FASHION / The new mood: Dirty realism has reached fashion. The whole world is changing. Globs of gold and short, sharp suits have ceded to bagginess, scruffiness, second-hand and ethnic clothes. If you don't like it, these are the people responsible

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IT IS THE LAST leg of the fashion season, after London, Milan and Paris. The Virgin Atlantic flight to New York is delayed, which means that the glossy fashion people - the ones on big expense accounts with the wraparound dark glasses - are already halfway across the Atlantic while the rest are slumped in the Heathrow departure lounge, feeling tired and tetchy and looking worse in the harsh, bright light.

Not that anyone would guess what these people do for a living. Mumbling together in a corner of the cafeteria are two of the most unlikely-looking fashion people of all. He is tousle-haired and shabby, she is scruffy in an army-surplus coat, with her hair tugged back into an elastic band. A couple in shell suits give them a wide berth. Yet this is the pair that the billionaire designer Calvin Klein - never one to let a trend pass his global empire by - has already got his eye on.

It used to be that fashion people looked so glamorous they could rely on being upgraded to first class if they weren't there already. They'd while away the time chatting about their second homes, comparing the performance of their shares or swapping gossip on the Princess of Wales. But if you were chief steward and you saw these two - Melanie Ward and Guido Palau, stylist and hairdresser respectively - lined up for your plane, you'd put them in steerage.

Fashion people used to look polished and pristine. They clinked when they walked with the weight of bold pieces of gold jewellery, and they had severe, photogenic haircuts. But those dictating fashion now not only don't look smart, half the time they don't look washed. Most of all, they don't look important. They have turned the received language of clothes on its head. Theirs is a different visual vocabulary, one that the rest of us are only beginning to understand. Smart and shiny no longer means power. Instead, watch the person who looks thrown together from a jumble sale, who has had no passing aquaintance with a comb.

Anna Cockburn, the British fashion editor of the revamped and happening American magazine, Mademoiselle (edited, incidentally, by another Brit, Anna Wintour's ex- amanuensis Gabbe Doppelt), looks like she sleeps rough. In fact, she sleeps in one of Manhattan's smartest hotels, the Phillipe Starck-designed Royalton, courtesy of her rich employer, the publishing company, Conde Nast, until she can find a suitable New York apartment. Camilla Nickerson, the new fashion editor of American Vogue, who is also British, favours the trailing hemlines and sloppy shoes that a year ago would have got a Conde Nast stylist sent home.

Nigel Shafran, the photographer credited with initiating the new mood, looks like a delivery boy. You'll have to take my word for it, because he wouldn't submit a self-portrait except one taken when he had chicken-pox. Photographer David Sims looks like the star and, allegedly, behaves like a prima donna, while the photographer Mario Sorrenti looks like a model because, before he started taking dirty realism fashion pictures, that was what he was.

But Sorrenti's girlfriend only looks like a model because we have seen so much of her. Would you really have spotted the potential of Kate Moss when she was standing next to you at an airport check-in desk? (Which is the true story of how her Croydon-to-riches rise began.) And David Sims's girlfriend, the punky, pixie blonde Emma Balfour, is a no- gloss, no-cheesecake version of the glamorous supermodel Claudia Schiffer - whose unwanted jobs she used to pick up before she cut off her hair and went natural.

Not since the youthquake of the Sixties, when Bailey shocked the establishment by photographing his girlfriend Jean Shrimpton the way she really looked, has fashion attempted to get this real. The success of Bailey and The Shrimp was a reaction against the artificial poses and haughty models of Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson and John French, just as today's passion for unironed clothes and skin with flaws is a reaction to the impossible Amazonian perfection of Linda, Cindy, Claudia et al and the super-rich and super-snooty photographers who work with them.

When it comes to clothes, many come from second-hand stalls and are customised to varying degrees; Melanie Ward can sew enough to update an Edwardian jacket found on a market stall; Anna Cockburn can't and just scissors off trousers to leave hems trailing in the dust.

Schoolboy's trousers from John Lewis, low-cut, low-cost trainers (absolutely not the high-topped, high-priced ones teenagers were desperate to have a year ago) and shrunken V-neck jumpers under heavy old coats are favoured, along with designer pieces from the radical Europeans, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margelia from Belgium and Helmut Lang from Austria (see panel right).

What they all wanted - these stylists, fashion designers, hairdressers, make-up artists, models and photographers of fashion's new mood - was to react against the perfection that made people feel so uncomfortable with the fashion of last year and the year before that. They wanted to help create images that brought fashion closer to documentary. They wanted the emotional response of realism.

What they have got is the centre stage, and in some cases the chance to make breathtaking amounts of money, while others - the most radical - make hardly anything and still live at home with their parents on the outer reaches of the Tube.

What the successful ones have also got is patronage. Fashion's big players, the glossy international grandes dames, including Anna Wintour of American Vogue and Liz Tilberis of Harper's Bazaar, are not about to slip out of their neat suits into ripped and shredded old clothes. Wintour is not about to side- step her signature teetering high heels, from which she breathes fear into readers, management and (most crucially) big-bucks-advertisers, for a wrinkled sheath and a pair of Birkenstock sandals. Instead she has brought in a junior player to do it for her.

Other fashion players have taken advantage of the new mood to stage a comeback or to redefine their positions internationally. Grace Coddington, who has been in the vanguard of every new fashion movement since she modelled in the mid-Sixties, is now fiftysomething and fashion director of American Vogue. She was always a little unhappy with the glitzy era of fashion. She went for it - memorably, when she dressed in leopard-print leggings and powder-blue- and-gold Versace mules at the Paris shows a couple of seasons ago - but she was always happier in Left Bank black sweaters and plimsolls tying bits of twig into the titian hair of winsome models. Ditto British Vogue's fashion director, Lucinda Chambers, who never took naturally to the fashion world according to Chanel.

