The woman who revolutionised British fashion: Barbara Hulanicki interviewed

‘I was one of your original customers in Kensington Church Street,’ I tell the founder of Biba when we meet. ‘Are you coming to complain?’ she shoots back. At 87 and fresh off a flight from Miami, Barbara Hulanicki is as sharp as a tack. The designer was in London for the opening of The Biba Story, the Fashion and Textile Museum’s celebration of the revolution she accomplished in 1960s street fashion. Believe me, it was a revolution – I was there and yes, I remember. In fact I can summon a mental inventory of all the items of clothing I bought from Biba over its short life, from the

What happened to the supermodels of the 1990s?

‘What advice would you give to your younger self?’ has become a popular question in interviews in recent years. It’s meant to generate something profound but, musing privately, I always find it a puzzler. Sometimes I think that maybe I shouldn’t have wasted so much of my twenties talking nonsense in pubs, but on the other hand I really enjoyed it. So I usually settle on: ‘Don’t buy a sofa bed, especially not the kind with a concealed metal frame that you pull out.’ Unbelievably, I’ve done this twice. These vast, unwieldy contraptions cost a bomb, weigh a ton, make a terrible sofa and an uncomfortable bed. If you’re 16

The 19th century Chinese craze for all things European

By the 1800s, the mechanical clock had become a status symbol for wealthy Chinese. The first arrived with Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese merchants years earlier, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that those outside of the imperial court could afford them. Rich merchant families displayed their clocks proudly, like their European counterparts had showed off pineapples. Women’s jackets started to be decorated with ‘clock buttons’ made of enamel and one family embroidered a clock face on to their baby’s silk bib. European aesthetics made their way into other parts of Chinese society too. Traditional ink portraits became colourful and hyper-realistic, inspired by photography. Courtesans learned to play billiards

The Georgian fashion revolution

Normally, when you look at portraits you feel obliged to focus on the sitter. But quite often you’re thinking, ‘Ooh, what a lovely frock.’ Or, ‘Fabulous breeches!’ Here it’s the costumes that take centre stage. The point that this exhibition makes is that costume spoke volumes about society, particularly in the long 18th century, over the course of the reigns (and regency) of the four Georges. Compare the flounces and silk of a portrait of Queen Caroline in 1771 with the simple classical white muslin cotton of Princess Sophia in 1796 and you find nothing less than a revolution. The change resembles what happened in dress after the Great War:

The curious business of luxury watches

Ian Fleming once said that a gentleman’s choice of timepiece said as much about him as his Savile Row suit. The latter part of that evaluation seems anachronistic now – after all, who apart from Jacob Rees-Mogg wears Savile Row suits with any regularity these days? But the idea of the watch as indicator of taste, status, wealth and much else besides is, arguably, still valid – and perhaps increasingly so. Luxury watch sales are on the up and predicted to rise further – remarkable given the cost-of-living crisis, their inessential nature and an alarming rise in theft. Watches of Switzerland, who recently opened a multi-brand Canary Wharf showroom, saw

The style and substance of Michael Roberts

Almost 50 years ago, I was fashion editor of the Sunday Times and a man in his mid-twenties by the name of Michael Roberts was a junior editor. Born in Buckinghamshire in 1947 to an English mother and a father from St Lucia, he was handsome and stood very tall and straight. Even so, when he was named the world’s most elegantly dressed man under 30 at the International Male Elegance Awards, I was baffled. His habitual garment was a second-hand tweed coat done up with a piece of string… how could this be? But it wasn’t long before his creative genius became obvious – to me and to the rest

In praise of the Casio watch

Of all the accessories one might expect a celebrity with millions in the bank and army of stylists at their disposal to choose, a bargain watch is not the most obvious. Yet Casio timepieces – some of which sell for little as £10, and most of which cost under £50 – appear to have become something of a status symbol among a certain strata of the well-off and well-connected. Take former Manchester United footballer Gerard Piqué (estimated net worth £66 million), who split up with pop star Shakira last year. Recently the Colombian singer, 45, released a ‘revenge’ single with lyrics ridiculing the retired Spanish player, her partner of 11 years,

