Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Joins the Green Carpet Challenge

Gucci's Green Carpet Challenge Jackie bag. Gucci's Green Carpet Challenge Jackie bag. Photograph: Fabio Pianigiani

Something important happened at Paris fashion week on Monday. No, not Hedi Slimane's grunge revival or how laundromat checks are becoming a thing or Bono turning up in Stella McCartney's front row. Something, you know, important-important.

Livia Firth, the Observer's Lucy Siegle and Italian Vogue's Franca Sozzani hosted a panel discussion in the Brazilian embassy to mark the extension of Firth's ethical red carpet landgrab, the Green Carpet Challenge, into handbags.

This special edition of Gucci's iconic Jackie bag is pioneering a project to curb the deforestation of Brazilian landforest caused by cattle ranchers. If you missed Lucy's story in the Observer mag at the weekend, read it here. Deforestation and leather production is not exactly a sexy issue, so kudos to Siegle and Firth for persuading Gucci to take it on. As Firth put it, the bag takes "an unfashionable agricultural story, and gives it a beautiful twist".

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Chanel circles the globe

Catwalk for Karl Lagerfeld's autumn/winter 2013 creations for Chanel at Paris fashion week Catwalk for Karl Lagerfeld's autumn/winter 2013 creations for Chanel at Paris fashion week. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/ReutersOne of Karl Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel's autumn/winter 2013 collection One of the signature accessories – the furry, close-cropped aviator hat in bright colours. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

Karl Lagerfeld is probably the most recognisable fashion designer in the world, but the name in lights at Paris fashion week is that of Chanel, not Lagerfeld himself. Lagerfeld has presided over Chanel for 30 years, but remains the Thomas Cromwell of this kingdom. He is puppetmaster and strategist, too wily to allow his own ego to derail a masterplan.

The Chanel catwalk shows, held each season inside the cavernous Grand Palais with a cast of hundreds and an audience of thousands, bring central Paris to a standstill in a blare of traffic whistles.

The first message is one of scale. Recent show sets have featured wind turbines, icebergs and a 12-metre-long golden lion. On Tuesday, the space was dominated by an enormous rotating globe in the centre of the catwalk, a sparkling flag bearing the double-C trademark pinned to show the location of each Chanel boutique. It was an impressive show of global power – who knew Chanel had not one, but two boutiques in Honolulu? – but also neatly broadened the focus of the event, from the arcane procedures of a Paris show – the ritualistic pomp, the place names in traditional calligraphy – to the reality of a luxury brand in the 21st century.

One of Karl Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel's autumn/winter 2013 collection One of Karl Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel's autumn/winter 2013 collection. Photograph: Christophe Karaba/EPA

But what matters most at any fashion show is beauty. And since there can be few human beings whose heart does not soar at the familiar yet awesome image of a gently spinning Earth as viewed from space, the globe was a triumphant centrepiece.

For all the space age symbolism, this was the most traditional Chanel collection Lagerfeld has shown for a while. (Perhaps that's what perspective does to you.) Ignore the crazy accessories and the look centred on the key moments in the Chanel story. Bouclé tweed suits came in glittering chic monochrome, in a melange of crimson and black, or in soft heathery pinks. Day dresses came in the drop waist silhouette so chic in Coco's heyday. For evening, elegant silk dresses in softly voluminous shapes took their cue from the atelier rather than the street.

But to ignore the crazy accessories would be to miss not only the fun, but a fundamental element of this brand. Cricket-ball sized globes dangled from Chanel's famous gold chains as next season's talking-point handbag. Furry, close-cropped aviator hats in bright colours brought a dash of the daredevil, globetrotting spirit of Amelia Earhart – a woman of the same era as Coco Chanel, of course – and conjoined it with the vogue for neon beanie hats which has seized the growing fashion blogger population during what has been an unusually chilly month of fashion shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris. The Earhart reference echoed through the jackets, which were cut longer than usual and with a multitude of pockets, flying-jacket style. Lagerfeld himself made cameo appearances woven into the catwalk persona, as he always does. This season he was represented by the leather leggings and by a staggering variety of fingerless gloves. One pair had the tiniest of windows cut into the leather over the fingernail, the better to showcase the latest brand of Chanel nail polish – a rich red called Accessoire, a bottle of which was handed to each show attendee in a beribboned Chanel bag. The devil is in the detail, and Lagerfeld is not one to miss a trick.

