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The perils of playing with punk

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Madonna plays the punk at the New York Met Ball 2013

Madonna plays the punk at the New York Met Ball 2013 Photo: REX

August is traditionally the month that fashion takes off to mooch about the Hamptons in cut-off jeans and espadrilles. But I’ve been busy every day at the office – chiefly working on Christmas fashion stories for John Lewis, cotton-wool snow and fir trees included. So it’s probably for that reason that I’ve jumped the gun on the coming season and already had my first fashion failure of autumn/winter 2013.

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READ: Met Ball 2013: Punk was surprisingly thin on the ground

As fules kno by now, a big trend for autumn is punk: studs, spikes and neons were all over the Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Versace shows last February. Even I recall that the dress-code for this year’s New York Met Ball – the most glamorous event in fashion – included the P word. This was to the bafflement of all tweenties in attendance (who’d scarcely heard of Blondie) and the fury of all over-fifties (none of whom actually went to a Ramones/Pistols concert at the time). Honour was satisfied, however, by everyone gelling three hanks of hair at the front of their head up into mini-spikes and affecting gormlessness.

READ: J. Crew to open three London stores this autumn

Another major news story this season is that J Crew, the New York chain beloved by stylish thirty- and fortysomethings – anyone of the Friends generation, basically – opens its first UK store in London’s Regent Street in October (and two smaller, boutique versions, female and male respectively, in Chelsea and Bloomsbury). The label specialises in updated, well-made classics, and when I used to travel to New York for the collections twice a year, it was the most requested label by friends – especially men – clamouring for leather jackets, trenches and macs. And no one ever complained, even slightly, about the resultant booty.

Day-glo at Versace autumn/winter 2013. Photo: Lloyd McAlister

In preparation for its London opening, J Crew has been selling online in the UK for a couple of months. I logged on on day one and ordered a day-glo pink and pink blush striped sequinned skirt that ticked so many boxes of modish seasonality, it jumped out at me. When it arrived two weeks ago, the sight of it actually made my heart beat that bit faster with excitement – which is surely what fashion should be about.

WATCH: Red carpet Punks at the 2013 Met Ball

But then I had a little crise de confiance : was this punkish, eye-popping skirt really suitable attire for a woman of my age? Especially for work meetings, which is where I intended to wear it? So I asked my boyfriend. Whom I had forgotten watched that fabulous Chanel documentary with me (see it, if at all possible), where Karl and his amazing team of seamstresses in Rue Cambon take pain over every stitch and detail.

“I like it,” said my own little saloon-bar seamstress. “But I worry about those sequins coming off. Were they hand-sewn by old ladies in Normandy…?”

I wore it anyway, teamed with a leather biker jacket, even while musing there might be a reason why people don’t normally wear sequins to work.

I have never had so many compliments in my life. Colleagues were effusive. Strangers stopped me to ask where I got the skirt. My faith in my own fashion had a surge. I had got in early, chosen boldly and pulled it off. I strutted some metaphorical catwalk in the sky.

READ: Madonna in styling overkill at the Met Ball

And then, at the end of a meeting that afternoon, I stood up and something caught on my chair. Suddenly, whole clumps of sequins were unravelling like a bad alibi, and my important client was offering to cut me free with scissors. As I left the building, I looked like a bedraggled punk – like Madonna in the Like a Virgin video, but after she’s lost her virginity.

The moment I got home, I fired up that J Crew website to see if they still had the skirt in stock. Sold out entirely. Then I emailed J Crew customer service, who were helpful: “Thanks for reaching out, Marie…”. I rued, in passing, that I couldn’t begin my communications: “From the Editor-in-Chief, Marie Claire, UK”, as Janessa from J Crew and I agreed that it would be silly to repair the skirt if sequin-shedding was just going to happen again. So I agreed to a refund. And I considered how much it would cost to get those ladies in Northern France to re-sew every sequin.

READ: J. Crew CEO to star in Breaking Bad

Finally I decided to get it patch-repaired at Scobies dry-cleaner, to never tell my boyfriend, and to avoid sitting down in it ever again. It is crises like this that make fashion people need a month every summer – and to spend it wearing jeans.


The slightly daft spy drama The Americans reaches its denouement on ITV4 tomorrow night and, for those of us who have been stuck at home this summer, it’s been a lifeline – a kind of silly-season Homeland. Albeit with this advantage: the fashion.

A simple tale of two embedded (literally) Soviet agents in Reagan-era Washington DC, Matthew Rhys (hot) and Keri Russell (supercilious, sexy) have been forcibly married to each other by the KGB (now with kids), sleep incontinently with their sources, bicker on the school-run and assassinate at the drop of a hat. Or glove. Or skirt. For practically every move is preceded by a visit to the dressing-up box for another disguise.

Fashion hits: ‘The Americans’. Photo: 2013 Fox and its related entities

Costume designer Jenny Gering has been careful to note that in 1981, fashion was still more about the Seventies – soft, earthy, tailored – than brash Eighties power-dressing. So we see Elizabeth (Russell) in soft cashmere roll-necks, high-waisted jeans, tailored blazers and high, sexy boots while Philip (Rhys) inhabits some sort of nightmare changing-room between Carlos the Jackal and the New Romantics.

Last week’s episode, where Elizabeth and Claudia, the couple’s battleaxe KGB supervisor, got themselves up as Bible Belt Christians so that Philip could marry a (magnificently needy) source among “family”, was simply priceless: the styling, the acting, the lot. I look forward to 1982, the era when baby boomers really began to fall in love with themselves.


We need to talk about coats. Because, may I remind you, we went from Indian Summer to mid-winter practically overnight last year, between September 20 and October 1. And may I further adduce that when all of the pretty, sleek but barely insulated boyfriend coats appeared on the catwalks last February, New York was practically whited out because of Nemo, London was perishing, Paris was -11 C and Milan snowed prettily, all the time.

Cold snap: To remind its Paris Fashion Week audience that they will want a luxury parka before the year is out, the label Moncler but fake snow and polar bears on the catwalk this season. Photo: Moncler

So what were seasoned front-rowers wearing? Parkas, the only garment that can keep your neck, ears and face warm, all the time. Having purchased at least six over the years, and tested them in inhospitable regions, such as New York, I can tell you to buy the Woolrich Arctic Parka, and the men’s one, for preference. All right, it practically fills your hallway when hung up – it’s a bit like adding an Alsatian to your household – but you will never be so cosy, or admired for your savoir-vivre. And then the excitement – just as with the cape, or the cocoon – is in the reveal, the shapeliness underneath.

Yes, I know it’s mid-August, but this was a public service announcement. Having said that, I do fancy the Grace Coddington coat in that M&S Annie Leibovitz extravaganza.

Marie O’Riordan is Editor-in-Chief at John Brown Publishing

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