Bombay Calling

The most fantastic, crazy, unbelievable, shocking, scary and exciting thing has just happened.

I’ve been asked to go to India for eight weeks to be the fashion director of a well-known magazine launching over there. This is the kind of thing that usually happens to other people. I have spent fifteen years working my way up the rather crowded fashion ladder and have had a couple of pretty good career breaks but none as mind blowing as this one. I can’t say too much or I’ll blow my cover but equally, I had to share my news as it means I will spend most of January and February blogging from Bombay rather than Blighty.

Last year I had a similar experience when I was headhunted to consider the editorship of an iconic monthly glossy that was also launching in India (yes, they’re all after the tan pound). Although I had no ambitions (let alone experience) to be an editor, it was an opportunity that I’d have been foolish not to address, even though it would have meant moving to India for six months. In the event, I didn’t pass muster as I was considered ‘too British’ and not traditionally Indian enough for the role. Not very PC but at the same time I was secretly relieved.

And now this chance has fallen into my lap and it’s all too good to be true. I will spend eight weeks in Bombay although they are hoping I will want to stay longer. It will be an almighty challenge as I don’t speak Hindi, but thankfully my mother lives out there so she can help me master the lingo and of course, it means I get to spend some quality time with her. I’m not concerned about the hard work. I love thinking up ideas, putting teams together, sourcing new designers and reporting on all the goings-on in international fashion and retail. It will mean researching a whole new culture – so much has changed even in the four or five years since I last visited. Do they have Starbucks? Internet dating? Wi-fi (eek I hope so)? I don’t even know what sort of model agencies they have in India but I’m looking forward to finding all this out as I’m a research and information junkie anyway. Bring it on I say, I can handle it!

Frankly, I’m still in shock as everything has happened so quickly and almost too easily. I’m due to get my contract on Monday, along with a letter for my visa application and my flight will be booked next week. And on January 5th I’ll say goodbye to the flat I’ve literally only just moved into and my lovely D who will be coming out to visit me, and flying into the most thrilling adventure one could hope for for the new year. Will you come on my incredible journey with me?

What the movies don’t tell you

I’ve no idea who started it but there is some kind of myth that working on a magazine is glamorous. Some people seriously think that fashion editors spend their lives gliding around offices swathed in Marni and Chloe layers, having their hair zhuzhed up by Guido Palau and yapping orders to their long-suffering fashion assistants. A friend of mine once told me he wanted to become an assistant because he literally imagined it would be a simple matter of passing things to his boss. ‘I thought it would be like we’d go on a shoot and Sally-Anne would say “Bruce, please can you pass me that hanger”, and I would hand it to her and that would be ‘assisting”, he revealed sheepishly. This is what happens when you have too many TV shows and movies set in the fashion magazine industry. People think it’s all about the Starbucks coffee and the Christian Louboutin statement stilettos.

This is the busiest time of year for working in a fashion department on a magazine. Firstly, the fashion editors are finalising details for their Big Summer Trip, the overseas shoot. This involves not only booking photographers, models, hair and make-up teams and production companies (not all magazines have bookings editors to take care of this tedious aspect of the job), but liaising with said production company (which is often in a different time zone) to start sourcing appropriate locations and props for the various shoots and booking everyone’s flights and hotels. The Big Summer Trip happens immediately after New Year so everything needs to be done and dusted as much as possible before Christmas as most PRs and model agencies shut up shop for the duration. This all needs to be juggled at the same time as getting in the last few samples which make up the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is a fashion shoot. Inevitably, it’s only at the eleventh hour that everything starts to gel and the real creativity starts flowing. You decide that the one thing you need that will really make this shoot sing is a vintage sailor hat and you have to have it. Now.

