An open letter to Bryan Ferry

amanda lear, bryan ferry, jerry hall, kari ann muller, kate moss, marilyn cole, roxy music

Dear Mr Ferry,

There seems to be some sort of immense cock-up, re. your new album. Those wags at the record company appear to have placed something called ‘Kate Moss’ on the front cover. How strange! How careless! Perhaps they need a little reminder of what a Roxy cover girl should really be like.

How kind of you to take the blame for them, by saying it was all your own idea. You’re such a gentleman. Although a little foolish, for who could believe that the BryanGod would ever deem Kate Moss to be a suitable Roxy girl?

You see, the big problem is that I wish to purchase your [surely] superb new piece of work, but I have an allergic reaction to Moss and cannot, therefore, get within a mile of it without breaking out in a rash. What a dilemma! What a pickle!

I look forward to purchasing from you again in the future, when sanity has been restored.

Yours faithfully,

Miss Peelpants

Around the Bender

barbara hulanicki, biba, book reviews, british boutique movement, bus stop, kate moss, lee bender, seventies fashion, topshop

Ok so, I totally failed to take any photos from Friday night’s Lee Bender talk at the V&A. Mr Brownwindsor also failed to take any photos. My friends Daniel and David also failed to take any photos.

Conclusion: We were all in a daze.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that Mr Brownwindsor was sitting there chatting to Sylvia Ayton and I utterly failed to ask her to sign my Boutique book, which was sitting in my bag.

Conclusion: I’m useless.

However, I did get Lee Bender to sign my copy of her new book. And she recognised my nudey lady blouse immediately. Hurrah! Geek heaven…

I’m generally a bit squeaky and shy when it comes to asking questions in front of a huge audience of people. I can talk to a much admired designer up close and where only they witness my idiocy. But, after much cajoling beforehand, I realised I simply had to ask the question I’d been dying to ask since I wrote this blog [almost exactly] three years ago.

“How do you feel about being copied yourself* these days? Particularly with the Kate Moss for Topshop…..” I think I might have trailed off at this point because a look of thunder crossed her face. I squeaked inwardly, fearing I may have offended. But it turned out that she was just registering her anger at exactly the same thing that I had been angry about. She mentioned having seen a blog about it; I exclaimed that it was my blog, my dress. “Aha! I thought you looked familiar!”.

*She had spoken about her own experiences of taking inspiration from vintage pieces.

Tea dresses. So good. So widely copied.

Terrifyingly fabulous when you realise your idols actually see what you write about them. I had the same stomach flip when John Bates said he had seen my website. I often forget, and I ramble on about them in the same way I would ramble on about Ossie Clark, knowing full well I can’t offend him.

Anyway, the talk itself was great. Albeit not quite sufficient for a complete geek like me. Certain people (mainly my boyfriend) keep having to gently but firmly remind me that of course I’m not going to be satisfied with whatever book/documentary/q&a session I’m witnessing. I already know most of what they’re talking about. I’m seeking the finer details. Dates, times, people, evidence. Sadly, it’s the lot of the fashion historian.

Which is also my problem with the new Bus Stop book. On balance, I would say it’s definitely worth owning (the more I look at it, the less I see the flaws). And mine holds greater importance now it’s actually got her dedication inside. But it’s not the most gorgeously produced book in the world, the design/layout leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s a crying shame that it will probably be the only one we’ll see on Lee and her work.

A typical page.

The problem is limited resources. She didn’t keep anything (by her own admission – you should have heard the gasps when she mentioned donating things to charity a few years back) so mostly it is filled with her illustrations. Which are very lovely. But I’m a geek. And I need information laid out in timeline form, or at least vaguely timeline-ish, and I need dates on photos. I need better quality scans of photos. But again, I am being pernickety because quite a few of the magazine photos within are from magazines I already own and could scan myself (and clean them up a bit in photoshop).

There was limited research going on, and many things slipped under the radar. Par exemple…

It’s…… 1.) Sarah Jane’s Andy Pandy dungarees!

2.) Joanna Lumley's outfit from The New Avengers promotional photocall.

Oh yes. If books were produced by Miss Peelpants, they’d probably be the geekiest books in the world. But I’m not even being THAT geeky really. There are photos of Joan Collins and Barbara Bach in Bus Stop gear, presumably because those were the only ones they thought they had evidence of.

