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Lost in fashion? Consult this A-Z

Lost in fashion? Consult this A-Z
Contributed by
Siana Quinn

Fashion has a language all of its own...


A is for ARGOT Nothing makes you feel more like a tourist than not understanding the locals, and fashionland has a language all of its own. Viz: anti-fit (definition: clothes that don’t fit); “channelling” (copying); “investment bag” (expensive bag); “pieces” (clothes); “product” (clothes and accessories); “editing” your wardrobe (throwing away old clothes); “pricepoint” (price); ferosh and/or fierce (rather nice). Some terms are beyond translation — “directional”, for example. Nobody seems to be entirely sure what that means. See also PRONUNCIATION.

B is for BLACK “The new black” became the new shorthand for “the next big thing” in the early 1980s, when minimalism and Kraftwerk ruled, and lots of people wore black. The phrase stuck, even when only undertakers wore black. Soon, though, “the new black” will once more be literally accurate: 2010 promises to be a very black year, hue-wise. So right now, “black is the new black”. Once that passes, something else will be.

C is for CATWALK In The Times, “catwalk” only acquired its fashion sense in 1967. Before then, it was used to mean any vertiginous walkway, referenced in stories about anything from unfortunate construction workers to up-for-auction, fattened cattle.


D is for DESIGNERS Designers are fashion’s prime movers, around whom all various satellite species — stylists, photographers, models, PRs and journalists — cluster. The role of these subordinate castes (except on occasion the journalists), is to make the clothes look good. The top-tier designers — Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada and Dolce & Gabbana — have created brands that will endure beyond them, as Versace and Chanel did. The mid-level superstars, such as Alexander McQueen, Matthew Williamson, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs (see J, for Jacobs) are approaching immortality. And then there is a third tier, whose stars rise, then fall again. Two years ago Sophia Kokosalaki was golden. Now, after an extended maternity leave, it’s Phoebe Philo (the former Chloé mastermind) who is about to rocket back to prominence with her new gig in charge of Celine this autumn.


E is for ELEGANCE The watchword of Coco Chanel, who said “elegance is refusal” — a more elegant way of saying less is more. She may have had a Nazi moment, but hey: Coco is (fashion-phrase alert) having a moment right now, thanks to two competing French biopics. See QUILTING.

F is for FASHION WEEK Almost every city has a fashion week, from Asunción to Zagreb, with scores more beginning B to Y in between. The biggies, though, are New York, London, Milan and Paris, which have two fashion weeks per year. In the spring, designers present their collections for the autumn/winter season ahead. In autumn, it’s time to focus on spring/summer. This lead time allows buyers to choose what they want for their shops in six months’ time. The upshot for journalists is an unfortunate temporal dissonance; they get to tell the world about winter coats at the beginning of summer, and come September it’ll be about next year’s floaty dresses. This is either “fashion forward” (directional) or confusing, depending on your interpretation.

G is for GRAZIA Less expensive, more accessible and with a higher (weekly) turnover than its monthly competition, the fleet-footed Grazia has undercut its rivals to become the Topshop of fashion mags. That, as well an unswerving dedication to gracing its cover with Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, Madonna or Angelina Jolie has made it Britain’s best-read fashion magazine. Yet Grazia itself is soon to be undercut by Stylist — the Primark of glossies? — a new, free weekly fashion/gossip glossy due for its debut later this year.

H is for HIGH STREET MEETS HIGH FASHION There were catfights at the cash-tills when some of the most successful fashion collaborations of recent years — Celia Birtwell for Topshop, say, or Stella McCartney for H&M — went on sale. Expect more unseemly consumption when Jimmy Choo for H&M, Jil Sander for Uniqlo and Roksanda Ilincic for Whistles go on sale in the next few months. These high street/high fashion collaborations have been (here’s another fashion phrase) very now for a few years (now), so fashionable celebrities (Kate Moss for Topshop, Madonna for H&M) got involved too. It’s not an entirely new phenomenon, though: back in the 1960s Twiggy had her own line and Pierre Cardin designed a branded collection for Miss Selfridge.

I is for INSPIRATION The September issues of all the big glossy fashion mags were published last week, and the fashion calendar dictates that this is when the new year’s trends are identified. Before identifying a trend, though, the mags try to pinpoint what has “inspired” the clothes.Vogue says: “designers are being inspired by the metropolis, with tarmac-black leather, architectural lines and barbed-wire details”, which sounds like a young offenders institution by Le Corbusier.


J is for JACOBS, MARC The most influential fashion designer of the decade, according to lore, Jacobs is the creative director of Louis Vuitton, has two lines of his own and proudly sports a SpongeBob SquarePants tattoo. Victoria Beckham once said that his collections are “diametrically opposed, yet completely signature,” which does, if you unravel it, kind of make sense: same-same but different.

K is for KIDSTON, CATH Profits are up 58 per cent to £4.6 million for the queen of pseudo-homespun comfort consumables. Soon you really will be able to make it yourself: her new book on sewing will be out just in time for Christmas. Kidston is design’s chintzy personification of the middle classes’ new Keep Calm and Carry On mindset.

