Saturday, 23 May 2009

Shoes to do battle in...


I don't often post my fashion writing here -- but I do write a column every week for the Sunday Telegraph called Closet Thinker, and this one might interest some of you.
One of the reasons I like writing for Stella (the Sunday Telegraph magazine) is that the editing process is very civilised. You'll see that there's a translation at the end of this column, and I got the following email from one of the subeditors (I hope she won't mind me repeating it here). She suggested that instead of the translation I'd originally used ('by her gait was the goddess revealed'), that it might be rephrased (you'll see what I mean in the final line of the column).
This is her very courteous message:
"On investigation I discover this is indeed closer to the Latin ('incessu patuit dea').
Of course, translation is not an exact science ('Les traductions sont comme les femmes. Lorsqu'elles sont belles, elles ne sont pas fidèles, et lorsqu'elles sont fidèles elles ne sont pas belles), but do you think that as well as being more 'accurate' it is also more poetic-sounding? (the French quote above notwithstanding...)
Your call - it's just a suggestion!"
By the way, the shoes in the picture (above) are Christian Louboutin, and I have just bought them in a sample sale. I love the red soles (good for the soul). Definitely splashes of happiness... not that I intend to splash the pale pink satin with anything that marks. In fact, where can I wear them? Probably not to the Bronte Parsonage Museum when I go there next week...



Who’d have thought that gladiator sandals, along with a plethora of Greco-Roman inspired fashions, should prove to have such staying power? I probably shouldn’t sound surprised – these are styles that have been around for several millennia – but there’s been such a preponderance for the last three summers that you’d expect the backlash to have started by now.

However, fashion’s appetite for classical references appears to be undiminished this season: draped goddess gowns at Donna Karan, Marios Schwab and Versace; mosaic Roman prints at Miu Miu, accompanied by a declaration by Miuccia Prada that ‘It’s time to investigate our history and European past’. Marios Schwab was rather more cryptic when he cited the chiton, a traditional Greek tunic, as inspiration for his current collection: ‘Cloth, rope and chain, if left in their natural state, would be mundane and almost irrelevant objects. Here, when applied and connected to each other, they form a bond; gaining both relevance and value… A refined desirable interpretation of the sinister side of desire.’

Confused? Me too, though Schwab’s dresses are very beautiful, as are those by Prada. They’re not historically accurate – this is fashion, rather than museum exhibits – but they do draw on a host of historical references, including the Grecian gowns designed by Vionnet and Gres in the Twenties and Thirties, as well as Halston’s reinvention of Roman decadence in the Studio 54 era of Seventies excess.

Perhaps a better explanation of why a classical inheritance still pervades 21st century culture comes from Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek at Cambridge, in the introduction to his book ‘Love, Sex & Tragedy”: ‘To be as beautiful as Venus, to enchant like a Siren, to strut like an Adonis, to be as strong as Hercules – these images ground our imagination and our language.’ From Renaissance scholars to Victorian artists, classical history and contemporary fantasy have entwined to create new versions of ancient ideals. Thus Sigmund Freud and Gianni Versace were both inspired by Medusa; Freud described the severed head as ‘the supreme talisman’ of castration, and heaven only knows what the founding father of psychoanalysis might have made of Versace’s appropriation of Medusa as emblematic of his fashion house.

So here we are again, in 2009, with a horde of gladiators striding across our television screens, down the catwalk and into the corridors of power. Witness Naomi Campbell in fierce gladiator sandals as the guest of Sarah Brown at a Downing Street dinner for the First Ladies at the G20 summit. To which one might quote Virgil: ‘By her gait was the goddess revealed…’

24 comments:

kairu said...

I love that you introduce Virgil in your fashion writing, and that even though you are talking about fashion, the subject of translation comes up!

I bought two pairs of flat gladiator-ish sandals for the summer - one by Antik Batik, with a fabulous strip of beads running down the top of the foot, attached to the sole and ankle with skinny black leather straps, the other a minimalist strappy sandal of a beautiful, glossy, intense cobalt blue leather lined in gold, from Barneys New York Co-op. Those Louboutins are stunning, though I probably wouldn't be able to stand up, let alone walk, in them.

Justine Picardie said...

Cobalt blue lined in gold -- sounds fabulous. And Antik Batik always good...

oxford-reader said...

I have a pair of red sandals, that are vaugely Greek-like. They are Clarks and have been to the Pere Lachaise cemetary and back with me, and the day they die, I will be very sad (people always say you should buy two pairs of shoes you like, but by the time you know these are the shoes for you, they're not being sold anymore!)

Knitting Out Loud said...

Literature, lipstick and high heels. I love your blog.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you! The 3 L's...
And I like the idea of the red sandals in a Parisian graveyard. Coco Chanel would have approved...

kairu said...

The three necessities of life!

