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The candyman cometh
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 09 - 2004

By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Children drool and drivel at the sight of the canny candyman, with his multi-coloured treasures of sugary bonbons, bubble gum, cotton candy and sugar plum. Adults too have their own version of the candyman. His saccharine licorice and lollipops cause them to slobber and slabber in anticipation of masticating his many treats. He is the artful high priest of the haut monde and beau monde, the Fashion Designer who determines La Grande Mode.
The 20th century gave birth to Couture -- Haute Couture, Maisons de Couture, Couturier, etc, etc, etc. Now they are legion. Their numbers multiply with every decade, their power swells as their fortunes expand. They minister and officiate, preach and pontificate ad infinitum, season after season, transforming us from gaudy to gorgeous, garish to groomed, or so we believe.
Among us there are those who love, live and breathe by fashion alone. Upon the declaration of the season's "Bill of Rights", they rush to their respective marbled altars of Couture Temples and lay down their sacred offerings, checks, cash, plastic cards in exchange for the look of the season -- le dernièr cri!
The first Bill in the Constitution of Fashion is Colour. The votes are in and the college of couture cardinals has declared The Colour Purple (1985) -- Prince of Fall. Rejoice! It is Purple Rain (1984) -- or reign -- again, as it was in the royal 1980s. Every shade of purple will cover all your eclectic needs from topcoats to ankle boots. Empurpled in amethyst, violet, gridelin, mauve, not to mention plum and prune, delphinium and periwinkle, lavender and lilac, blooming in the smartest window shops in many shapes and styles. Lilac is the most ubiquitous, seek it in coats, suits, pants, tops, vests, shawls, scarves, tights and shoes.
Next on the Constitutional order is Texture, and the texture of the season is Tweed. You know tweed, a two-coloured wool yarn fabric, rough, thick and heavy, used for conventional men's wear, or grandma's old coats. Wild, woolly and warm, tweed is the elegant English contrast to spring romantics. Before you start to yawn, modern tweed makes a complete departure from its traditional dullness. No longer rough, thick and heavy in old style colours of brown, rust or olive, today's tweed is vibrant in jewel tones of fuchsia, royal blue, turquoise and pastels and lighter in cotton and silk. If it still leaves you cold, try houndstooth or checks, always borrowing from men's fabrics.
Style is last but not least. Mothers will be happy to know that cleavage is out, propriety is in. Models showed less skin for the young in a more buttoned-up ladylike demure style. No more sexually aggressive fashion of the Britney Spears-Madonna mould. Think instead of stylish icons of 1950s and 1960s chic, Jackie O, Princess Grace. Fitted and shaped waist-styling, narrow knee-length skirts, and high heels return the sexiness to a strict Edwardian style.
Men too succumb to the dictates of Fashion's gurus and grand viziers, and tweed again reigns. Stripes are a good alternative. Suits, shirts, ties, socks, display wide or narrow stripes, bright or dark stripes, fat or thin stripes as well as diagonal, vertical, horizontal. The suit is a new, narrower, leaner, shorter look. Out goes your treasured Hugo Boss loose fitting jacket: "the hand must extend from your suit, now." Double breast is also out and new narrow ties are required for your fall new look. Striped and purple ties over striped or purple shirts with your narrow striped suit and you are ready for "puttin' on the Ritz".
A whirlwind tour of Fashion capitals confirms that "everything old is new again!" as most pay homage to La Belle Epoque as well as the rest of the 20th century.
Paris continues to lead, selling couture dreams and champagne perfumes to the masses, superbly, skilfully and successfully. Ironically no one does French fashion better than Teutonic Herr Lagerfeld. He has revived Mademoiselle's Maison, keeping it leader of the pack of ultimate chic. "La Parisienne" opts for chanel's white wool, angora tweed coat, a stunning example of effortless elegance. He remains the best at providing us with beautiful simple silhouettes.
The same does not apply to the other caretaker of a great name in French Couture. The eccentric Italian, John Galliano has regularly disappointed devotées of Fashion's grand duke, Christian Dior, "as he continues his seemingly unstoppable destruction of the House of Dior in the most horrifying display of poor taste". Critics' advice -- "stay away from Dior."
The right designer for this season's frills and flounces, ribbons and ruffles, is no other than Christian La Croix. He glories in all the satin and lace, he savours all the finery and frippery, adding his own brand of colours and jewels. He even adds broderie Anglaise to masculine cut trench coats.
Milan showed the best of 20th century vintage from the 1900's Belle Epoque to the 1930s, 1950s, and 1980s. Fur is everywhere, fox, ferret or fleece. Even faux fur is chic, although the market will accommodate your every extravagance.
Prada captured the culture of a rich European heritage with her historical costuming enhanced with modern twists of velvet and brocade. Coats are jewel encrusted at collars and belts. Her fitted, shaped, waist styling is exceptionally feminine, a welcome line for hour-glass figures. She fancied brooches everywhere, on belts, bags, pockets, even jeans.
While London can still set trends, its dominance in Fashion has waned, attracting only 25 per cent of store buyers. Jasper Conran's Equestrian designs emphasize the strict look of the season and his Lord of the Rings ' sweeping cape was a winner. Belted coats are back in style, so is the trench coat -- Burberry, rejoice!
Why New York is stealing Europe's fashion thunder is another subject, but it is. Not only are the masses following New York fashion, but more and more of Europe's Coutures are opting to show there, since 50 per cent of their sales are made in the USA. You will undoubtedly catch their trends in stores and boutiques everywhere, from the ladylike elegance of Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera to the street savvy of Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. So what are the New York trends? Like their compadres across the ocean they are bringing back elegance and style and they too have discovered that the reserved, restrained look is not sheepish but sexy. Bright colours abound and luxury tweed glitters with jewel encrusted belts, fur trimmed suits, cinched waistlines; in ponchos, capes, pencil thin skirts and lots of metals. Michael Kors's fur bags are the cat's meow.
We can breathe a sigh of relief that designers have regained their sense of elegance and recaptured the culture of chic. The question now is what to buy, discard, revive or keep. A belted trench coat or a well-cut well-tailored tweed is the backbone of your wardrobe. Throw a fur collar; et voil� -- perfection! A tweedy suit cinched at the waist, a pencil thin skirt covering the knees, with high, high heels and all the frills that make prim, sexy. Fur is everywhere in boxers, vests, gilets; on collars, pockets and cuffs. So are brooches, stick them wherever you please, on buttons, belts, pockets, jeans and blouses, and even shoulders and lapels. Keep every chiffon item in place and those animal prints too -- zebra stripes and leopard spots are best.
Croc is the richest material to match your tweed in handbags and shoes. Mock croc in alligator and snakeskin is affordable. Paint your eyes smoky, your lips scarlet, and you are ready for your Vanity Fair (2004).
Button up and cover up and before you walk out the door, take one last look. Remove one item, from the sublime to the ridiculous is only one step -- the aim is to look good, not gaudy.
Keep your perspective as you step out in your best vintage style, � la recherche du temps perdu. There is more to life than Fashion.
Last Bill of Rights:
Elegance is eternally seductive,/
invariably turns heads.
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