longer enough to mimic the catwalks. To be truly fashionable, your style must be your own.

Queen of the new “anti-fashion” look is Sienna Miller, starlet girlfriend of Jude Law, who this summer dominated the style pages with her unique blend of flip-flops, chunky belts, laddered tights, and embroidered kaftans, much to the reported pique of Kate Moss, who had held the crown for the past decade. Both chose to parade their current hippie-chick-meets-Wild-West looks at this year’s Glastonbury, which has replaced New York and Paris as the cool set’s catwalk.

But why reject the catwalk? Why shun designer brands? The answer is that most have lost any semblance of exclusivity. New digital communications and cutting techniques mean that a skirt seen on a Milan catwalk on Monday can be on the high street by Friday at a fraction of the cost of the original.

“Chain-store fashion is so good now and does such perfect copies of originals that frankly if you don’t pick up on that you’re seen as lacking savvy,” says Melinda James, a 28-year-old London PR.

Yet even last year’s hottest emporiums — Topshop and H&M — are now rejected as “too expensive”, with the fash-pack now jostling aside council-estate mums in the aisles of George at Asda and Primark (pronounced by those in the know as “pree-mark”) in the quest for bargains. Second-hand shops and eBay are also big.

The undisputed hottest buy of the summer was a £20 silk chiffon cocktail dress in apple green, designed by Florence and Fred at Tesco but inspired by a Chloé design. The supermarkets instantly sold out and a frenzy of eBay bidding and black market trading followed.

But while clothes shoppers are revelling in the dozens of new alleys open to them, manufacturers are despairing as they try to second-guess the kaleidoscopic public mood. “For the first time we’ve reached the middle of a decade and it’s impossible to define the look, to pinpoint the hemline, colour story or mood — the entire fashion system has broken down,” Dave Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger retailing consultancy group, complained to The Wall Street Journal last week.

“This isn’t just about clothes, there’s a big reaction in general against the uniformity of the high street,” explains Roger Tredre, editor-in-chief of the fashion industry website WGSN. “For the past 10 to 20 years, average household spending on clothes has been slowly declining as people spend more money on things like mobile phones and DVDs. Retailers have realised they’ve got to inject surprises into shops so people look forward to going back into them.”

After decades of a cookie-cutter approach to store layout, the big chains are now littering their shops with junk furniture and seemingly random layouts to fool customers into thinking they have wandered into a unique Aladdin’s cave.

This month’s Vogue celebrates the new eclecticism with a whole section dedicated to “the new clutter”, confirming that the car boot sale has replaced the designer boutique as the most fashionable place to shop and heralding the imminent opening of the Japanese designer Comme des Garçons’ “market” in central London, where clothes will nestle alongside furniture, antiques and books and “a beautiful kind of chaos” is expected to reign.

The monochrome high street is to be avoided by devotees of anti-fashion at all costs. In its latest guide to London, the backpackers’ bible Lonely Planet describes Islington and Camden — once two of the capital’s hottest spots — as passé because they have been overrun by chains. Readers are now directed to “edgy” Stoke Newington and “chichi” Primrose Hill, home of Moss and posse, instead.

In an attempt to fight back, some retailers are having to abandon the pile ’em high approach in favour of “individualised” clothing that has been handmade, hand-embroidered or hand-embellished in some way, to set the wearer apart from the herd.

After several years of falling sales, Gap, to many the epitome of mainstream blandness, has launched a new “How do you wear it?” campaign featuring the high priestess of quirky dressing, Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker, modelling different ways to customise a pair of £44 jeans (bows at the knees, velvet ribbons sewn down the back and $10m worth of Fred Leighton pearls all help if you don’t want to look like a school-run mum, apparently).

Shops such as Oasis now offer “vintage” sections, where, in fact, the clothes are not smelly castoffs but replicas of charity shop “finds”, available only in limited quantities to ensure a “buzz”.

All this spells trouble for the luxury fashion houses, whose wares are increasingly being dismissed by the style-conscious as being naff as the Val Doonican Christmas special.

“The luxury end of the market has been having a pretty good time the last few months, but mainly because it’s enjoying fabulous times in Japan and China, where brand status and the cachet of a glitzy logo is still great,” says Tredre.

“But it’s going to have to work particularly hard in Europe and especially in cynical and sceptical countries like Britain, where the sheer allure of a logo is being questioned by consumers, who think, ‘Why should we buy a bag because it has a monogram on it?’ ” The exclusivity once conferred by a designer label means nothing when any footballer or soap star with a few spare quid can buy it — and then be photographed flaunting it in all the cheap gossip mags.

