BOOK REVIEW / Must-haves stripped bare: 'The Designer Scam' - Colin McDowell: Hutchinson, 17.99

WHAT has happened to fashion in the 40 years between the acceptance of such a diktat as 'Whether she is entertained in a restaurant or at the home of friends, a woman luncheon guest must always wear a hat' and the appearance on the catwalk a few weeks ago of Vivienne Westwood's bare-breasted and micro-tailleured toppling totsies in plaid, to the strident horror of the tabloids (with a concomitant publicity coup to the canny Miss Westwood)? Incidentally, as no business is more sensitive to publicity than the fashion business, the author of this book managed to get a bit of the splashback from the MacFrock mock-shock on himself, and ran up a tough-

talking, almost feminist 'Why Oh Why' essay for the Daily Mail concerning the revelation of Kate Moss's starter breasts. He is an efficient writer, who thinks clearly and knows rather a lot. These facts in themselves go far to distinguish him in a world where many of the stars have no way with words and most of the journalists are either addled by little corruptions of public relations or no good at writing anything but adjectives and nouns used as adjectives (signature, cowboy, bank manager - anything but recession).

However, fashion journalism at its best has never been better. The eclecticism of fashion and its current insistence on freedom have come to necessitate a certain amount of historical knowledge in those who are paid to interpret clothes to their consumers. If you are going to dress as a time-bandit of five centuries, it helps if the fashion press can give your look the coherence of a name. The over-adjectival accessorising of nearly verbless prose full of hectic clashing imperatives is old hat. There are some excellent young fashion writers of all sexes. There is lots of talent among the bolts and needles, too, even in this country, which traditionally provides inspirational designers, who subsume their names in big continental fashion houses, and a strain of designer lionised by an inward-looking few, but dismissed as uncommercially eccentric by the majority.

In Britain, the fashion industry is held to be too peculiar and too removed from cash to have a place in the lives of any but the very rich and sequestered or the very young and brave. Colin McDowell, with a praiseworthy, almost Ruskinian approach to his subject, contends that the fashion industry is in trouble not merely here, but worldwide. He believes that in its insecurity and greed it exploits woefully the insecurity and greed of consumers, and that this cannot go on.

Having worked throughout the industry one can sense he loves but is exasperated by, McDowell can dish out his swingeing comments and Savonarolan conclusions with a certain authority: 'Fashion has failed because the public have failed'; 'Fashion is a business cyclical, hysterical and insecure'. What raises The Designer Scam above the run of fashiony books is its lack of laziness. Although it is repetitive and sometimes sloppy, repeating anecdotes and recycling stuff known to every rubbish-retaining magazine reader, the book is driven by an intelligent puritanical affront at the airs of designers, their god-complexes and Lucullan social ambitions, combined with a likeable human warmth that can often seem to be excluded by the formalised, neurotic extremes of a business that feeds off sex yet is too mineral and inverted to include its reality.

The Designer Scam tells the story of the trick that makes and moves millions by convincing people that they have not a thing to wear. The genial villain of the piece is the talented Lacroix, who declared the preposterousness of couture. Its hero is Balenciaga, who would not sell his name. The designer of our time whose name will live, says McDowell, is Saint Laurent. There is even a nice tease of 'Kaiser' Karl Lagerfeld, who finds his newest muse, Princess Diane de Beauvou- Gaon, 'deeply spiritual'. It is not often enough that clever books are written about clothes. If only this one had been illustrated, and edited more fiercely by someone with a weeding eye for magspeak, it could have been a wearable classic, a must-have signature piece from a pro.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before