Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Beauty and the beast


I've been re-reading Angela Carter -- 'The Bloody Chamber' -- as well as Grimm's fairy tales, and some more Hans Christian Andersen. All of which is sometimes floating at the back of my mind when I write about fashion in the Sunday Telegraph. Here's last week's column in Stella, in case anyone is interested:

If fashion is a stock market in which shares in certain staples rise and fall, according to whim, emotion, and possibly the economy, then animal prints are riding high right now. The reasons are hard to fathom; the last time I noticed such a plethora of the stuff was in 2002, when the Yves St Laurent spring collection, at that time designed by Tom Ford, was awash with leopard prints. (Kaftans, skirts, dresses, bikinis, blouses: you name it, they were spotted.) The High Street swung into action, consumers snapped at the bait, and by the autumn of that year, Theresa May was flaunting leopard-print heels from Russell & Bromley as she strode onto the platform of the Conservative Party Conference.

The Right Honourable Member for Maidenhead clearly has a thing about the look – last October she wore animal print wellies on the opening day of the conference, and disco-danced the following evening in a matching leopard jacket and shoes. You have to admire her confidence, but even so, the outfit was a reminder that a little leopard goes a long way. Get it wrong, and the effect is more kitsch than chic.

Still, that doesn’t answer the question of why the shops are overflowing with animal prints this year, from Miss Selfridge to Sonia Rykiel. Perhaps it’s simply cyclical – a British winter approaches, so let’s pretend we’re in a tropical fantasy. Or maybe it’s a defence mechanism: as the recession bites and a credit crunch threatens to chew us up, we’re buying fake leopard skins, either as camouflage or in the hope of fighting back.

There are all manner of archetypes at play here, which could inspire several new reinterpretations of Beauty and the Beast; except Angela Carter has already done them in her marvellous short story, ‘The Tiger’s Bride’. (“And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.”)

That’s the fairy tale version, but the reality can be more disappointing, as I discovered when I recently found myself in Oasis, having retreated there from a violent downpour of rain. The shop was filled with enticing animal prints, including a caramel fake fur jacket; I reached out, stroked it, slipped into it... But when I looked in the mirror, the reflection was not of a foxy lady, but a tragically drowned cat.

15 comments:

Gondal-girl said...

It is a particular woman that can pull off a fur. I love The Bloody Chamber, it is so rich. I once almost bought a fox fur, as a substitute pet, but couldn't bring myself too, its poor little face. Settled for just strokes when I went past the shop.

Justine Picardie said...

I couldn't ever bring myself to wear real fur, but I do have a lovely toffee-coloured fake fur coat that my husband gave me about ten years ago, and I've been wearing it on a daily basis for the last month, because the weather has been so cold here. It's not hugely shaggy -- more like fake shearling -- but it's very comforting on a raw day in winter.
I wonder if Angela Carter wore fox fur? I can imagine her doing so...

Justine Picardie said...

PS. Angela Carter was an inspirational writer on fashion, amongst many other things. Reading her essays as a teenager made me really think about clothes -- about what we wear, and what lies beneath.

Gondal-girl said...

Yes, I agree it is unethical to wear fur, however I did read somewhere in Australia they export a lot of fox fur to Europe, from feral foxes ( they are cute, but very destructive), so perhaps that is a bit more environmental/ethical for the time being ( though it throws up a whole lot more questions if the feral foxes ever run out)

Angela Carter is the business isn't she. I know some of her work is a little dated, but it is pure magic. I can't recall her essays on fashion, can you recommend which ones, intriguing.

Justine Picardie said...

She used to write for a magazine called New Society, which my mother bought, and wrote some great pieces on things like red lipstick and Sixties style.

Gondal-girl said...

I shall have a rummage about in her collected non-fiction somewhere and see if I can find. Summer holidays soon...

kairu said...

It takes a certain style to pull off fur or animal prints, which I lack. I did wear a fake shearling-lined coat when I lived in snow-blanketed upstate New York.

I do have a wonderful cashmere scarf with a leopard print done in shades of gray, very very subtle. It's one of my favorite things.

I will have to get some of Angela Carter's writing to add to my already overflowing to-read list.

Justine Picardie said...

You could start with The Bloody Chamber, which is her collection of short stories -- they don't take long to read, but linger well after you've put the book down.
And yes: animal print scarves! The best way to go!

kairu said...

My copy of The Bloody Chamber just arrived. I can't wait to dive in.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

I first discovered Angela Carter through The Magic Toyshop, which for some reason was stuck in the childrens' section of my school library (I think the title and the fact that the blurb featured the words 'orphan' and 'puppet' might have had something to do with that), and I remember thinking it was just one of the most brilliant things I'd ever read.
It's not surprising to learn that she was brilliant on the subject of fashion- I've never been able to forget the scene with the wedding dress at the start of The Magic Toyshop, and I last read it a clear nine years ago.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

And speaking of animal print scarves, there's a sheer ocelot/leopard print one wrapped around my head just now. I'm rather fond of it, but I do like the fact that the pattern is vague thanks to the sheerness- if the fabric were opaque, I'd be in danger of looking like I'm costumed for Bollywood (more so since I'm Indian).

Justine Picardie said...

I think vague leopard print is the way forward. The only subtle way to do it. I'm wishing I had a scarf like yours...

kevinhil123 said...

As well as being a prolific writer of fiction, Carter contributed many articles to The Guardian, The Independent and New Statesman, collected in Shaking a Leg.

online writing | academic writing | writing paper

Carmina said...

I loved those vintages, I love the wolf on one of them, they are beautiful and the beast motif I really like, maybe I can make a vintage with a picture of my dog Sildenafil and share it with you!

Willie Sager said...

Nice post with awesome points! Can’t wait for the next one.

HP - 13.3" Folio Ultrabook Laptop - 4GB Memory - 128GB Solid State Drive - Steel Gray