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Monday, 18 March 2013

Caryn Franklin: My double life as a carer

Caryn Franklin Fashion expert Caryn Franklin at home in west London. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen's 2013 New Year honours list. Photograph: Chris Floyd

In her late 20s, Caryn Franklin fell madly in love. Mandu Saldaan was a few years younger. "Mandu was this very politicised, handsome young man and I was this easy-going middle-class girl. He was mixed race and proudly working class, a writer from Hackney, working on a film called Young Soul Rebels, which was all about race and music. It went on to win the critics' prize at the Cannes film festival. I was so attracted to his thinking. It was a brilliant intellectual lust."

From the outset it was not a relaxed relationship and Caryn wasn't sure it would continue. "There was this one thing he would do which made me feel very special. He would just grab me and hold on to me in the street. He was always telling me that he didn't like public displays of affection, so I thought, I'm that special that he's hugging me in the street for five minutes.

"What I didn't know was that he was already having numbness in one of his legs. He needed me for balance."

Six months into the relationship, Mandu was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"The diagnosis was basically: 'Sorry, you've got MS. There's nothing we can do. When you need a wheelchair, you will come back and tell us, won't you?'

"That was it. We had only been together for six months and were already struggling to get on. But I didn't think about that. I just went into Nurse Caryn mode for the next four years."

By the time the Cannes film festival came around, Mandu was too ill to go.

"He didn't have any support. His mother was in the US, he has no siblings and no father. So he became my charge. He was losing the use of his eyes and his legs. It was a crisis situation. I was in south London and he was in north London and needed help getting around, so it made sense that we moved in together. By then I was driven by the desire to make everything better for him. It never occurred to me that I could leave or that I should leave, even though the relationship was in tatters."

They set up home in Hackney, east London. Leaving became even less of an option. "He stopped earning. The despair and the depression kicked in. So I was financing both of us. I was never planning to go on the telly but at this point we were looking at big Harley Street bills and television was offering more than magazine work. I had this surreal life where I was on primetime telly every week and returning to this war zone where his frustrations about his health hung thick in the air. It became a very destructive environment for both of us."

By this point, Caryn was presenting The Clothes Show on BBC1, which ran between 1986 and 1998. As life at home became increasingly difficult, she had an idea that gave her hope. "Deciding to become a parent was a conscious choice. I sat down and said to Mandu, 'I have given up a lot. But I am not willing to give this up. And I'm offering you a future here. Here is something that will give you joy.'"

When she went into hospital to have their daughter, Mateda, Mandu was with her. But he was too ill to participate in the birth. "Two months after Mateda was born, we were in crisis. I had a full-time job and took my newborn with me. In the evenings I returned to care for him and we argued incessantly. It brought us to breaking point. I said to him, 'This can't go on any longer.'

"Eventually he went to live with his mother and then into supervised 24-hour care in a specially adapted home. For the last 19 years he has had full-time care."

Caryn, 54, went on to marry Ian Denyer, a film-maker, and they have a daughter, Roseby, 13. Mateda, 20, lives with them in their west London home. Caryn is now known as an activist and campaigner. When she met Mandu in the 1980s she was fashion editor and then co-editor of i-D magazine. She has since co-chaired Fashion Targets Breast Cancer for 17 years, come up with the idea for the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion and co-founded All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an initiative promoting "diverse beauty ideals". On 12 March, she will collect an MBE "for services to diversity in the fashion industry".

Behind all this "glamour-with-a-conscience" activity, Mandu's illness has loomed large. For many years she and Mateda visited twice a week. He lost the ability to speak when his daughter was a baby. "Towards the end of my pregnancy, there was a point where I recognised that his voice was starting to go. I felt the urgency to keep some part of him for Mateda to know. I said, 'Put your voice on tape.' And I would say, 'You're a writer, write to this baby.'

