Thursday, April 15, 2010

Strange shades for a colourful summer

It’s going to be a summer of interesting colour combos. I know this because last week, the advance-intelligence department of my brain suddenly compelled me to buy a blazer in an eye-socking shade of canary. Yellow is a colour I’ve always regarded as nauseating, vulgar and unwearable. Yet there was this jacket, hanging in the Aquascutum sale, speaking to me. Though nobody loved it and it was reduced to £15, it was telling me it could actually look great, if worn with beige, stone or taupe. Perhaps it would work, in a Seventies-redux way, with navy trousers, too, I found myself reasoning. And heck, what is fashion if not about change and experiment – and flying in the face of your own preconceived ideas once in a while?
As it turned out, that counter-intuitive, counter-everything impulse turned up trumps. That jacket really does give new life and relevance to my two-year-old YSL chinos and, worn with a white vest, the whole thing looks fresh. I suppose it was one of those ideas that seeps in at the corner of your eye while your conscious mind is busy deleting it, but since my yellow epiphany, I’ve been registering the fact that all sorts of peculiar colours are appearing this summer.
Roksanda Ilincic designed apple-green and yellow dresses for Whistles; Alber Elbaz has tangerine and pink dresses at Lanvin; and there were potentially sickly pastels in Chanel’s summer couture show that looked lovely. These weird shades aren’t blindingly bright, and definitely not neon, and now I come to look at them properly, they’re all part of a significant, taste-changing spinning of the colour-wheel that’s going on.
The flipside of it is the in-rush of good-taste, barely-there shades of camel, caramel, tan and nude – hoity-toity, sophisticated colours that seem the total opposite of the vivid and vulgar. Yet, as it turns out, they’re actually made for one another. The way to make yellow, orange or grass-green clothes look exciting is to downplay them with neutral shoes, bags and skinny belts. (Matching or tonal shades would be fatal, unless you wanted to fit in at Aintree.) And vice versa: to stop “nothing” colours making you fade into the background, what you need is the odd spark of funny colour. I’d do it with an orange bag, myself.
Admittedly, it takes a bit of daring to work colour this way, and if it hadn’t come to me at £15, I’d never have tried. Still, there are low-risk, low-cost ways into it, too. Lipstick is one: I love Chanel’s slightly tangerine Cambon, which was given out at the last couture show – a colour I nearly threw out, but now find looks great in spring-light. The other is nail polish. Essie has colours which make a perfect “off” clash with summer’s odd shades: eau-de-nil green, blancmange-pink and a weird blue-grey.
Memo to trouser-preferring sisters: start turning out your cupboards now. Somewhere in there, I’m convinced you’ll find a Nineties pair or two which will allow you to stride ahead of fashion in a satisfyingly annoying way. Tailored trousers and boot-leg pants – previously the domain of Helmut Lang and Tom Ford in the Nineties – are top desirables for next season. Actually, why did I say that? Truth is, they already are. The reaction to autumn’s collections is in: death to the drop-crotch, baggy bottom and harem pant. Normal trousers are what we want, urgently.
If you happen to have Nineties “vintage” pairs that are still viable, I say press your advantage right away, because the new trend isn’t easy to purchase yet. I’ve scrambled around the internet for man-tailored peg-tops or graduated flares – and it’s tough to find the right thing. Burberry and Diane von Furstenberg both have boot-cuts, but they have something of the air of office attire about them. The best I’ve found are from Stella McCartney, who is something of a goddess when it comes to tailoring trousers with a flattering fit. I’m living in a pair of black stretch kick-flares of hers from last season, and am ready to get my hands on any of the slouchy men’s trousers she put on her runway for spring. It’s the perfect time of year for it – transitional weather, when it seems too miserable to be still wearing opaque tights, yet too chilly to be going out bare-legged.
An ovation is due to three British women fashion and beauty entrepreneurs who have all had gigantic pay days in the past couple of weeks.
Cath Kidston, 51, sold her flowery Fifties-flavoured fabrics and accessories business to a private equity firm for £100million; Natalie Massenet, 44, of Net-a-Porter, the online luxury fashion retailer, made £52million when she sold to the French luxury goods conglomerate, Richemont; and Liz Earle, 47, who invented the Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare range from the Isle of Wight, sold for an undisclosed, but doubtless substantial, sum to Avon.
What they have in common is the fact that they all came up with their business ideas in the Nineties and grew quietly by concentrating on what they believed in, and with their inside-out knowledge of how women live, think and want to shop.
All of them have a personal touch: Net-a-Porter delivering gift-wrapped goodies to try on at home; Cath Kidston winning girly hearts by extending the charm of her flowery wallpaper and bedlinen, and building it into a “world” from one tiny shop; and Liz Earle by owning one mega-successful cult product (her Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser) in a collection which started off as a mail-order enterprise from her home.
Even more impressively, all these women-for-women businesses have bucked the recession. They have emerged in the kind of well-run shape that is attractive to investors, now in the mood for spending again on acquisitions that look as if they can go much further internationally.
None of these women have done it by throwing their weight around or becoming loud-mouthed retail celebrities. Each one has, in the rather awful phrase, simply stuck to her knitting, and delivered something special, and of today, in ways men could never have achieved.

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