With a mixture of incredulity and dismay, I realised last night that I have been back in Australia for six months. And this fabulous blog originally intended to be based around the fashionable travels I was on for 15 months up until six months ago has been neglected. There are many reasons for that, but I do have so much to say and share, so this weekend in Sydney, as we greet the autumn on our doorstep, I am thinking of what is going on in London right now – the Vogue Festival. They are holding it a month earlier this year than they did last year, but my weather app tells me London is having true spring weather this weekend, so the gorgeous young things that will be all dressed up in their floaty dresses and highest heels might find it more comfortable than it was at the event last year.
In 2013 the Vogue Festival was held on April 27-28, which should have been very spring-like, but in fact the weather was just freezing. I wanted to turn up to the two-day fashion and beauty fest looking Delevingneishly divine, but I was in layers of wool and leather and denim and all I could do was look around me at wonderment as those gorgeous young things defied the elements to look totally Vogueish. Note lovely girl in watermelon pink dress – I swear it was about eight degrees Celsius outside.
One of the numerous fun activities available to ticket holders in the vast foyer area of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s Southbank Centre was having your own Vogue cover styled and photographed. Every time I look at my photo I wish I had done a “Carrie Bradshaw on a cold day in Paris” kind of look — remember when she was An American in Paris wondering forlornly around the cobblestoned streets in a strapless bustier-style full-skirted dress with a nice ornate coat thrown over it, open to reveal her beautiful decolletage? No pashmina, no fur, no anything that might have kept her warm. It was all about looking beautiful. For me on a freezing London day in late April, when I dearly wanted to be wearing bright colours and showing my decolletage, I was in a grey cashmere sweater and jeans. A lovely Brunello Cucinelli grey cashmere sweater, but nonetheless, once I was made up and adorned with accessories (including mini Chanel hoop bag) Vogue-style, I looked a bit like a silly woman in a winter sweater in the spring.
Dior had a terrific studio set up for eye makeup, and although I didn’t think much of the way the makeup artist did my eyes, she did introduce me to one of my favourite eyeliners, Diorshow Art Pen, which, eleven months on, I have begun to master quite nicely. I had already been using Dior Beauty products for more than six months, since Joey Clouter, Dior’s best makeup artist in London, then in Selfridges, now in Harrods, converted me the previous September. That’s how I became Debbie Dior and a whole other story for a future post on this blog. (This is the problem with having taken so long to start writing here; I have way too much to say!)
Another fun activity was the hair braiding, which I submitted to happily. I went for the more simple braid look and again wished I was dressed for spring instead of rugged up in my winter attire, which overwhelms a hair look as wistful as braiding.
I had bought tickets to seven of the talks over the weekend. The standout on the Saturday was the delightful and amazingly thin Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter, wearing a Victoria Beckham dress and elegantly presenting us with her Instagram personal photo album of her life story up until founding the online fashion store that revolutionised online fashion shopping. In fact, so much did she have to share with us about her life, she completely ran out of time and recommended we all go and view her story on Instagram.
“Behind The Scenes of A Vogue Cover Shoot” was a discussion between Vogue UK editor Alexandra Shulman and various collaborators, including the rather bewitching supermodel Cara Delevingne, who sat looking serene and at times sort of interested. Definitely one of those faces you want to photograph, so I gave it a try.
One person I and everyone else in the auditorium would have liked to photograph was Victoria Beckham, who kicked off proceedings on the Sunday with a one-to-one discussion with Alexandra Shulman. Unfortunately it was the only session where the audience was instructed they could not take photos. Nor could they ask questions, because Ms Beckham had ensured she would only be asked questions she had pre-approved, and the conversation ran like a prepared script. Everything she said had a rehearsed feel to it. That aside, it was a very captivating hour, as Posh Spice is absolutely riveting to watch. Mainly because every time she turns to the side, she disappears. She is really that thin. I have never seen anyone quite so thin. When she described climbing mountains with her children, I just couldn’t imagine she wouldn’t snap in half at the slightest breeze. But listening to her talk about her successful Victoria Beckham label, about the way she works with her team and how hands-on she is in every aspect of the business — which I do believe she is — was fascinating. I don’t own any Victoria Beckham and am not sure I will ever find a piece in her collections that would work for me as her designs are very structured and although she insisted she designs for women of all sizes, I think they are made for size 4 and smaller. But one day I could be surprised.