He never managed those things. At the point where she was learning to speak, he fell silent. So she has never had a message from him and has struggled to make a connection with him.

Caryn Franklin and family Caryn Franklin in the early 90s with her former partner Mandu Saldaan and their daughter, Mateda

"When she was little we would take him out in his wheelchair and she'd sit in his lap, even though the tremors meant that she would sometimes get knocked in the face. When she was 12 and he was very poorly, she plucked up the courage to say, 'I find it so hard to see him like this.' And I decided to honour what she was asking for.

"For years we both visited frequently. Now I mostly see him alone and, yes, a great deal less. I often find myself thinking that the gift he wanted to give his child is not the gift he has ended up giving – Mateda has seen all her life the example of a body in deterioration so she understands what happens when a perfectly healthy body stops serving you."

This has been the backdrop to Caryn's campaigning stance on fashion. "It was an education about the body for me. What happens when the body can't support you any more? I became so grateful for my health because of this daily reminder of what happens when it is not there. That has always informed how I approach what I do. Fashion is not just about superficial messages defining appearance. It's also about personal identity and self-esteem."

She lectures design students about airbrushing, the power of imagery and the need to cut clothes for real women, not just for size zero mannequins: stealth feminism she calls it. It's all part of this drive to celebrate diversity in all its forms, she says. "I'm just one of those people who needs a purpose. I always think, what am I doing and why am I doing it? What I love about fashion is that you can celebrate being an individual.

"We have this culture completely in service to profit and return, which depends on one rigid physical ideal. But I know everybody gets something out of seeing a broader range of bodies, skin tones and ages – because they come up in the street and tell me."

"I have had this amazing education in a way. When I first met Mandu he ramped up my thinking. It was completely linked with falling in love. He had this razor-sharp brain, which would always get to the bottom line. That was one of his sayings, 'Babes, what's the bottom line?' He would say it in this really thick Hackney accent. He would laugh at me and say: 'Here comes the BBC presenter, voice of the Empire,' and mimic a 1950s debutante accent."

Mandu is now immobile and fed through tubes. "There was a time when Mateda was six that we thought he wouldn't live much longer. He must have an incredibly strong body that he's still here in silent dignity all these years later. He can barely communicate but has an incredibly strong will to be here."

In his own family, Mandu's illness has left a powerful, positive legacy.

"Mateda has said that she feels like she's one of the only ones in her circle who doesn't have body-image anxieties. She'll tend to think – as I do – if only you appreciated what your body can do instead of wasting your time on minor imperfections! Mandu's influence has been a gift to both of my daughters. Because Roseby grew up around him too. We didn't know it would turn out to be a gift from him. But it has, and that is something for us all to celebrate together."

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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Saint Laurent at Paris fashion week: What did the critics say?

Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent show at Paris fashion week. Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent show at Paris fashion week. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Jess Cartner-Morley, the Guardian's fashion editor, applauded the controversial choice of grunge as a much-needed brand-change the legendary fashion house had been striving for, while still keeping in the ethos of Yves Saint Laurent:

"Slimane delivered the punch that was expected of him – albeit a fashionable six months late. Yves Saint Laurent himself was a rebel within the fashion industry. For Slimane to alight upon an era in which YSL has no particular relevance is, therefore, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the house. There was a bold energy and a youthful iconoclasm to this collection … In California, where Slimane lives and to where he has moved the design studio, nineties grunge is a deeply felt part of everyday folklore; but in Paris, it is an abstract concept."

Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent show at Paris fashion week. Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent show at Paris fashion week. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

The Cut's Stella Bugbee thought the dishevelled styling was a sharp move, and commended Slimane's assertiveness:

"The message was literally loud, clear, and confident: Anyone expecting something 'more traditionally YSL' can piss off. Hedi has firmly asserted himself at the house. He's doing Hedi, and that's okay. This is a lifestyle brand for musicians and those who want to hang out with them"

Rebecca Lowthorpe at Elle saw the California grunge collection as of its time:

"Just as Yves Saint Laurent tapped into the mood of the moment, reflected the shifts in women's independence and liberation – with the trouser suit, leather jacket and many more, all of which were shockingly new at the time – was Slimane not reflecting the current status quo?"

Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent show at Paris fashion week. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters reported that the "use of expensive clothes to achieve a deliberately down-market attitude" is evidence of Saint Laurent aiming at a younger audience, but questioned if such a gamble could contend with the big players, asking:

"Is playing a cutesy, disaffected-youth hand enough to propel the house of Saint Laurent into today's luxury stratosphere – especially if the targeted air space is that in which Chanel and Dior reside?"

Susannah Frankel, writing for Grazia, thought the show exhibited youthfulness but still retained appeal for Saint Laurent's established audience:

"The core Saint Laurent customer, meanwhile, may not quite be ready for an indecent hem line … but she'll cut quite a dash in a beautifully cut Nappa trench coat"

Melanie Rickey thought the show was far from original:

Writing for, Hamish Bowles complimented the presentation but thought the collection left the audience hanging:

"It was certainly a bravura exercise in styling … but one longed for a few more design twists on the Yves borrowings."

Bowles also made comparisons with the work of the house's original designer:

"[Yves'] work was always shot through with innate class, and this collection – doubtless luxurious in the hand and elegantly merchandised in the showroom – looked at times a little too contemporary market on the runway."

Tim Blanks at, while suggesting that many people on the frow weren't troubled by the collection's nostalgia, was concerned by the the lack of anything really new.

"Almost nothing looked new. Which didn't trouble Alexandra Richards, Alison Mosshart, and Sky Ferreira in the least. Such dream clients were all thrilled by what they'd seen. "That's the way I dress anyway," was their party line on the baby dolls, the schoolgirl slips, the vintage florals, the random mash-ups of sloppy cardigans, plaid shirts, and sparkly dresses accessorized with ironic strings of pearls and black bows, fishnets and biker boots. All well and good, and money in the bank for retailers etc., etc., but anyone expecting the frisson of the future that Slimane once provided would have to feel let down yet again."

The best reaction of the night was surely from the collection's muse Courtney Love, who publicly tweeted her approval – direct to the man of the hour:

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Friday, 15 March 2013

Kirstie Allsopp: Too posh to push caesarean label 'unfair'

On Saturday The Daily Telegraph reported that caesarean rates were as high as one in three in some hospitals in middle-class areas.

But responding in a letter to the paper, the presenter of the Channel 4 programme Location, Location, Location argued: “The phrase ‘Too posh to push’ does nothing to ease the distress of women who may have been through a very traumatic experience and major abdominal surgery.”

She noted that caesareans were “more common when mothers are older, something that is more likely in affluent areas, and have had medicalised conceptions”.

The presenter, who gave birth to her first son at 34 and her second at 36, said she had little genuine choice in them both being by C-section.

The first was an emergency procedure while in the second she was strongly advised to have a caesarean, because of the baby’s position during pregnancy.

She wrote: “The current obsession with how a baby is born and fed can lead to huge distress on the part of women who feel that they have failed to give birth “naturally” or are unable to breastfeed.

“We should all look to celebrate the safe delivery of a baby, and be thankful that we have easy access to a procedure which saves countless lives.”

Speaking on Sunday, she said: "In 2010 the National Childbirth Trust undertook a survey and found that 32 per cent of its attendees had caesareans. That's among those who are looking to have a 'natural' birth."

She thought this was because those going to NCT classes tended to be older than average.

She said the stigmitisation of women who had caesareans was an important issue because new mothers went through a period of "extraordinary vulnerability".

"To be thinking that you have somehow failed by having a caesarean, and you are 'too posh to push', does not help," said Allsopp.

Nationally, 25 per cent of babies are now born by caesarean, up from nine per cent in 1980.

Part of this is driven by demographics: there are more older mothers than there were. There are also more overweight and obese mothers, which doctors know increases the chance of needing a caesarean.