Debbi Mason, (yet another British export), whose quirky, romantic, personal style is closely watched by nearby Seventh Avenue, was entirely out of synch with power- suits and tight little skirts and spent much of the shiny time doing other things. Now, wearing monkey boots, a couple of old aprons and a vintage scarf, she is back. So, too, is rich and slim Lucy Ferry, wife of Bryan and mother of a pack of boys, who has become contributing editor to the aforementioned Mademoiselle.

It's strange that this has become the magazine for stylish Britons to be associated with, despite the fact that its target market is American teens, not known for mixing chic with braces. (Naomi Campbell, widely known to be rich, fabulous and engaged, and less well known for the original way she dresses, is also signed up as a contributing stylist to Mademoiselle.)

This is a moment of significant change in fashion, where new names are on the point of becoming well-known names, and the mavens - the women who run fashion, but don't quite make it - are guarding their positions in a scene they don't quite know by championing those who do.

(Photographs omitted)

ANNA COCKBURN, fashion editor at Mademoiselle, New York. 'What is so great is to see the people and the things I love being taken seriously. Fashion now is about being comfortable. It is not about hemlines and haircuts. It's about attitude, the feeling that you can have your hair how you want it; not being made to feel inadequate by over-glossed perfection in

magazines. I think it's important that those images should be more about how things are. People don't have flawless skin, their clothes do get wrinkled. It's saying you don't have to be immaculate. And I hope it's reassuring people and giving them back confidence'

JOE McKENNA, freelance stylist, now has his own magazine in New York called Joe's. He started out in a Glasgow pop band, moved to London, then New York, to Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. He worked with Bruce Weber and has never looked back. Joe's is a showcase for established photographers such as Weber and Steven Meisel and for new stars such as Corinne Day. He says the new mood is a reaction to Mrs Thatcher. 'British people learned how to use thrift clothes to express an attitude - how they really felt. Now the look is being bought by New York, but it'll take years to make an impact on the rest of America'

DEBBI MASON, now fashion director of Mademoiselle in New York, was the fashion director of British Elle when it launched in 1985. At the end of the Eighties, she took time out for her own projects, including baby Lily. Trained in the 'What can I find from the furthest possible place in an ethnic store and put on my model' school of styling, she is the best in the business at fusing different influences. She was called in by Mademoiselle to change its cheesecake American teen image while losing none of its youth - or its 5.5 million readers. 'I came here,' she says, 'because I felt I had something to say again.'

CAMILLA NICKERSON, the British fashion editor of American Vogue, was employed by its fashion director Grace Coddington, who thought the magazine lacked youth. 'I told them,' Camilla says, 'that the fashion circus was dead. I told them my styling was about getting up really early and finding something in Portobello Road. I told them the signs and symbols of fashion had got tired. I had a terrible interview. And then they hired me. In the States now there is a real feeling for political correctness. Even pictures have to be politically correct, and I suppose I'm trying to move towards inspiration rather than aspiration. Fashion styling used to be about turning a model into a rock'n'roll star for a day, or a Marilyn, now it's about her being herself'

CECILIA CHANCELLOR, waif-model, was discovered at the school gates 10 years ago. She worked with Camilla Nickerson then and does now. Went to art school during the supermodel era, so happily missed a movement her look would have been wrong for. 'This job can pay handsomely and by being part of things now, I hope to be able to secure my financial freedom'

LUCIE DE LA FALAISE, gamine of the moment because: she is pretty and suits the often hideously unflattering layered haircut; she comes from a long line of beauties;she is half French, half English, and can therefore be a starlet in both places; because she and her brother, Daniel, live in a New York loft and everybody wants to come for tea; because she is a good model

EMMA BALFOUR, model, still goes on castings and gets told to go home because of her horrible hair, 'or people ask if I'm the new 14-year-old'. In fact she is a worldly 23 and left Australia after 'my druggy boyfriend sold my horse'. Thinks it's 'great that the industry is getting more real for a bit, but it will go back to fantasy. By then, I'll have some horses and be out of here'

Fashion's power pack: from left, Grace Coddington, fashion director of US Vogue; Liz Tilberis, her best friend of many years from British Vogue, now editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar; Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue; and Lucy Ferry, wife of Bryan and patron of the new moodsters

GUIDO PALAU is the hairdresser who gave the model Emma Balfour the punkish pixie haircut that has launched a thousand imitations. Expert at the bits-of-hair-not-quite- caught-in-a-rubber-band school of hair care, he has a penchant for punkish, fluorescent Crazy Color used in hair, probably inspired by working trips to Berlin. Here he is styling backstage at Calvin Klein in New York with the British make-up artist DICK PAGE. They're both being paid a lot of money to make models look as if they've slept rough but still woken up dewy-eyed and rosy-cheeked. 'We'd been developing the look for about two and a half years, doing it for magazines like i-D,' says Page. 'At the time it was against what was going on in fashion. Now fashion has come round to our way of seeing things'

MELANIE WARD, stylist, who works principally with model Kate Moss, and for the catwalk shows of the Austrian designer Helmut Lang. She was born and grew up in East London, 'not the East End, further out than that' and was initially inspired in her fashion ideas by second-hand clothes and 'the local Asian community, wearing saris with anoraks and trainers because it is practical'. She has long worn old sailor's trousers and army greatcoats, which look similar to those Lang is currently offering in his collection. 'How would I react if 20 people walked by and not one guessed what I do? I'd be flattered. Someone seeing me for the first time once said, 'She looks so fierce, like she's been styled by Melanie Ward' '

(Photographs omitted)