Did I mention the carnet? Oh lordy Lord. I don’t know who came up with this wretched idea but when you are shooting abroad you need to have a document called a carnet which is a typed, detailed list of all the clothes, accessories and other accoutrements you are taking so that the customs people know you are not smuggling the stuff abroad to flog. Not only does the list have to be perfectly typed with no mistakes (if there are any, it gets sent back and you have to do it again), each item has to be numbered on the list, with a corresponding numbered sticker attached to the garment. Readers, when you are taking five trunks of clothes abroad it takes forever. And guess what makes the job even harder? When everything is arranged in just the right order on the rails next to your desk, you can guarantee one of the freelance subs will casually waft past and start flicking through one of the rails as if in an exotic bazaar. “Ooh, are these floral kaftans in the shops now?” No, they’re spring-summer, that’s why we shoot the pictures abroad and not here. “How much are they?” They’re not for sale, this isn’t a shop. ‘Have you got a cardigan I can borrow? I’m a bit cold and I’ve forgotten mine. Can I wear this Stella one?” Every magazine office does actually have an ‘office cardigan’ but it’s usually a forgotten, no-label misshapen thing from a catalogue, not a pristine next-season cashmere offering by Stella McCartney.

For some reason, people think that fashion editors aren’t really doing proper work and that their ‘tools’ are just for show. So the clothes rail becomes a useful piece of furniture for random staff to plonk their coats on while the ‘fashion cupboard’ (not literally a cupboard, more a small, tardis-like room with lots of shelves and rails) becomes their personal changing room. Having said that, the fashion cupboard does come in very handy in an all-women environment. Rather than fleeing to the loos for a weep when someone’s having an emotional moment, they tend to run to the fashion cupboard which is a tad more private. The cupboard is also a good place for sharing office gossip and making confidential calls (yes, there’s a phone in there as well). At this time of year though, the fashion editor also has the office party to contend with. While she’s doing battle with the carnet and juggling the figures (oh yes, I forgot to mention she is also in charge of a multi-thousand pound shoot budget), pandemonium is breaking out around her. People are draping their little black dresses all over the place, leaving the iron and hair-straighteners in non-health-and-safety-approved areas and wrestling for space in front of the mirror. And there’s always someone who insists on leaving their used make-up remover wipes discarded on the floor afterwards. How nice.

So yes, there are perks to the job and although it’s not all free Louboutins, you might get a Kurt Geiger discount card (not valid on sale items) and get first dibs on unidentifiable catalogue samples that have been left languishing in the cupboard. You can drink as much Starbucks coffee as you like, but you usually have to fetch it yourself and as for the free trips abroad, indeed they are very lovely but you have the responsibility of looking after the team and ensuring the smooth running of the trip and making sure it comes in under budget.

So…still want to be a fashion editor?

Affordable luxury

This is the time of year when you just can’t move for ‘gift guides’ in every glossy magazine and newspaper supplement that comes your way. On the one hand I love a gorgeous spread of gifty things as much as the next person, but on the other, some of the ideas that are suggested are simply too fantastical. And yet who doesn’t get carried away with it all? Case in point, I’ve yet to see a gift editorial that doesn’t feature a Smythson notebook (even the smallest ones are not less that £25), photo album or passport wallet. Firstly, can’t they come up with something more original? We’ve being seeing these pesky Smythson little black books and their ilk for the last five years if not more. Secondly, who really needs a £25 notebook that’s smaller than the palm of your hand? That’s not luxury, that’s a rip-off. Hermes is even worse. I love, love, love Hermes, it’s the one brand that I find really irresistable but I refuse to pay £300 or whatever it is for one of their banana-shaped purses that would barely fit a pound coin. It’s just not worth it! I’m not saying don’t spend £300 on a gift but for that money you could get a cashmere sweater, a gorgeous Eames chair or a beautifully framed art poster instead.

I think it’s perfectly possible to find so-called luxurious gifts under £50. So here is my gift guide for fussy fashionisas that won’t bankrupt you.

Books from Amazon
I recently bought Basic Black, The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) by Cathie Black, the president of Hearst Magazines for my old editor who used to work for Hearst and is now going freelance. This book is a mix of business advice and an insight into the magazine industry and I’m sorely tempted to keep it for myself. The great thing about Amazon is you can buy ‘used’ books that are in mint condition at greatly reduced prices and they are sent straight to your home or office rather than you having to lug them all the way home. (If there’s one thing I hate carrying, it’s a bagful of books.) At the other end of the book spectrum is the coffee table glossy. I’d like to know who decided that £40 is now the average price of a coffee table book. Not that long ago it was £20-£25. So again, I’m angling for Vogue Living, the new book from Vogue which showcases some of the spectacular houses that have been featured in US Vogue over the years but don’t get it from Borders, get it from Amazon!