L is for LONDON The subtly belittling orthodoxy is that alongside New York, Paris and Milan — the other three in the big four of fashion capitals — the main attraction of London Fashion Week is its “wit”, “energy” and “fun”. This is a polite way of saying that we lack Paris’s pure fashion credentials, the economic brio of Milan, or the slick production and marketing know-how of New York. Pshaw: who wants to be the quirky underachiever? But this year, London is aiming higher. See SOMERSET HOUSE.


M is for MODELSFashion still likes its human canvases very tall and extremely narrow. The newsflash in model-land is Simon Fuller’s acquisition of a majority stake in Storm Model Management, the agency that launched Kate Moss and represents Lily Cole and Eva Herzigova. Fuller has said that he hopes to “push the boundaries, blur the lines and redefine what a model agency should be in this fast moving world, where fashion is playing an increasingly important role in setting and reflecting cultures and tastes.” So expect new modelling reality shows and model-manned girl groups.

N is for NEW TRENDS Big shoulders, slim trousers, animal prints, minimalism, and velvet are all ongoing trends that show little sign of receding. This slow turnover of trends might in itself be a trend as designers try to offer customers clothes that represent long-term value – and not pieces that next year will be hopelessly last year.

O is for OBAMA, MICHELLE That hair, that on-the-money fondness for cardigans – those arms. The First Lady has been the most referenced fashion cipher of 2009, and that doesn’t look like changing.

P is for PRONUNCIATION Even if you’re starting to master the language of fashion, getting the pronunciation wrong will instantly mark you out as a hopeless parvenu. And there are minefields everywhere, from Kinder Aggugini to Junya Watanabe, via Dries Van Noten (it’s “dreece”), Anna Sui (Swee), Hedi (NOT Heidi) Slimane. Then there’s Ann Demeulemeester (take a deep breath and go for it), Nicolas Ghesquière, Proenza Schouler, Loewe, Hussein Chalayan and Azzedine Alaïa.

Q is for QUILTING Those Coco Chanel films are having their effect: quilting is having a mini-moment on the high street — as per Peacocks’ £15 quilted wellington boots.

R is for RECESSIONISTA Along with chiconomics, recessionista is the key fashion phrase used when doffing one’s fascinator to the inconvenient and unglamorous global financial crisis. Christian Lacroix is the highest profile credit crunch fashion victim so far — but he’s not quite down and out yet. And as Lisa Armstrong recently reported from Paris, there are apocalyptic rumblings about the prospects for haute couture itself.

S is for SOMERSET HOUSE For five days in September this Palladian masterpiece will be home not only to the Inland Revenue, but the 25th anniversary London Fashion Week, shaping up to be the grandest on record. Headline shows include the return of Burberry, Jonathan Saunders, Pringle and Matthew Williamson, who are revisiting London after earlier defections. The question is, will they stick around beyond the brouhaha of the anniversary celebrations?

T is for TELEVISION Fashion TV is the world’s only channel dedicated to following fashion. It broadcasts via satellite from all the big fashion jamborees to millions of households in 192 nations. It could have proved a useful teaching aid, had it not focused so fixatedly on certain areas of the models’ anatomies.


U is for UNIQLO The British high street’s most recently arrived fast fashion (that means affordable) retailer is responsible for the virulent outbreak of multicoloured jeans on our streets. Founded in Hiroshima 25 years ago, this “Japanese Gap” combines a cheap (but not morally troubling, Primark-cheap) pricepoint with accessible, pared-down minimalism.


V is for VOGUE The September 2007 edition of American Vogue ran to 840 pages — the biggest issue in the magazine’s history. Two years on and it’s more dash than cash: advertising is down and the August 2009 issue highlighted “steal of the month” and “fashion’s quick fix for $19”. But get ready for a happy flashback to those decadent days: The September Issue, a fly-on-the-wall documentary following its notorious editor, Anna Wintour, as she put that 2007 milestone together is released in cinemas next month.

W is for WAITING LISTS People are still lusting after must-haves that they can’t yet get. There’s still, apparently, a waiting list several years long for the £30,000 Hermès Birkin bag in crocodile skin. At the other end of the scale, a hefty queue is already signed up for a new line of Gap sheepskin boots.

X is for X-FACTOR The “x-factor” used to be a common enough phrase, especially when applied to zeitgeist-capturing models.Since the rise of Simon Cowell’s talent show format, however, there has been a notable downturn in its usage. Try using “wow-factor” or — why not? — “directional” instead.

Y is for YESTERDAY Call it recycling, call it “channelling” or call it uninspired, much of today’s fashion is about rediscovering yesterday’s. Designers are often inspired by the “archive” (old collections), and their formative years. Skirt suits, which were big in the 1940s, are a trend for autumn/winter 2009.


Z is for ZOOLANDER Forget Pret-a-Porter or The Devil Wears Prada: Zoolander is the most inspiring fashion film out there. Personally I'm channelling Owen Wilson’s character, the male supermodel Hansel, who says: “Do I know what I’m doing today? No. But I’m here, and I’m gonna give it my best shot.” Source: Timesonline


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