There was an interesting session on “The Secrets of Creating a British Brand” with a lineup of key UK design identities — Anya Hindmarch, Christopher Kane, Tamara Mellon (co-founder of Jimmy Choo and about to launch her own clothing and shoe brand), and Jonathan Akeroyd, CEO of Alexander McQueen. I had bought my first McQueen dress at Selfridges the previous September; I already had a couple of Anya Hindmarch pieces (one, a mirror-metallic bag that sadly peeled badly, and then with the vouchers I was given to compensate for that, a very nice every day black wallet); and had never been a fan of Jimmy Choo shoes, but I was open to discovering the world of Christopher Kane. After the Festival I went on an exploration of Kane’s spring/summer and pre-fall collections and came to the realisation that his designs do not work for me at all. But I like some of his prints.
Mario Testino, one of the most prolific and in-demand fashion photographers over the past few decades and most famous for his portraits of Princess Diana, spoke about his career in a session hosted by Vogue UK fashion director Lucinda Chambers. It’s a shame she didn’t make it more interesting; she was not a great interviewer and to stay interested I had to keep gazing at the lovely slides above Mario, admiring his images if not the conversation.
The “Too Fat, Too Thin… Will I Ever Be Content?” session that followed was a typical conversation about body image with no earth-shattering revelations. Yes, Patsy Kensit had to deal with weight issues through her career. Yes, if you are in the public eye, you are expected to be thin. Natalie Massenet and Victoria Beckham had already quashed any potential argument that curvy is cool. This session was a filler, and I think I even felt like I wanted to doze off.
But then along came Alber Elbaz, the irrepressible, ebullient, very funny Artistic Director of the house of Lanvin. He is Israeli, Jewish, self-deprecating and egotistical all at once, and a wonderful raconteur. The most unlikely looking designer — short and rotund — he has the most refined sensibility when it comes to draping sumptuous fabrics on women. He adores women. I could have listened to him talk for hours. I left with a new-found fascination for Lanvin, and decided before my travels were over, I would need at least one piece in my collection.
Which is a very interesting development in my fashion odyssey, my “finding my fashionista” if you like. Previously I would see clothes I like, have a very instinctive response to colour, print (eternally a sucker for florals), fabric, weight, drape, and perhaps where the piece fitted into a particular collection. Other than perhaps Stella McCartney, who had brought a heritage with her name in spite of establishing her brand in her own right, I had rarely taken into consideration the name or personality behind a design label. But this had started to change with my love of Dior and Valentino, with more reading and research and fascination with the history of a design house. With Alber Elbaz, I became much more invested in the genius behind a brand. Elbaz designs gorgeous clothes, his ad campaigns are usually brilliant, and his boutiques and concessions inside department stores are opulent and enticing. But Elbaz himself is the best advertisement for Lanvin. Of all the designers in the world today, he is the one I would most like to meet.
And so off I went into the cold London evening, having had my fill of Vogueish fashion and feeling well edified, not to mention braided. Looking at the program for this year’s Vogue Festival, taking place this weekend, I am totally wishing I could transport myself there for two days. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler are speaking. Phoebe Philo of Céline is featured. (I haven’t liked any of her designs at Céline but I do find her loyal following fascinating). Lord, oh Lord, Manolo Blahnik is going to be speaking. (Be still my beating heart.) Naomi Campbell will be there. And to top it all off, the one and only Valentino Garavani is going to be talking about his life and career. If this is the lineup Vogue have put together for only their third festival, I think I had better plan ahead for 2015 and find a way to be in London.
And dress more appropriately for my next cover shot.