Philip Hensher: Seeing the world through hipsters' eyes

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The Independent Online

Down at Frieze, the immense London contemporary art fair which takes over a chunk of Regents Park every October. My attention is not altogether on the art, however, but on an interesting development in eye-wear. This is a crowd which evidently fancies itself to be on-trend and one step ahead of the high street.

It is always worth noticing what artistic people wear to signal membership of the clan to other artistic people. Last year was the year of the pork-pie hat, I seem to remember; this year I hardly saw a single one. This year showed a striking unanimity in the choice of glasses. Ten years ago, a male art fancier would have worn polished titanium or rimless glasses, invariably in that hideously unflattering narrow letter-box shape. It said "German architect"; it signalled modernity.

Last year, when I went to a high street opticians, I was dismayed to find that the narrow German architect look was literally all you were offered. A revolt by la haute Boh ème had to be in the offing, and so has it proved.

Going round Frieze, the predominant eyewear has definitely turned into the outsized Buddy Holly shape. The dark unstructured suit and tieless white shirt of a decade ago seems to have reverted to all sorts of semi-clown costumes, including tweed suits a size too small. The style used to say Modernity. Now it says Whimsy.

These gestures and unanimous changes of look are always interesting, if mysterious. A rather cool somebody, somewhere, decides that he or she fancies an out-of-the-way and even rather naff bit of detail. Somebody else sees it, and imitates, and so on exponentially, until every human being between the ages of 17 and 70 suddenly seems to be wearing, let's say, deely-boppers on their head. The fashion trend is rather easier to spot than any trend in the art on display at Frieze.

Clearly, the art market is having a moment of readjustment. It seems to be playing itself out largely through symbolic means. There was something immensely symbolic about Damien Hirst's Sotheby's auction in September last year. Financially successful to the tune of $200m, it took place against the backdrop of the near-collapse of the banking system. It seemed, at best, the end of a party; at worst, a bizarre anomaly. Symbolic, too, the justified obloquy heaped on Hirst's feeble paintings, an exhibition of which opened at the Wallace Collection this week. The whole thing seems to be over.

I don't know how financially successful Frieze has been this year, and certainly it looked as crowded and busy as ever. Some people said that the tendency was somewhat conservative, and the number of domestic-scale paintings appeared to be up, pieces obviously intended for deep-pocketed museums fewer in number.

One hit of the fair appeared to be an American artist accepting commissions for replicas, small or to size, of works on display elsewhere in the fair. (My friend Charlotte commissioned a copy of a Philip Guston, and it looked rather convincing to me). Nothing, the stall announced, would cost more than £500; recession chic on your walls.

Fashion is a curious thing, getting into your mind and closely resembling an original thought. For some reason, for the first time, I found myself briskly saying to mildly appalled gallery assistants "How much does that cost?" of some enormous work by some international celebrity. Oddly enough, a friend I bumped into said that she, too, had been doing that exact same thing, and rather enjoying it. And the glasses I ended up buying last year? The shape of Buddy Holly's, of course.

Who on earth would take fashion advice from Katie Price?

Katie Price has now written more books than Thackeray. To add to three autobiographies, four novels, and twenty-five books for children, she has now written a guide to what to wear. How does she do it? Oh yes – she gets someone else to write them. Still, it shows commendable energy, I think, to do all that commissioning and drone monotonously down the phone to the author.

The book is called Standing Out, and we are told that in it Miss Price "opens up her make-up bag and throws open the doors to her wardrobe". No mystery about her make-up bag, judging by the author photograph, which shows her wearing false eyelashes of positively industrial proportions. I can hardly wait. After long consideration, I can't decide between two of Miss Price's most celebrated outfits. The pink PVC jumpsuit she wore for her ill-fated pregnant Eurovision bid? Or the gigantic pink wedding dress, like the crinolined ladies which seaside landladies used to use to cover up the loo roll?

It is quite hard to know who is the subject of the joke here: the author, at the hands of her publisher, or perhaps just the book-buying public. Anyway, I can tell you that this latest oeuvre will constitute many of my Christmas presents this year. Though it must be said, apart from Mr Grayson Perry, I can't think of a single human being who could even begin to take style advice from Miss Price.

Two small children, one hideous journey

The 1.06 from Exeter to London, and taking my seat, most of the passengers in the carriage already have a shell-shocked air. The source soon makes itself clear: two small boys and their ineffectual parents, trying hopelessly to engage them in quiet activities.

"ARE WE THERE YET? I SAID: 'ARE WE THERE YET?'" "No, Barney, you see, first it's Tiverton Parkway, then Taunton, then Reading, then –" "ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?" "Well, no, Samuel, you see, as I was just saying to Barney... please, Barney, don't do that..." Then the singing begins. They may not know many of the words to their chosen song – six, in fact – but they make up for it by running through those six repeatedly, for 20 minutes or so. "Why don't you lie down on the floor, Barney, and see if you can be very, very quiet."

Barney discovers the bloke in the seat behind, trying to read David Kynaston's history of 1950s Britain, and sees if he can get a response from a stranger by kicking his ankles. "Please, Barney – please, Samuel, why don't we –" "ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?"

It's amazing how the usual misery of First Great Western's shambolic service can be increased ten-fold by two determined small children and a parent whose ideas of controlling their children all begin with the word "Please...". The lovely tranquillity of Paddington Station came as a balm to the senses. Still, there was one highly misanthropic consolation: we only had to put up with them for two hours. The parents were stuck with them for life.