Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy

I've been enjoying the BBC 4 series "The Agony and the Ecstasy - a Year with English National Ballet."

It's been a real eye-opener.

A lot of the dancers earn £23k or less and it's such a hard life. They are forever rehearsing and being corrected by their repetiteurs. Injuries are rife, some of them career threatening.We met a male dancer, aged 36, who was still a soloist and desperate to advance, but probably in the autumn of his career. He was returning after injury and dancing in a new production of Romeo and Juliet along with Max, aged 20, who had been chosen for his first lead role as Romeo. A poignant contrast.

Both men had to dance several roles in the one production, because ENB is short of dancers and starved of funds. The new govt has already imposed cuts of 7%, equating to just under £500k. ENB could save this if it stopped touring. Every tour costs £100,000 just to start with. But, in a catch 22, they would then lose their Arts Council funding which is given for touring. It's very sad. So they have to cut down on the number of dancers or skimp on their productions, maybe doing fewer of the big classical extravaganzas.

I have loved ballet for years, although it got off to a bad start. The deputy editor on the Plymouth newspaper where I was a trainee reporter threw some complimentary tickets at me for "La Fille Mal Gardee" in the big top. I took my mum; it was the first ballet we had ever seen, and we hated it. Fortunately we tried again with "Manon" and this was much more to our liking. We have since always hated any "Freds" (Frederich Asheton) as they tend to involve nymphs, fauns and dancing bears. We have seen the Kirov (Maryinsky), our favourites; the Bolshoi, the Royal Ballet of course and various touring companies. I saw the first ballet to be performed on the tiny stage of Swindon's Wyvern Theatre, a modern production which brought forth titters in the audience.

I saw Rudolf Nureyev twice. Both times he was over the hill, but what a performer! He obviously lived for the acclaim. Unforgettable.

I would loved to have seen the great Nijinsky (not the horse) - the subject of a recent post. No footage exists, surprisingly, as there is footage of Anna Pavlova.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is on tonight - check it out on iPlayer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brands that make you shudder: 1. Boden

Boden. Online purveyors of strangely shaped 'fun' skirts and embellished cardigans to the chattering white middle classes of the UK.

Their marketing makes your teeth curl.

As if it wasn't bad enough that the ferocious Mumsnet group invited their members to a meet with the dress code "Boden", we now see that "Johnnie" - the MD who infuriatingly emails you as if he's known you all his life - has created a Boden community with blogs and aimless chit chat.

As you might imagine, all the Bodenettes who have signed up so far have sickly sweet little names like Passion Flower and Secret Star, and they're all busily exchanging tips about cup cake makers, flowery pinnies and villas where you can take the kids.

Now I do possess a few items of Boden clothing, but I order a lot fewer these days, ever since they started posting reader reviews. Now you can save yourself the trouble of ordering a skirt or dress and being mystified by its cut, a classic Boden problem, because you can read about it before you order.

But I don't buy into the sugary halcyon image that Boden likes to portray. The whole thing is a bit creepy. Boden women have straight figures with no waist or bust. Notice how nothing is ever vaguely low cut because surely that would be offensive to the children. The label is now aiming for global domination, with various new lines including a less garish women's line and kids' clothes. And, I hear, they're targeting the US.

I suppose I should say "respect" to Johnnie as he seems to have hit the magic formula for reaching a particular demographic, but unfortunately the whole thing just makes me shudder.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Back to the 70s

I went clothes shopping last Saturday and was pleasantly surprised.  I saw so many clothes I could buy. So many colours I liked. It was not my experience of the previous two years, when I despaired of finding anything to wear. Those empire line tops and dresses, baggy tunics, cigar pants and harem pants, did nothing for me.

The new season trends of florals, colour blocking, all-white, stripes and "70s vibe" are very much me. Perhaps not the colour blocking. And really I shouldn't do florals, though I can't resist (occasionally) a floral dress or skirt  (I found a divine floral skirt in Coast - left).

The discovery of Biba, exclusive to House of Fraser, was a revelation. I loved everything! Which I didn't when Biba was an iconic brand in the 70s. It seemed a bit hippy-esque then. I bought a high-waisted skirt (left)  and a ruffle shirt, (below right) although I am less convinced now about the shirt.

But not only is Biba back. The Times reports today that Chelseas Girl, which used to be as ubiquitous on the UK high street as, um, Dorothy Perkins or TopShop, is also coming back. It became River Island a few years ago and they are launching a new Chelsea Girl range of vintage fashions for young girls who like vintage but not the price tags or fusty old smell that goes with it.

Today's Times also carries a glum piece about the challenges of wearing the latest waist-high (or higher!) flared jeans. We have been resisting them for a few years, apparently, and sticking to our low-rise jeans, but now the high waisted jean is de rigeur.

The writer was very pessimistic about them though, saying you have to be very tall and very thin. Phooey. In my youth, flared jeans and trousers were everywhere; the bigger the flare the better.  I remember being awe struck when my 15 year old best friend, Susan Payne, produced a pair of cream trousers that had the biggest flare I had ever seen (to this day). Our jeans were by Brutus, Lee, Levi, Lee Cooper and Easy. And they are easier to wear than low rise, where a muffin top inescapably falls out over the top.

Wedge shoes, gipsy tops and big floppy hats are also back, which makes me a little nostalgic, but also suspicious, because didn't I once read that if you wore a fashion first time round, you shouldn't do it when it comes round again? What do you think - will you be embracing the 70s revival or giving it a wide berth?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Respect to Kate Middleton as she doggedly rejects the fashionistas

I wasn't too keen on Kate Middleton at the start. She seemed a bit vapid, too suiting of the "Waity Katie" epithet the press gave her. Even when she did work, her family's business - party "stuff" for kids - seemed very superficial, encouraging the oneupmanship of middle class parents and their infernal party bags.

But, a few months into the engagement, I'm thinking that Kate rocks!

The snooty fashionistas have been dishing out advice. She needs to get a stylist; she should cut her hair; she should stop wearing fascinators, and she should stop wearing knee length black boots. Even Vivienne Westwood stepped in and said Kate wasn't fashionable enough to wear her clothes  (sour grapes if ever I heard them, because she hasn't been invited to design The Dress.)

But Kate has doggedly resisted all this "advice." On her first official appearance last week she not only wore a fascinator, but a coat she had had shortened  (a five year old coat, gasp!) and her favourite knee length boots. She looked happy and serene, not anxious or nervous as most of us would look in such a situation.

I think she will do for the fascinator what Kate Moss has done for the trilby. And who's to say Kate Moss is any more trendy than Kate is, apart from a clutch of bitchy male designers and middle-aged magazine fashion editors?

She has fabulous hair and skin and a great figure, and looks a great advert for the "English Rose." And I loved the way she wore Reiss in her engagement picture. That white dress looked amazing and we would all have thought it was designer if we hadn't been told. The Issa dress she wore for the big announcement was also a great choice. Expensive, but not in the realms of fantasy. And it suits every figure, so replicas have been appearing in the shops and everyone can feel good about it.

I think Kate is going to be a very canny lass. You won't see her splashing the cash on unncessary items like £1,000+ "IT" bags. She will spend money when it's important, like beautiful evening gowns for state occasions, but she will continue to mix designer with high street. I look forward to seeing her style journey evolve, preferably without the help of a "stylist." And Kate, although you don't listen to advice, one word of advice from  me. Don't get too skinny!
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