London, Paris, Milan, New York. Is there a more glamorously promise-laden set of place names than this? Take any one of these cities on its own and it is exciting and for some, home. Lump them together and there is really only one subtext – Fashion.
Last week saw the Fash Pack gather in New York for the start of the Spring / Summer 2015 catwalk shows. They then decamped to here in London and are now in Milan. Last but by no means least (historically, the opposite is true) will be Paris. On the one hand, it looks like the most fabulous way to spend September, on the other… well for the American branch of the Fash Pack it means packing for three weeks of European weather at arguably the most unpredictable time of the year. And we’re not talking whether to pack cardigans or parkas, boots or sandals. Ohh no, this is the equivalent to planning twenty-one job interview outfits and actually the weather is the least of their worries. At fashion week there are cameras and bloggers everywhere, all with an eye for the next big thing. ‘Street Style’ type blogs are now almost as influential as the shows themselves as they tend to celebrate a mixture of high end and high street. Whether the Fash Pack admit it or not, being snapped because of how you look at fashion week is the ultimate recognition. Never has the bar been set higher – if you are familiar with the polished New York style of Olivia Palermo or the laid back London cool of Alexa Chung you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I live in London and have visited Milan, Paris and New York many times. Inevitably there are similarities, some good and some bad (traffic and polution anyone?) but I love all four places and will never tire of them. I have yet to travel to New York with my small son (mainly because six hours of commentary about how the aircraft is functioning is more than I can stand) but he has been to Milan and Paris and due to his passion for architecture rather than clothes, at four years old he too is a fan. If one of these beautiful cities stands alone – and not as the poor relation as is often suggested – it is London. Only in London is there no uniform, no one look or attitude identifiable from twenty paces.
In Milan you are not fully dressed without a black puffa jacket, add jeans and boots to this, even in the summer and you are practically a native. They wear black from head to toe. I was five months pregnant on one visit to Milan and I was constantly stared at as if I had two heads. When I questioned an Italian about this some time after, he laughed and told me that no Milanese woman would ever plan to give birth in August because it’s just too hot. Bizarre as it may seem, I had to admit that I had not seen a single pregnant woman in Milan that April. Visible bumps clearly not in style that season.
There is a reason there are books written about why French women are skinny and why their children behave well in restaurants. The French and especially Parisians, are particular. They simply would not stand for bad food, bad children or bad clothes. They even get to stay in hospital for a week after giving birth. I have a lovely funny friend, Naima, who lived and worked in Paris and was absolutely astounded that I owned a bag bought in H&M. “But why cherie?” she begged, “Zer quality eez sheet, non?”
Interestingly, New York is the most high maintenance of all. There, by breakfast time you have been to the gym, had a blow dry and taken a conference call. Manicures and pedicures are a weekly necessity, like doing the vacuuming; if you don’t do it you’ll end up looking like a bit of a slut. The preppy look of Ralph Lauren and Banana Republic is de rigeur and that, in a nutshell, is why the Carrie Bradshaw character was such a big deal. Put Carrie in London and she would fit in nicely.
In London it is not unusual to be unusual. In fact quite the opposite is true, in London an eccentric approach to an eclectic wardrobe is quite the norm. Perhaps this is why I can’t help feeling that the current ‘Norm-core’ trend is something dreamed up by a non-British person. After all a shirt and sweater with a pair of slouchy trousers and loafers is what the brand Gap has traded on since 1969. It’s very American and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not much fun. And while I doubt that the more loopy fashionistas are wearing their bunny ears and yellow lipstick to work every day, oh how I love to think that they are…