Monthly Archives: April 2016

This season style

aaaAnne 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.

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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.

Having a muse galvanises

Iwas researching the autumn collection, looking for the boyish side of the story that best embodies the Chloé attitude. I looked at motocross and the more I looked, this one woman’s face kept coming up, in photographs that looked as if they were from the 1970s. That was Anne-France Dautheville. I looked deeper into her story and found out she was a Frenchwoman who decided to go solo on a bike through the Middle East, South America and Australia. She wasn’t the first one to do it but she was the first one to write about it – in the books Une Demoiselle sur une Moto and Et J’ai Suivi le Vent. She came from an aristocratic background and worked as a copywriter in a Parisian advertising agency and as a journalist, funding her trips through her writing.

We found out that Anne-France lived an hour from Paris and we went for lunch with her. Afterwards she brought out four or five boxes of slides and it became clear from those that she was such a Chloé woman. She reminded me of [Chloé founder] Gaby Aghion – feisty, with inner strength. She had things made for her – the leather safari jacket, very much like the one in the show, and the leather salopettes – but also took along beautiful dresses, high heels and kohl eyeliner. She said to me: “Even on a trip for 12,000 miles, I am a Parisienne.”

I was hugely inspired, especially by what she took on trips. I found her only five or six weeks before the show but she chimed with what I was working on because, although Chloé is very dreamy, Gaby was very spontaneous, a go-getter. And Anne-France had that in spades. She always wore a scarf and biker boots unless she was out to dinner. I used that for the show, and tried to capture her attitude, too – in the makeup, for example, all the models had kohl under their eyes.

Anne-France was surprised that I liked her photographs but I think they are charming because they aren’t professional – she’s taking pictures that mean something to her on a trip. There’s an innocence to that time in the 1970s, and there are joyful moments – photographs of her sitting with Afghan children with the bike next to her. She said no one from France really went to that part of the world then; they might go as far as Turkey or Morocco, but not Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Her parents were mortified by her trip. She said she could have been a copywriter and had a nice life but she wanted to go on an adventure.

These days, Anne-France is still writing. She is very poetic and loves mythology and the thoughts behind words. I love the way she speaks, which she does as fluently in English as in French. She knits her own sweaters, is very slender and chic, and still wears her kohl eyeliner – she doesn’t leave the house without it. She was still biking until two years ago when she had an accident. She says people in her village think she is crazy.

More often than not I have a very broad story in mind when designing a collection. Having a muse galvanises it and makes decisions very easy because you are essentially making a wardrobe for someone. You design on a character – so she would wear a blouse with leather pants because she wouldn’t have many clothes with her. Everything referenced back to her travel wardrobe. In a way that’s not too dissimilar to how we dress today: we might get attached to something and wear it over and over again.

The pieces in the collection all have a very boyish fit and they’re quite iconic, not overly designed. The way I design at Chloé is about the boyish and the ultra-feminine, and the tension between the two. I love to play with that and I am always looking for muses that fit that bill because it is so interesting making a collection when I find one.

Anne-France had no clue who we were when we first contacted her. But she was thrilled when she found out that we were basing a whole collection on her; she said it was like angels coming into her life, allowing her to remember a wonderful time in her career. She couldn’t come to the show because she was promoting a new novel, but I have spent so much time with her and every time, more and more stories come out. She could definitely have another collection in her.