Also, there are so many Bus Stop fanatics and collectors out there; any of us would have been happy to have had our garments photographed professionally I’m sure.

My favourite part of the evening, weirdly, was the slight hint of anti-Bibaness. Which might surprise you, because I really do love Biba and Barbara Hulanicki and clearly am never afraid to express this through my blog and website. But I’m not unaware of her flaws. And I’m also starting to get a bit bored with the Biba dominance in coverage of the era.

As Lee herself, and others I chatted to afterwards, pointed out; Bus Stop clothes were made for women. Women with boobs and a bum. Barbara was designing for women with legs up to their armpits and no boobs. I don’t have the most generous bosom in the world, but Biba squishes me out in all directions sometimes. I appreciate the boldness of that as a design decision (the flagrant “if you’re not this shape, tough, you’ll wear the clothes and hope they make you look that shape” attitude) but it doesn’t always work when you need your clothes to work. Which is why I’m always wittering on about Lee Bender making wearable gear; she just WAS.

The actual rivalry with Biba was touched on, she told a brief story about both her and Barbara ending up in the same Kensington restaurant one night and being kept well apart by their companions, but this just made me even more sad. Biba gets two or three books, glossily and hard-backedly dedicated to the high altar of art deco fabulousness. Bus Stop will probably only ever get this one, making it look like the ‘also-ran’ it never was. But I’m immensely glad it even exists, quite frankly.

Someone (preferably not Topshop, although they owe her big time) needs to give Lee Bender the opportunity to design a new range of clothes. Hulanicki’s range for Topshop was such a crushing disappointment; I would dearly love to see someone who REALLY wants to do it, and isn’t just ‘phoning it in’, making a huge success with fresh, wearable designs and an understanding of women’s bodies.


Well knock me down with an ostrich feather….

1940s, 1970s, celia birtwell, kate moss, ossie clark, style on trial

(I’ve been meaning to publish this in response to the dénouement of Style on Trial for a while now, so here it is….)

The Seventies won out in the end. I thought it was a lost cause, quite frankly, because people are so biased against a decade they associate with polyester and bad taste. Irritatingly and blatantly ignoring the fact that man made fibres in various forms have been in steady use in clothing since the 1930s. And bad taste is always with us. As much in the Fifties and Sixties as it was in the Seventies and Eighties, our specs have just got rosier with time passing.
Wayne Hemingway’s impassioned plea for glam, punk, northern soul and disco was certainly appealing to me, but I could also see why Celia Birtwell would question whether any of those clothes look remotely appealing on older ladies. My response to that would have been that I know many women who still wear their Ossie dresses well into their forties and fifties and still look incredible. Everything permitting, I hope I’ll be one of those ladies myself. She commented that forties styles were far more wearable for people of all ages, possibly forgetting that the Seventies (and specifically the likes of her ex-hubby) incorporated a lot of forties silhouettes and styles, updating them and making them sexier and more modern. All of which look gorgeous on older women as well.

So, perhaps the Forties should have won? I certainly enjoyed Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen’s case for the decade, and was convinced that they would all vote for his era of choice. But in terms of the most rounded decade for fashion, I actually think the Seventies had it all.

Affordable clothing for those who wanted it, in the days before it was all farmed out to children in a sweatshop in Sri Lanka. Vivid, fun, sexy clothes for teenagers and twenty-somethings. Glamorous eveningwear and wearable separates for older, working women. Polyester has its place, and revolutionised the lot of the housewife, but you could just as easily get delicious crepes, jerseys and wool.

Platforms were infinitely superior to spindly little stiletto heels, and they didn’t have to be 6 inches high (unless you were a member of Slade or a very brave woman). Different styles and cultural groups or identities were plentiful. You could wear the general style of the era, or you could choose who you wanted to be.

Hair was fairly low maintenance if you so wished. And there was a style for all hair types. Every other decade (and trend within that decade) seems to have beaten everyone’s hair into submission to one overarching style. Likewise with make-up, there was a general look but fewer rules than before. The preferred female silhouette was natural. Curved but never to excess. Softness prevailed. No corsetted waists, but no severe straightness either.