The unique style of Seville

If you want to feel scruffy, head to Seville, the outrageously attractive capital city of southern Spain’s Andalucia region. It’s not just the abundant exquisite architecture – the city has one of the largest historic ‘old towns’ in Europe, with every bar, café and restaurant looking tiptop – but also the sartorial elegance that abounds among the local population, made even more striking by it coexisting in apparent easygoing harmony with the often plain awful turnout of us tourists and visitors. If Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain is the city of rucksacks and walking sticks, then Seville – currently Google’s most searched-for flight-only destination – is the city of

The empty eco-activism of renting clothes

From time to time my Instagram algorithm will taunt me with a dress. It is – unequivocally ­– the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen. Satin, emerald green, halter-neck. The dress retails for about £200, and is always sold out in my size. The ad that Instagram teases me with is for a rental, which you can pick up for £73. This is the latest fad in so-called eco-activism. Rent a dress for an astonishing amount – usually a dress that’s sold out or difficult to track down – and you will save the world! Fighting back against the mortal sin that is fast-fashion. The trend is so popular now

This old thing: the new fashion brag

The skirt I’ve worn most often recently is long, blue and as comfortable as it is flattering. ‘Why, thank you,’ I reply with a satisfied smile when I’m complimented on its delicate floral print and the way it swishes as I walk. ‘It’s Dorothy Perkins, 2011.’ I may not be able to distinguish Dolce & Gabbana from Dior or have set foot in a clothes shop fitting room since 2020, but when it comes to the newest form of fashion bragging, I excel. Nowadays, you see, it’s not the number on the price tag that counts, but the number of years you’ve owned the garment you’re wearing – and my

Apocalypse chic: Autechre, Last Days and Southbank’s Xenakis day reviewed

It was so dark, my friend noted, you could have had sex or done a Hitler salute. No stage lights, no stair lights, no desk lights, no door lights, no usher lights, no exit signs. The few wisps of illumination that did steal in created colossal shadows, giants freeze-framed on the walls. In these snatches the wooden ribcage interior of the Barbican Hall looked demonic. A few photons lit up the Autechre boys, Rob Brown and Sean Booth, who flickered like blue flames rising from a hob. A few more nudged into view the ceiling that had become a vast charcoal grisaille. When, occasionally, someone left, the tiny glowing portal

Pleasantly untaxing: Mrs Harris Goes to Paris reviewed

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is a comedy-drama based on the 1958 novel by Paul Gallico about a cheerful, kind-hearted Battersea charlady who falls in love with a couture dress from Dior, decides she must have one of her own, and off she goes. If you are in the mood for something pleasantly untaxing you will be pleasantly untaxed This is a familiar type of British film. It’s similar in spirit to, say, Florence Foster Jenkins or Paddington or The Duke or that golf one with Mark Rylance. It isn’t but could have been directed by Stephen Frears. It stars Lesley Manville but it could have starred Julie Walters. We

Why Charles is the King of Savile Row

No one who has watched the events of the past ten days could doubt the King’s commitment to his late mother – or to his people. But I think another of Charles III’s commitments is also becoming apparent: one to British tailoring. From his black-braided morning suit when he addressed the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Hall to the ceremonial Air Marshal’s uniform he wore to process the Queen’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to her lying-in-state, His Majesty has been nothing less than impeccably attired at every turn. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve got probably the best-dressed head of state in the world. As Prince of Wales, Charles

Neckerchiefs are a sartorial risk worth taking

Neckerchiefs are an oddity. Once the cowboys’ sweat-wiping tool, they are now a key accessory in the glamour – or camp and borderline tack – of a flight attendant’s uniform. My approach to them tends to sit somewhere in the middle. Neckerchiefs are useful, stylish, rebellious, but comforting – a rare choice for men’s fashionwear. A neckerchief can spice up a dull-coloured shirt without imprisoning your neck in a collar choked by its distant relative, the tie. But before becoming the fabric embodiment of smart-casual, the neckerchief was wholly utilitarian. Sailors began wearing them in the 16th century to combat the discomfort caused by dripping sweat rubbing against their stiff-collared shirts.