Have you read the lovely book "Fashionable Savages," by John Fairchild? He describes Mademoiselle Chanel (the "Eighth Wonder of the World," then about eighty years old) as walking through the Bois du Boulogne on a Sunday afternoon, looking like a young girl. He writes her a note, is invited to lunch. She is a gazelle, a black swan. The book was published in the mid-sixties, and is hard to find, but so interesting to read about fashion in Paris and New York, the designers and fashionable women.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for the suggestion -- I didn't have the book, but have just ordered it on abe, along with Stravinsky's autobiography.

kairu said...

At one time, John Fairchild was known as the most terrifying man in fashion (while the editor of WWD, I think). The first part of Fashionable Savages is about Paris fashion, and the main designers of the time - Chanel, Dior, St. Laurent, Balenciaga, Cardin - interspersed with lovely details about living in Paris with his young family. Then he moves on to American designers, and then the fashionable women of the day. His other book, Chic Savages (published twenty years later), is not as interesting.

oxford-reader said...

What is it about fashion that makes it so synonymous with people being terrifying? There seem to be a few people out there, who have built their reputation on their ruthless attitude. Is it just because it is such a competative buisness?

Justine Picardie said...

Something about fashion as armour?

Knitting Out Loud said...

But it's also tribal. In a recent visit to NYC, most women were wearing the same coat (black mid-thigh quilted with fur-edged hood). Mine was bright red (so I won't get shot during hunting season, I live in rural Maine)and was like wearing a sign "not from NY".

oxford-reader said...

Sometimes it's good to distinguish yourself as not being from a certain place. But how interesting to think that wearing red means you won't get shot at - might not the shooters mistake you for an already wounded animal, and shoot anyway!!

kairu said...

I think in New York I would stand out in my fleece and omnipresent backpack!

I think it isn't just fashion that is ruled by reigns of terror - hence the popularity of Gordon Ramsay and the weekly spectacle of him shouting at someone in the kitchen - but then it is all about power. Although I sometimes find hard to connect Anna "Nuclear" Wintour with Polly Devlin's description of "a beautiful-limned big-eyed silent girl with hair like a polished blade."

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kairu said...

Justine, I saw Mary Oliver give a reading a few nights ago, here in Seattle, and she blew me away. The theater was nearly full (a 2,500-seat symphony hall), and you could hear a collective breath, sigh, laugh as she spoke. The murmur of appreciation as she announced "Wild Geese" was like a wave. I came away with a list of twenty-five poems to read and re-read. Onstage she is very funny, witty, as sharp as ever in her early 70's.

"Is the first date too early for a kiss?" was one of the audience questions afterwards. "Why wait for the first date," was her reply.

Justine Picardie said...

What a good line (about the first kiss.) Does she have a poem that is relevant to the question?
More answers, please, to the question!

oxford-reader said...

Kissing on a first date .... I think it depends on the situation. I know I've done it (not recently though, sob) but other first dates there was no way on earth you would catch me locking lips.
Also what Mary Oliver says about why waiting for the first date .... am I to take from this that Mary Oliver thinks people should kiss people they have just met, if they feel attracted. Surely that's a bit too confident. But then, I am British and repressed, as steryotypes would have you believe.

kairu said...

Hee. If Mary Oliver has a poem about first kisses, she didn't read it. (Although there was one poem: "Doesn't Every Poet Write a Poem About Unrequited Love?"). She has a very dry sense of humor, I think, and played up to her audience of devoted fans. (For some reason, one of the questions asked if she is an Episcopalian).

Several poems were quite short, written when she was recovering from a broken arm and had trouble typing. Some came from "Thirst," written out of grief for her longtime companion. Those were the ones that moved me most, those and the ones from "Red Bird," one of her more recent collections.

Also very funny are her poems about her dog, Percy. Especially the one about the time he ate a copy of the Bhagadavita.

Justine Picardie said...

When my dog was a puppy, she chewed up my favourite pair of red satin Christian Louboutin sling-backs. Why not the beaten-up grey canvas Converses?

kairu said...

My late, beloved dog used to make a nightly circuit of my bedroom after I turned out the lights, giving any book she found on the floor (there were always lots) an exploratory lick as she passed. I am grateful that she never ate my shoes, although she did like to play with my slippers.

oxford-reader said...

With Morgan, our old lab, I never had any shoes chewed, but a few of my most beloved teddies are now without ears, legs and fins (those would be the dolphins). But I wouldn't have changed the time I had with my great chocolate pudding for the world!

knittingoutloud said...

In Family Happiness by Laurie Colwin the heroine goes up to a man at an art opening, kisses him on the mouth then says, "I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else".

Primrose said...

I would like to see you wear them when you appear at the Parsonage museum, Justine. I love reading your Blog so much because the comments are always so informative and stimulating as well!

kevinhil123 said...

i have read a couple of your posts in Closet Thinker and have found em very interesting

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