However, two years ago researchers from the Government’s Medical Research Council claimed there was evidence that it was driven by demand too.

While 30 years ago mothers having caesareans "were more likely to come from deprived social backgrounds", by 2000 they were more likely to be from "higher social classes", said Ruth Dundas, of the MRC.

But NHS statistics show the proportion of planned caesareans has actually dropped slightly since 1980, from 44 to 40 per cent.

Other research indicates that women rarely actively choose them, and that more than nine in 10 are performed on medical advice.

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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Sarah Burton brings ceremonial splendour to Alexander McQueen

Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen in Paris A model wears a Sarah Burton dress for Alexander McQueen during the autumn/winter ready-to-wear collection show in Paris. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

In fashion as in comedy, timing is everything. Sarah Burton, designer of Alexander McQueen, found herself with a scheduling issue when the due date of her twin daughters clashed with McQueen's slot at Paris fashion week, a situation the brand resolved by downsizing this season's show to a small presentation of 10 outfits. But in another sense, her timing could not have been more apt. Her collection was based on ecclesiastical wear, a hyperstyled, ultra-chic take on the wardrobes of popes and nuns, on cardinals' robes and communion gowns. (Burton has already pulled off a fashion coup when she dressed the Duchess of Cambridge for her wedding; is a commission for the next papal inauguration so very far fetched?)

This being McQueen, the grand gowns had more than a hint of the gilded cage about them. The models' heads were enclosed in diamond-patterned gilded cages, studded with teardrop pearls; their bodies within embroidered bodices, and hoop skirts. The fishnet tights studded with pearls might be a little risque for the Holy City, but the ornate ruffs and lavishly cartridge-pleated skirts were redolent of pomp and ceremony.

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Stella McCartney gets straight to the point in Paris show

Stella McCartney Stella McCartney's autumn-winter 2013 collection hits the catwalk during Paris fashion week. Photograph: Alfred/SIPA/Rex Features

Stella McCartney is the type of person to get straight to the point.

The power play between masculine and feminine codes in fashion, territory the British designer has always prowled, has been a recurring theme of this fashion season. So at her Paris Opera house catwalk show, McCartney cut to the chase.

The first outfit was a double-breasted pinstripe suit, the traditional uniform of the gentleman's club and of the most male-dominated workplaces. But into the skirt was inserted an extra circular swirl of fabric which gave a soft, swaying movement as it moved; double-sided stretch material hugged the waist to give the jacket a curving silhouette.

"I didn't just want to take feminine elements and stick them on to a masculine silhouette," McCartney said backstage after the show, "Because that's not how it works. I believe all women have a masculine side to their personality, but that it comes from within them. It's about inner strength, not about surface. So I wanted the flicks and kicks that represent femininity to come from within the pinstripe, rather than be an afterthought.

"A collection is always about an emotion, rather than a look."

"Feistiness?", suggested one reporter. McCartney, precise in all things, shook her head. "No, it's not feisty exactly. That's too aggressive. It's more about an inner strength that runs beneath femininity."

One of the designer's first internships was at Christian Lacroix, the most lavishly flounced and ribboned of Parisian houses, another was with a Savile Row tailor, and both aesthetics run through her label.

Notwithstanding some Stella classics – the grey wool sweater dress, this season with black lace inserts; the coloured coat, this season in deep violet – the centre of gravity of this label continues to shift towards eveningwear. The label has a growing presence on the red carpet, and the modern approach that has won McCartney celebrity fans is bringing in paying customers also.

The designer recently noted that eveningwear can be tricky as much of it tends to be either prematurely ageing, or inappropriately over-youthful. Having identified a gap in the market for eveningwear which is neither deadly sober nor absurdly whimsical, she is making clothes to fill it.

And eveningwear was a highlight of this show, with softly gathered silk dresses in the strapless silhouette enjoying a renaissance led by Raf Simons at Dior, and smartly tailored cocktail pieces with lapel detailing borrowed from the traditions of men's tailoring.

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