Anne Perkins, political commentator and leader writer for the Guardian
I always thought serious fashion was about beautiful clothes for beautiful people and took place mainly on the pages of Vogue. This week I realised it in fact lies in the uncertain territory somewhere between art and politics.
It was reading interviews with the two leading young designers Demna Gvasalia (from Georgia) and Gosha Rubchinskiy (from Russia) that did it. Their stories read as if they are straight out of Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich – the book about the transformation of Soviet to consumerist Russia by which I am completely absorbed at the moment – and I am entranced by the idea that the unprecedented peacetime dislocation should be reflected in fashion designed by people who lived through it. I will never get dressed in quite the same way again. Nor will I be spending £700 on one of their hoodies, but I will understand that the price is part of the absurdity of the world that the designers are creating.
There was a time when I thought clothes were probably more important than food. I had a wild optimism about the transformational power of a new dress. I also had no money and there were no charity shops, although there were dress agencies where, if you were lucky, you could find Chanel or Dior for a fraction of their original price. But labels did not belong in my world, and it didn’t occur to me to mix them with the high street.
Also, I was rubbish with money. My early shopping career ended up with the threat of court action, a memorably unpleasant negotiation with a bank manager, and a lasting overdraft phobia.
That’s my excuse for wearing, for years and years, the dullest and most invisible clothes anyone could imagine. Not that I stood out: by then, in the late 80s, I was working as a reporter in the House of Commons, and female journalists, like female MPs, were so uncommon, it seemed preferable to be unobserved than leered at by male MPs in the corridors of power which we thought of as the Reeperbahn.
Switching it: Anne in Balenciaga dress, Gosha Rubchinskiy sweatshirt, Vetements jacket and Chiara Ferragni boots
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Anne switches to Balenciaga dress, Gosha Rubchinskiy sweatshirt, Vetements jacket and Chiara Ferragni boots
Mainly I bought intensely conservative suits, usually from somewhere like Jaeger. Occasionally I could afford Margaret Howell, and some of her clothes still hang in my wardrobe. To satisfy my money paranoia, I wanted everything to last for ever. I recognise something of myself in Angela Merkel’s familiar trouser suit.
When I did break out, it usually had catastrophic consequences. In the same way that people trying to give up alcohol never fall off the wagon discreetly, I would opt for terrifying colour combinations (“You look like the flag of a newly independent country,” a colleague once observed) or heels so high I couldn’t actually walk home from the tube.
But then I started working from home. For a couple of years I wore nothing but sweaters and jeans. It was a kind of detox. When I started working at the Guardian, where some colleagues are extremely creative about the limits of office dress, it was a kind of liberation.
I hung on to the things I really loved, though, and they became the base of my new style. It still leans towards the conservative and classic, but it is much more considered, and it is about how I want to look rather than how I think I ought to look.
I rarely pass Cos or Whistles without stopping to look. It is easy to combine their distinctive shapes with stuff I already have. It is also practical: shoes I can walk in – brogues and trainers – and cashmere because I love its feel and the air conditioning in the office is icy. I do occasionally buy expensive clothes, most recently an Erdem dress. I love the way the heavy fabric falls and the sleekness of the cut.