Juicy Couture tracksuits briefly beloved by the likes of Elle Macpherson instantly lost their mystique when they were taken up by the glamour model Jordan. The designer Alice Temperley, currently Notting Hill’s darling, was mortified when David Beckham’s text buddy Rebecca Loos, wore one of her dresses to a premiere. “The phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad press’ doesn’t seem to hold true in this case,” she said.

“Logos are for chavs, drug dealers and soap stars,” confirms Rob Marks, a 22-year-old London-based student and DJ. “Who wants to buy a Louis Vuitton bag when you can get a fake on any market stall?” It seems that fashion has become more democratic than ever, with anyone with a good eye and access to a second-hand shop able to hold her own with the ladies who lunch. But in reality, some fashionistas will always be more equal than others.

“I find this trend for individualism the most exhausting in years,” confides Lisa Bryan. “It was so much easier just to walk into Chanel and throw a few grand at the problem than it is to spend your days trawling the internet for one-offs and thinking about which of your grandmother’s old blouses you can wear. It’s a look which favours time, and that’s a far more precious commodity than money.”

With such dimly defined guidelines, the trendsetters struggle to stay ahead of the pack. In this month’s In Style magazine, Sadie Frost, Kate Moss’s best friend and Jude Law’s ex, bemoans how the hideous Ugg boots, which she pioneered last year after being introduced to them by her Australian nanny, have become so popular she can no longer wear them in public. All her crowd has moved on to Mukluks, handmade Canadian bootees, which until a couple of months ago have looked sensible wear for two-year-olds and Eskimos only.

But with power-dressing currently as popular as Tony Blair at the Ledbury hunt ball, its imminent revival seems certain. To be where it’s at in 2005, start stocking up on shoulder pads, Filofaxes and Gucci stilettos.

New, naturally.

KEEPING IT REAL: HOW TO GET THE ANTI-FASHION LIFESTYLE

As every true fashionista knows, it’s not enough simply to wear the clothes. With every fashion comes an attitude — and “anti-fashion” is no exception. It means eschewing the new, embracing the eccentric and rediscovering the “authentic”. This can lead to a whole new lifestyle — or anti-life:


DRINK

Nothing tastes nicer than a draft lager in your local. (Ladies can try lager top if they prefer.) Avoid cocktails or anything that might be deemed poncy. Ask for salted cheese and onion or salt and vinegar crisps. Pork scratchings are so out that they are in.

MUSIC

Real bands that play real instruments are better than pop so fill your iPod with Kings of Leon and Franz Ferdinand’s brand of art-school rock. It’s okay to like the Scissor Sisters too because they don’t give a damn — just like you.

PUBS AND CLUBS

If a pub/club has been recently refurbished don’t go there. Avoid anything that describes itself as a “bar”. Your drinking place needs to be authentic. If its ceiling is stained a reassuring shade of nicotine brown (like the Shakespeare in Stoke Newington, London) you will get extra points. Bingo, karaoke and quiz nights also score.

POLITICS

Never ever get party political. Instead get into an obscure single- issue cause with an obvious merit and stick to it. Talk about it as much as you can.

FOOD

Foreign is bad but French is worse. Opt for simple comforting English fare like fish-finger sarnies with ketchup, or cornish pasties and sausage and mash. Never admit to being on a diet and make a big thing about eating loads of carbs. If you see hot treacle tart on a menu order it fast.

KEEP FIT

It’s difficult, this one. You want a “ripped” torso (yes, pecs, not breasts) but you don’t want to be seen dead in a gym or keep-fit class. Keep it real, dude: climbing, fencing, boxing, cycling, skateboarding, surfing are all acceptable.


HOBBIES

Don’t be afraid to be a geek or a boffin, it emphasises your individualism. Collect something quirky like Transformer toys from the 1980s, black Barbie dolls, Truman Capote first editions, graffiti art, vintage porn . . .

READ

New wave American writers such as Dave Eggers. Don’t ignore the Brits entirely but remember, Nick Hornby is the new Jilly Cooper — read him only when on holiday when alone. Log on to www.mcsweeneys.net for all your literary news and views.

SEX

Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just not an issue, man.












Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.
This service is provided on Times Newspapers' standard Terms and Conditions . Please read our Privacy Policy . To inquire about a licence to reproduce material from The Times, visit the Syndication website .

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20-09-2004
  2
flaunt the imperfection..
 
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i LOVE that article...

thx so much for posting...

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20-09-2004
  3
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Really, softgrey? I thought it was so lame and about 5 years too late. The whole high/low mix thing is certainly not a new trend. And people who follow this contrived "checklist" of how to look "undone" are just ridiculous. If they treat this like just another trend, they might as well be dressed to the hilt in the latest Gucci.