Men actually cared about clothes. Not about labels in the way they do now. Clothes. They cared about fabric, colour, silhouette. They didn’t give a rat’s behind about looking overly feminine, and to my eye actually look more appealing and masculine in all their satin and tat.

Okay, perhaps not in the case of The Sweet….but I still adore them!

Ultimately it was the best attitude to style we’ve seen for a long time. Trying everything. Experimenting, being brave, making your own choices and not necessarily the same choice as anyone else. There was a good reason the New Romantics were harking back to Glam Rock and, to a lesser extent, disco. There was always a general ‘look’, but no one slavishly followed rules (unlike the mods, rockers, teddy boys and so on). You were expressing yourself.

While I don’t think any era can really be truly hailed as the greatest, and certainly style is a very subjective concept (the word stylish, in fact, makes me think of the word timeless….and thus, a bit dull and safe), I think the Seventies was a very brave but very well rounded choice to make.

Kate Moss at Topshop….what a joke

british boutique movement, bus stop, kate moss, lee bender, Ms Peelpants' rants, ossie clark, topshop

I queued patiently to buy some of the Celia magic, I tried to zone out the people standing around muttering “No idea who this woman is, but I know this stuff will sell on ebay”, I narrowly avoided being ripped to shreds as the rails were pushed out and all hell broke loose. I bought the pieces which had some manufacturing integrity (did anyone actually ever wear that botticelli print silk monstrosity?? so badly made I wanted to weep….) and put my years of hardened vintage shopping to good use as I walked around clutching the dress everyone was wetting themselves over and ignoring the black market-level dirty looks and whispers of ‘are you buying that?’

It was fun as a one-off. Something to tell the grandkids about, since I don’t have a Biba experience like that to share.

I didn’t bother second time around, the second collection was a poor relation and I don’t need the hassle. I’d rather spend my time and money getting an original.But at least she designed the prints and had some claim to the copied shapes of Ossie’s. The woman has talent.

Kate Moss in the original (left) and the Topshop copy (right)

Kate Moss at Topshop is a travesty. Normally such a non-event would barely register in the world of Ms. Peelpants. I couldn’t care less about Madonna at H&M, Lily Allen at New Look or even some of the least talented designers in the world getting deals with the same shops (naming no names, but I’ve heard some very interesting first-hand things about one of them lately and am suitably smug that I guessed they had no talent years ago). But Kate Moss at Topshop has affected me on a very personal level, and opened eyes to the true extent of the shallow money-grabbing at the heart of the fashion world these days.

I remember noting with amusement that Kate Moss had a vintage Bus Stop dress I also have. Much like the Ossie jacket she once wore, it’s always a nice little nod to the vintage community that vintage is still cool and it can do wonders for the image of what are, to most people’s minds, just someone’s old cast-offs. We know they’re not, but sometimes the challenge is to change other people’s perceptions. Kate Moss did the vintage community a lot of good in the past, but now she’s cheated on us.

For she has now ‘allowed’ (inverted commas to note that it is not her place to allow such a thing) Topshop to copy the aforementioned dress for her ‘collection’. A travesty so awful, on so many levels it’s taken me about a week to calm down enough to write this. They’ve copied the dress exactly, even down to getting the print copied and the detailing around the neck and on the sleeves. To add insult to injury, the dress in her closet had been hacked with what looks like nail scissors and is now a bum-skimming mini dress. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see how badly out of proportion even the remake is. They’ve remade a ruined dress.

Lee Bender should sue Topshop. Her work has been copied stitch for stitch. It’s one thing to be inspired, Bender herself would have to admit that the dress was heavily inspired by dresses of the Forties, but there’s no room for the word inspiration here. This is duplication and it’s disgusting.

On a more personal level, one of my absolute favourite dresses has been ruined for me. This year everyone will think I’m wearing bleeding Kate Moss at Topshop. Next year, everyone will think I’m wearing two seasons old bleeding Kate Moss at Topshop. Two years time, perhaps the fashion world with its attention span of a gnat might have forgotten all about Kate Moss at Topshop (or perhaps Kate Moss herself, we can but hope).But my dress will still be tainted by the association and I resent the fact that I will always have to think carefully about whether to wear it or not. To sell it now would be to cash in. To sell next year, well no one will want the same problems I would have. But really, I don’t want to sell it. I bought it for me, and it fits me like it was stitched to my body.

Yours truly in the original dress