The biggest fashion risk: wear more or less the same get-up for years. Julia Robson helps us through the fashion minefield.
Staying in style is a risky business, but so is ignoring trends
Risks. We all take them. It's part of being human. Some people like to jump out of planes wearing a parachute; others take risks by wearing outrageous clothes on a regular basis. You know the sort. The brother-in-law who insists on wearing one of his "signature" Hawaiian shirts to the barbecue. The "fashionable" friend whose high heels remain permanently glued to her feet even at the beach club.
Working in fashion, anything goes. You can be a slavish fashion follower foraging around for whoever/whatever is the latest label/trend. Equally, you can be a fashion chameleon, constantly experimenting with new fads and working out ways of wearing something intrinsically basic. But those who actually get most critical acclaim from the shrewish fashion scribes do the unthinkable: wear more or less the same get-up for years. Now that is a risk.
Take Anna Wintour, the icy editor of American Vogue (who the novel and film The Devil Wears Prada was apparently based on). She has sported the same fringed bob hairdo for years. Aware that every outfit she wears will be closely scrutinised on her gilded front-row perch during catwalk shows, she sticks rigidly to a uniform she has finely tuned: knee-length skirt, high heels, tailored jacket, giant jewellery, black shades. And she looks good.
Suzy Menkes, the fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, is another who refuses to be fazed by fashion. Her jet-black quiff, jewel-coloured jackets, giant brooch and large scarf coiled about her person never fail to look anything but stylish. Admittedly, both fashion creatures are well over 30, but I am quite sure they wore something very similar when they were sprightly 20-year-olds tidying tights in the fashion cupboard.
Being slavish to fashion has been the topic of conversation all week, following the debut of Sex and the City, the movie, in the UK. The star is, of course, Carrie Bradshaw (alias Sarah Jessica Parker). She of the Manolo Blahnik heels, tutu, vest and mad bags. Carrie loves fashion rather too much. But do we still love her for it? Isn't being slavishly fashionable rather, um, outdated? In the decade since the television series began (1998), actresses, models and celebrities have been applauded for pulling off their own look, not simply following the crowd.
I can remember talking once to Patricia Field, the flame-haired New York stylist responsible for "creating" Carrie's style, at the height of the show's cult status. I was shocked to discover the then-revolutionary "just flung together" Carrie look was in fact meticulously orchestrated in just the same way Charlotte's preppy looks or Miranda's city girl outfits were. Intriguingly, it was Carrie, the wannabe fashionista with the wackiest style who struck a chord with the (normally reserved) masses.
So much so that her highly individual look - veiled teeny pillbox hats, teetering heels and swishy skirts - is not so individual anymore. Which brings to mind a line from the poet Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, "fashion is that by which the fantastic becomes universal." During the last lot of international fashion shows, I developed a mild fixation with Carine Roitfeld, the formidable editor-in-chief of French Vogue. Now there's a stylish woman.
Every day she wore the same Belle du Jour-style beige trench coat, very high black stilettos, and a lot of make-up. C'est tout. She is sexy, stylish and all those amazing things French women are. While everyone else was worrying about the latest "it bag", she made her fashion statement by not even carrying a bag. I've been sporting a homage to Roitfeld ever since (except I actually wear something under my trench). That's all going to change after seeing a trailer for Carrie's fabulous 2008-style. Oh yes! There's no fool like an old fashion fool. And I am all about SATC, all over again.
At the weekend I dug out a fringed grey fine wool boho poncho (trust me, Carrie wears something a bit similar in the movie and it's a great antidote to raging air con). Earlier today I decided to debut my "new look". Initially, it seemed a bad idea. Some people could not look me in the eye without laughing. Then a friend shook her head in disbelief. Just when I was about to give up and take the thing off during lunch in a fashionable restaurant, I got a knowing smile from a notable magazine editor on the next table, which I'm pretty sure was out of approval.
So you see my risk paid off. I can't wait to see the movie.