Sunday, 23 August 2009

Clutching at Stars

When planning an evening’s outfit the tiny sequined bag forces the most painful decision; which to take, perfume or make up? Because slotting both inside this silky envelope would be out of the question. With no room for all the usual handbag clutter, and heaven forbid trying to squeeze a hefty purse into its cramped interior, the clutch bag remains an impractical, yet highly desirable accessory.
For years designers have seen the clutch bag as the perfect canvas to create their most beautiful and quirky designs, and this year is no exception. Star scattered and gem encrusted at Yves Saint Lauren, a ruby red quilted Chanel, Fendi’s bold flower and rainbow design, cheeky circus print from Mui Mui, Balenciaga’s bold floral concoction, a hippy boho pattern from Stella McCartney... the list goes on. Designs that would overwhelm on a bigger scale look perfectly proportioned on a clutch.
Nowadays a clutch bag implies the luxury of a life free from unwanted baggage - no bulging diary or guilty mars bar wrapper lurking in the darkened depths amongst a grotty tissue and emergency hairbrush. Instead the space is reserved for a single perfect lipstick, tiny bottle of heavenly scented perfume and a Platinum card.
However, the clutch bag has not always had this dreamy significance. Although the first real clutch bags or ‘reticules’ of the 1800s were created for ladies to carry money, smelling salts and a dainty handkerchief, the clutch didn’t experience fame in the 20th century until the first world war, when it became the perfect accessory as it required less material for manufacture. Perhaps it is ironic that now clutch bags are only really used for evening or special occasions, and are flaunted in all their shimmering, studded or sequined glory.
And it’s all in the name. ‘Clutch’ implies a favourite possession gripped for dear life, something precious and exquisite. What other bag forces the same sort of reverence? A handbag you can sling over an arm or shoulder, the clutter bulging bag knocked and jostled by tube-goers. And when you return home a handbag can be thrown ruthlessly onto the floor or piled on a chair among coats and newspapers. On the other hand the clutch merits pride of place in the hand’s tight grip, embodies elegance and demands attention.
Despite the connotations of luxury and elegance, a clutch bag is still surprisingly accessible for most people. Perhaps not the Balenciaga, Chanel or Dior one we all dream of, but good quality, expensive looking clutch bags can be found on the high street too. Shops like Monsoon, Warehouse and Topshop offer an accessible alternative to the high end fashion houses. Come prom season girls my age flock to Accessorize to pick out the perfect clutch bag, waitress or shop assistant wages handed over in exchange for a tiny slice of beaded beauty. Perhaps individuality does go out the window, but the clutch bag proves that classic style can be offered to anyone.
It may be small, it may be a nightmare to carry, but the clutch bag is still the perfect stylish accessory. And when it comes down to it, when you find that perfect bag, who needs a strap or handle, when you can grip glamour tightly in your fingertips?

Monday, 17 August 2009

Say No to Navy

It is Monday morning, and it is raining. You stand in front of your wardrobe, the clothes bleary through sleep clouded eyes. You are running late, having pressed ‘snooze’ one too many times. Cue today’s uniform: black trousers, black patent courts, black cardigan over an almost blue shirt, silver jewellery (because it goes with everything), and of course the black leather everyday handbag. Grab an umbrella, and you’re set to go.
Looking around me on the tube, my heart sinks. As if the recession and English rain wasn’t enough to send you over the edge, the sea of surly faces floating above black suits can surely only lead to depression. And what about the suit wearers themselves? Spending all day dressed like death can hardly be that uplifting.
So why do we British insist on wearing black? It is appropriate for a place of work. Perhaps, if you work in a funeral directors. But for a day in the office? Is there really such a need to look so sombre, creativity constricted by that dark navy jacket? There is the issue of being taken seriously, of course. No one wants to be laughed at by their colleagues for a ridiculous outfit. But an adventurous choice can similarly bring respect, and show you are not a woman to be messed with. Black trousers and pastel shirts can slip into the background; Gucci’s vermillion and admiral blue suit is for a woman to be reckoned with.
As a remedy to recession gloom, this summer designers offer us blocks of pow wow colours. Tangerine and Candy Pink pack a punch at Richard Nicoll and ice cream shades brighten the catwalk at Josh Goot. With so many designers and high street shops jumping on the rainbow wagon, there is no excuse for a dull wardrobe. You can build up an outfit the way you would play with Lego, stacking the bright blocks together. Rose trousers, buttercup t-shirt, an orange jacket. Like Lego the colours can be deconstructed, played with.
These bright colours often hark back to childhood; Crayola wax crayons, powder paints, Disney films and party rings. Like an old teddy or the perfume your mother used to wear they can remind you of a carefree happiness and a security that now seems enviable.
Not only are these shades just downright fun, but they are flattering too. Have you never noticed that people remark how well you are looking during the summer months when the colourful frocks come out of hiding? Why reserve colour only for the brief summers, instead of using it to add a healthy glow when you need it the most? Head to toe black washes out tired skin. Just think vampires and you will see what I mean.
I cannot leave the house without wearing at least two bright colours, preferably more. The bigger, the bolder, the brighter, the better. Perhaps I resemble someone who has been hit by a rainbow, but that is fine by me. Colour equals happiness - I can feel my mood visibly lifting when I pull on a multicoloured outfit or sling a pink bag over my shoulder. There is so much doom and gloom around, so why not dress with a touch of humour? Perhaps pink and orange might not co-ordinate in the same way as a lovely palette of bland neutrals, but they look like sweeties and make me smile so it is hard to resist.
Step aside Gordon Brown, I think I have found the solution to the current economic crisis. Banish the black skirts and trousers along with recession depression. ‘Say No to Navy’ would be my election slogan. No more sensible shades and sensible black shoes. Instead, opt for colours that make you smile. How can you fail to feel cheerful when dressed head to toe in fuschia? Imagine a tube journey surrounded by smiling people wearing every candied shade imaginable. You can’t help but smile back, and arrive at work with a spring in your step. Happiness and confidence must be proportionate to productivity, so the lilac Luella coat hanging prettily on the back of your chair is in fact the key to success. (The price tag is, therefore, completely justifiable).
Paintbox brights shout defiance and confidence. And in today’s climate I think we could all do with a little bit of sunshine yellow, candy-cane confidence.