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.