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20-09-2004
  4
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it reminds of that weird derelicte collection in zoolander...homeless chic or something

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21-09-2004
  5
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This article made me realize how people are such name brand whores. Everywhere I look, some unoriginal, follower is buying a Louis Vuitton bag just because it's considered "the it thing ".

People have no sense of originality, individuality, anymore and they're all a bunch of fashion pawns influenced by the media and society - Wanting to be accepted and praised with the newest Prada this or Burberry that.


Last edited by softgrey; 09-03-2006 at 05:17 PM.
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21-09-2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by metal-on-metal@Sep 20 2004, 11:02 PM
Really, softgrey? I thought it was so lame and about 5 years too late. The whole high/low mix thing is certainly not a new trend. And people who follow this contrived "checklist" of how to look "undone" are just ridiculous. If they treat this like just another trend, they might as well be dressed to the hilt in the latest Gucci.
[snapback]371141[/snapback]

Well said. They'll be reading thisarticle and then the new big trend will be the "homeless" look. And every second person will be wearing the same variation of the outfit.

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21-09-2004
  7
flaunt the imperfection..
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by metal-on-metal@Sep 20 2004, 11:02 PM
Really, softgrey? I thought it was so lame and about 5 years too late. The whole high/low mix thing is certainly not a new trend. And people who follow this contrived "checklist" of how to look "undone" are just ridiculous. If they treat this like just another trend, they might as well be dressed to the hilt in the latest Gucci.
[snapback]371141[/snapback]
but the article said that...it covered all aspects of the trend ...both pro and con...i thought...that's why i loved it...i thought it was very entertaining...i didn't take it as completely serious...i thought it was a witty commentary on the state of fashion...

because i do think the fashion system as we knew it has started to break down...which is both positive and negative...

i really think the whole think was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek...

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21-09-2004
  8
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I'm sorted, then. Pretty much anything that I haven't made for myself came to me secondhand. Been doing fashion the scavenger way since I was about 12.

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22-09-2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by As You Like It@Sep 21 2004, 06:02 PM
I'm sorted, then. Pretty much anything that I haven't made for myself came to me secondhand. Been doing fashion the scavenger way since I was about 12.
[snapback]371923[/snapback]
Same as you - I've worn vintage since I was 13 and couldn't afford designer clothes. Of course we called it second hand back then Then I studied for my footwear degree. pretty much all fashion students have always worn vintage. It just took the fashion editors about 20 years to catch up with us.

My opinion is 'why stop now?' Now I live in a rich Jewish /Greek neighbourhood in North London and there are rich pickings in the charity shops. I have a fantastic wardrobe for not much dosh.

I've been working in Milan at the weekend - I came across a snowy white fake fur bolero jacket with bracelet length sleeves. It was 300 euros and was pretty identical to the 1950's on in brand new condition I picked up a couple of weeks ago in my neighbourhood for £8. Except mine is better quality. Go figure.

Sure I buy the odd designer item here and there, and go to TK Maxx (I think in the US its called TJ Maxx?), but most of it is vintage.

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22-09-2004
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All I get from this article is Why try so hard to look like you havn't tried? Doesn't it sort of defeat the purpose?

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22-09-2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tuti*Fruiti@Sep 22 2004, 11:47 AM
All I get from this article is Why try so hard to look like you havn't tried? Doesn't it sort of defeat the purpose?
[snapback]372579[/snapback]
I think its fashion editors that are the ones worried about 'looking like they haven't tried'

I certainly don't worry about things like that! The thought never crossed my mind ever.

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12-10-2005
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Quote:
Labels are totally out, instead you’ve got to customise perhaps one designer piece with as much vintage and high street as possible. The worst thing you can do is look too put-together.
Quote:

Yet now mainstream fashion has gone pick’n’mix. It is no longer enough to mimic the catwalks. To be truly fashionable, your style must be your own.



Thats nothing new, I've been doing that for years. Alot of women who live by a fashion budget have been "working" this magic since the 80's, the "other folks" are just catching up.

Where it may be something "conscious" for them to have to do NOW, it was necessary for many, and more than likely -- those are the ones who are probably the best at pulling off a look like that.

Like Tuti&Fruiti said "why try so hard NOW to look like you havn't tried?

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12-10-2005
  13
windowshopping
 
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i guess this cant be considered fully a trend, but at least to some extent it can be related to changes in society and peoples outlooks in life, trying to make it un-cliche being themself and doing what they want. the suggestions like working out in secret, pecause it's nit "In" anymore were plain stupid, tho.

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12-10-2005
  14
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what does the term "high street" mean?

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12-10-2005
  15
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^ High street = cheaper designer knock-offs and mass-market stores. Zara, H&M...

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