Fashion from discount stores
Too-personal gifts are a no-no in my book. That includes anything for the house. Ornaments are very dodgy ground unless you have similar taste to the recipient. Likewise, jewellery is a very personal thing. If you know your giftee very well and you’re confident that a fashion gift will be well-received then give Harvey Nichols a miss and get your present from – designer kudos at discount prices. Alternatively, I can highly recommend a trip to an outlet village like Bicester Village. The discounts are phenomenal, the shopping experience is much nicer than a high street bunfight and you will probably make enough of a saving that you can treat yourself to a nice little something plus lunch at Carluccio’s.

Fashion CDs
Every fashion fiend adores a trendy music compilation so head to Urban Outfitters and nab yourself the Hotel Costes or Karl Lagerfeld compilations. I love wrapping these types of presents in fashion shoots (or even the ads) torn from Vogue back issues. (If your magazines are too precious then use the office photocopier instead.)

Sexy Stationery
Step away from the Prada diaries! We all know the seductive allure of the blank page but once you’ve written on that first page all the appeal evaporates into thin air. Surely it’s more sensible to spend wisely and opt for a Moleskine notebook or diary instead? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t LOVE one of these. Add a bundle of Muji pens to the mix and your work is done.

Snazzy socks
If you must be a bit frivolous may I suggest a pair of snazzy designer socks? Sonia Rykiel and Eley Kishimoto make my favourites which are available from Shop At Maison Bertaux. Tabio is another fantastic sock source – how about some of their sexy sockettes to wear with contrasting coloured strappy sandals? If your budget is tighter that Roland Mouret’s RM Moon dress then TopShop is your best option. Stock up on three pairs of spotty ankle socks for £7 and divvy them betwixt your friends. Maybe you could fill them with sweets or tiny lip glosses for a new take on the stocking filler?

Monogram madness
I love the idea of personalising your presents with names or initials. Monogrammed pillowcases, boxershorts or pyjamas are much more exciting than the plain variety and show that some effort has gone into the gift.

I must confess that when I buy a present, it has to be something that I like as well. I refuse to give someone something if I think it’s bad-quality or tacky, even if I know it’s something they really want. Is that bad?

Bring it back

After me banging on about it for the best part of a year it looks like the classic denim jacket is starting to come back into circulation. I have been hunting high and low for a snug-fitting classic Levi’s jacket – not too new, not too worn- in every Rokit, Beyond Retro and vintage market that crossed my path. Even Ebay didn’t come up with the goods. The denim jacket has been off-radar for a fair old while, except for a brief respite around 2001 when the Marc Jacobs denim drummer boy jacket was the style du jour.

Blame it on the recent obsession with jeans, no one wants to do the denim-jeans-and-jacket combo so if all you’re wearing is jeans, it follows that the jacket will take a back seat for a while. But now there’s something new to wear with a denim jacket – a dress! The dress has been working its magic for a good few seasons and now it’s properly mainstream. Even the most die hard jeans-wearer (ie, me) has at least one dress that she can wear for day that ticks the same no-brainer box as her favourite loveworn pair of jeans. Next season the ‘it’ dress is likely to be something light and floaty, possibly with a ditsy floral print that can be dressed up with heels or down with wedges and…ta daaaa…a denim jacket!

Spotted at TopShop’s spring-summer preview was a passable version which would look hot with a ditsy floral dress or some cute sailor shorts or even my khaki Gap jodhpurs and a tie-neck blouse. The vintage-style seventies cut by Wrangler which was previewed at the Urban Outfitters press day is super-soft and would go perfectly over a stripy T-shirt dress by Zoe’s Tees with a pair of roper boots or cowboy boots (vintage of course). Liking the Wrangler jacket? Well despite it being shown for spring summer 08, you can in fact get one now. While browsing the Kensington High Street branch yesterday I noticed they are already in stock. The denim jacket revival has officially begun…