Sunday, 4 February 2007

"Style Counsel" published February 4

No Kiwi girl got past her first Smith and Caughey’s training bra without learning several rules of style. Don’t wear horizontal stripes, black makes you thin, never wear white without a tan, and don’t mix purple with green.
All these tips were gleaned out of fashion mags as New Zelaand women clambered their way through the crazy psychedilia of the 70s into somethig a little more classic and European by the year 2000.
It has taken several decades for Kiwi women to find some sense of style, but today a casual stroll around the streets of Ponsonby will reveal some rather elegant women, as long as you ignore the visitors from West Auckland.
We can credit this eventual discovery of things chic to those who were lucky enough to travel to Europe and immerse themselves in a bucket so full of superior style that they would come home looking like a cross between Audry Hepburn and Jackie O. Eager Kiwi women greatfully left behind the crimplene trouser suits and marvelled at how well things fit when they were designed and cut well – no need for elastic waistbands in Europe.
But today, I can confidently pronounce after a month over there that the word “style” has undergone a slight change in meaning in Italy, where bling went to die. An entire reality show could be built around the challenge of finding a pair of jeans which doesn’t have diamantes glued to the butt. And don’t even get me started on the shoes. No style conscious Italian would be seen dead on their evening stroll around the piazza without a pair of silver trainers and a matching shiny silver puffer jacket wih fur trim giving the visitor an overwhelming impression that Italian youth has identified rather too strongly with American rap stars.
Out here in the colonies we have occasional glimpses of designers like Versace and Chirstian Dior with the odd handbag, pair of sunglasses, or belt and that’s all very nice as a one off item to go with our black. But it’s not until you get to Europe that you see a woman dressed out in top to toe Christian Dior. Shoes, jeans, belt, t shirt, jacket, necklace, ear-rings and sunglasses – all in wonderful glorious bright pink with sparkles. As you attempt to absorb this blinding designer vision you wonder if the designer himself ever imagined all that going together quite like that. In Europe the singular form of the noun accessory just doesn’t exist. It’s accessories, the plural at all times.
As I shopped exhaustively through the cities of Venice, Rome, Sorrento,
Syracuse and Palermo, I found myself craving and admiring our local designers. A well cut plain white shirt, a beautifully tailored pair of black pants, all part and parcel of all of our designer collections, even if you do have to go to the back of the shop to find them. In some weird cultural exchange New Zealanders have taken the simple well cut lines of European design and made them our own while Europe has become overwhelmed in Eurotrash bling, perhsaps inspired by the constan demands of Paris Hilton and her puppy, who, thanks to Paris’s ever diminishing weight, can now wear each other’s clothes.
Of course other things went to die in Italy. The tracksuit, which has undergone little adjustment since it was made popular by the likes of fitness guru Richard Simmons in the 70s and rap stars in the 90s, when the tracksuit found itself a little bit of bling down the trouser leg. It would appear containers full of them have been loaded up in West Auckland and shipped to Italy as emergency supplies.
Nothing went to die in Paris, on the other hand. If it had, the strictly styled Parisians would have wrinkled their noses, clasped it gingerly by the tips of two fingers and thrown it over the border to Italy. There are no tracksuits and the only bling is the diamonds weighing heavily and singularly on their fingers and ear lobes. Normally there are great fashion trends to be picked up on the streets of Paris but in winter one can barely move for the cushiony, soft mass that is fur coats. Tiny cobblstone lanes become a mass of undulating fur. There are no fat people in Paris. Paris is the only country in the world which makes you feel ugly, frumpy and fat from the moment you alight at Charles de Gaulle airport. Which is why I recommend, for the sake of your mental health, that you follow up any stay in Paris with at least a quick stop in Italy to take in the tracksuits.

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