The art of choosing sunglasses

Only Princess Diana could carry off Wimbledon white-rimmed aviators with such style. Pictured in the Royal Box at The Championships in 1986, The Princess of Wales brought an edge to her natural elegance in these striking shades. White sunglasses scream summer so are a great addition to a holiday wardrobe, pairing well with colourful fabrics.  If you find white too stark then opt for ivory as a softer alternative. Coloured shades You can’t go wrong with a classic Audrey Hepburn style black shade paired with monochrome outfits, but they can sometimes look too harsh with the softer colour palette and floaty frocks of summer. A tinted lens and tortoiseshell frame

How interesting an art is fashion?

One of the New York Met Gala stylists is sharing tips for wearing a corset to an evening do. ‘Breathe a lot in the morning,’ he tells the Gucci Podcast, with a discernible smile, ‘and by the time you put on the dress, you’ll be full of oxygen.’ The image of a puffed-up toad comes to mind. It’s a bit nuts, isn’t it, the fashion world? The Met Gala is the ball where anything goes – the costumes are witty and extreme – but even so the commentary on it can be pretty earnest, especially in the American press. The stylists on this podcast speak of dressing celebrities like disco

Is Anna Wintour human?

Apparently Anna Wintour wants to be seen as human, and Amy Odell’s biography goes some way to helping her achieve that aim. Nearly all the photographs show her smiling, looking friendly, even girlish. And the text quite often mentions her crying. On 9 November 2016 she cried in front of her entire staff because Hillary Clinton lost the election. But then she immediately set about trying to persuade Melania Trump to do a Vogue shoot. Melania, another tough cookie, refused unless she was guaranteed the cover. Dame Anna has been the editor of American Vogue since 1988 and holds a position of extraordinary power in the fashion world. Designers, photographers,

The sad demise of Brooks Brothers

New York Our own Douglas Murray is the canary in the Bagel coal mine as of late. The left controls culture, education and technology over here, but a few canaries are still free to warn the rest of us that we’re being taken for a ride. Here’s a warning to those multimillionaires who get down on one knee every weekend to make themselves feel better for getting lotsa moolah for playing a game in the sun. It has to do with black lives and whether they matter or not. Black lives do matter, but not to those who run the racket that goes by the acronym BLM. According to Murray,

The case against a European army

The end of the Cold War was used by the victors to unite Germany. To balance this, Europhiles created a single currency which, by replacing the deutschmark, would ‘hold Germany down’. The reverse occurred. The euro made Germany the most important power in the European Union, and so it remains. Today, the same Europhiles want to use the rebirth of the Cold War to encourage Germany to re-arm. To balance this, they want to create a truly ‘European’ defence, of which Germany would be a vital part. The EU would prevent Germany from using its force for national needs. For this purpose, they say, Nato would be no good because

Birds have helped mankind throughout history — but we have repaid them cruelly

Unusually for a book about nature, the species in question, in this lucid story of the relationship between birds and humans, is ours. Why catch six million ibises, attractive water birds with curved beaks, plunge them into vats of liquid resin, wrap them in bandages and bury them in vast cemeteries in Middle Egypt in 650 BC? When There Were Birds explains that these ibises were offerings to Thoth, god of knowledge and wisdom. Throughout this story, faith, cash and custom drive humans to behave in astonishing ways towards birds. From the early 15th century we were moving canaries to the Swiss Alps and southern Germany, where breeders might raise