The Power To Dress As You Like

Of late there’s been quite a lot of column inches produced about the sartorial choices of Steve Hilton, former Director of Strategy for David Cameron. He of the beach-bum-by-way-of-no.-10 look. The man with the audacity to meet President Obama whilst wearing only socks on his feet.It’s fascinating how much of a stir one man can cause as a result of straying from the acceptable norms of attire. This isn’t a storm in a teacup on the fashion pages either – I don’t think fashion editors would allow him onto their pages – Hilton’s personal style has been written about in the news sections of various broadsheets. It begs the question; does allowing yourself sartorial freedom give you power or does power give you sartorial freedom?

It is a long-established fact that clothes are as much a form of communication as speaking and body language. The likes of Ted Polhemus and Alison Lurie have written copiously about the subject. It isn’t just what you wear, it is how you wear it, when you wear it and what you wear it with that forms the message for others to read. But is the dress code for power shifting?

Another ‘radical’ is Mark Zuckerberg, he of that little social network thingie. He is well-known for attending Wall Street meetings in a hoodie and jeans. This is probably to be considered even more scandalous given his recent windfall of a few billion dollars. Call the cops!! Would we think of Mark Zuckerberg in the same maverick light if he had long since left behind his college kid style and adopted bespoke suits to rule his empire in?

And what about for mere mortals? My husband (sorry husband, you are of course a deity in my eyes) owns a creative business. His day-to-day attire is very much of the Zuckerberg variety. But he works with a lot of corporate clients and whenever he has to art direct a shoot involving such clients, he dons a suit.

As an ex-stylist, I have been known to laugh at the preposterousness of wearing a suit to a shoot. I’ve made the suggestion that given his status as a company director, he should be able to wear what the hell he wants. His retort? That he has more power if he is dressed on a level with his clients. Kow-towing to what is expected or arch manipulation of a situation?!

Another thing that fascinates me is the practise of Dress-Down Fridays. Have you ever wandered into an office in the midst of a Dress-Down and noticed that though there are no suits, there is another uniform of sorts – chinos, casual shirt and perhaps a jumper slung round the shoulders?! The employees have seemingly been given the power to dress as they please, but the reality is that the power is still all with the employer.

On the flipside, there are more and more companies of the Facebook ilk springing up, where casual is the norm. CEOs are indistinguishable from office assistants. So, when casual is the norm, what do you do to gain or retain power? Is it laughable to imagine that an office assistant wanting to assert themselves within this kind of casual environment could gain power simply by wearing a suit?

Perhaps this is where I find the answer to my question; does allowing yourself sartorial freedom give you power or does power give you sartorial freedom: It is the person who dares to wear exactly what they want to wear who has real power, be they a CEO or an office assistant. As Roxette once sang, you’ve got to get ‘dressed for success’. But long gone are the days when that automatically means donning a suit.

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99 Feelings

Since as a young girl, I have been attracted to Russian dolls. I remember the feeling of amazement as one doll opens up to reveal another. Again and again. One doll, then two, then three, until you reach the littlest one. If anyone has any theories about people who like Matryoshka, do please send in your thoughts.

Here’s a ceramic artist, Mitsy Sleurs, whose 99 feelings project featured these lovely dolls.

A bag and a shoe

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of two globally recognisable icons – the Hermès bag and the Louboutin shoe. What a pleasure to spend the day learning about the creativity, craft and history of two of the most coveted and esteemed accessories brands in the world.

Hermès celebrates 175 years of producing fine luxury, leather product with the chic Leather Forever, at 6 Burlington Gardens. Then across London, from Mayfair to the Southbank’s Design Museum, is Christian Louboutin’s world – an exhibition marking Louboutin’s 20 years of contribution to the shoe industry, a celebration of how one man changed the face, or rather feet, of fashion.

The Hermès exhibition has been exquisitely curated, an insightful and interactive journey through, not only the brands transgenerational history, but through the craft of the bag, from concept and design to the finished product. It begins in the Library of Skins in which you are hit with the intense smell of leather, immediately evoking the sense of luxury, travel and privilege.

After being privy to an extensive range of colourful leathers, we enter the Artisan’s Studio in which the instantly identifiable orange boxes are stacked around a video installation of the creation and construction of the bags. Two craftsmen demonstrate stages of production, meticulously and delicately handling the leather and demonstrating procedures that can take 15 or more hours. What struck me, when watching these live demonstrations, in a time of mass production and fast fashion, was the emphasis and consideration of quality and permanence.

Few brands can boast a heritage and history like Hermès. Founded in 1837 as a saddle studio, the House expanded into luggage, diaries, footwear and became a pioneer of the ‘It bag’. Yet though these bags may be the hottest armcandy, such as The Kelly (c. 1930) and The Birkin (c. 1983), they have stood the test of time and remain favourites and certainly will for the foreseeable future.

Compared to Hermès’s six generations of skill and expertise, Louboutin is still in its relative infancy, celebrating just two decades. Although, the same level of artistry, considered craft and permanence can be said for the famous red-soled shoes.

The popularity of the red sole shoe transcends trend and the exhibition heralds Louboutin’s desire to create shoes that universally empower and enhance women. Whilst Hermès and the exhibition evoke discreet luxury and quiet sophistication, Louboutin evokes exuberance and sensual glamour that verges on brash.

Photographed by Luke Hayes.

The exhibition is heavily themed and focuses on Louboutin’s idea that ‘every woman wants to be a showgirl’. Whether this is the case or not, we enter through an arched entrance, emblazoned with a neon Entrée sign, into a world that is swathed in red velvet, adorned with bulbs and mirrors with a cabaret atmosphere where the female and her sexuality is ready to take centre stage. An extensive display of Louboutin’s diverse designs stretches around the room from studded slippers, trainers, brogues and boots to the classic stiletto. He has been heavily influenced by his travels and this is manifested in the wild variety and creativity of his shoes. An extremely lifelike hologram of Dita von Teese performs a burlesque dance and finally transforms into a diamond encrusted stiletto.

In a dark side room there is a screening of three short movies, one an animation of Louboutin’s life, the second a Charlie’s Angel’s spoof entitled ‘Loubi’s Angels’ which emphasises the power of his shoes, and the last, a silent film in which the designer himself performs a comical dance routine.

Photographed by Luke Hayes.

Whilst the Hermès exhibition is perhaps more reverent, understated and elegant, the Louboutin experience is certainly somewhat more light-hearted and embodies the designer’s love of theatricality. Regardless of the polar tones of the exhibitions, both successfully convey the signature of the Houses and how they have phenomenally expanded yet maintained integrity, quality and ingenuity. Hotfoot it (in your finest footwear) over to both exhibitions as soon as you can.

Leather Forever runs from 8 – 27 May at 6 Burlington Gardens, W1
The Christian Louboutin exhibition runs from 1 May – 9 July at the Design Museum

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