I can't get enough of the pictures from the spring collections. They tick every box I want ticked. Lots of black, hurrah; lots of grown-up grey; lots of trousers; masses of jackets, plenty of coats, macs, pencil skirts, belts, collars, cuffs. And thneeds and shreds and boxes on heads, yes. London designers have to provide enough edgy oomph to rack up the thrill of the new. But underneath the oomph, the signs are clear: the tailoring resurgence of autumn/winter 2007 was not a blip, but a serious fashion shift. The summer collections prove that tailoring is still there, still non-negotiable. It's not going to go away, heaven be praised.
The fashion wheel takes longer to turn than you ever believe it will. No matter how much designers strive for seasonal change with cloth and colour and detail, they're mostly just turning out variations on a theme. Radical change – the kind of change that remoulds the shape of women's bodies – is rare and it takes 10 years to grow, flower and fade. Which is why you can define a fashion decade in a single word or phrase: for the 1950s, "hourglass"; the 1960s, "mini"; the 1970s, "hippie"; the 1980s, "power shoulder"; the 1990s, "pared-down". The most radical fashion change of my lifetime was from the 1990s into the 21st century, when tailoring disappeared from women's fashion for 10 years.
The hourglass 1950s began in 1947 when Christian Dior's first show unleashed the New Look, with its wasp waists and puffed skirts. The 21st century also began with Dior, but 50 years later. In December 1996, John Galliano, the newly appointed head of the house, made his very first couture Dior dress for Diana, Princess of Wales, to wear to a gala in New York. I hated it. Diana had settled into her style as a pared-down beauty who strode into the flashbulbs in snugly-fitted, tank-topped evening dresses by Versace (short) or Catherine Walker (long) that showed off her athletic shoulders. Galliano's dress was in very thin, bias-cut navy silk, with a soft lingerie, top-edged in black lace, that was (barely) held up by lace strings. She was hunched and looked nervous about the unfettered bosom. My fashion editor friend rang up to shriek: "That DRESS!" I know, I know – like a bride's nightie. One yank and it's off. She said: "You'd better get used to it. Galliano, king of bias-cutting, has changed the shape of fashion." I didn't believe her. She said: "Structure is over. Tailoring is over. From now on, fashion will be hanging by a thread."
She was entirely right. She recognised the first little sign of a coming shape-shift. By Millennium Eve, everyone was wearing lingerie night and day, with scraps of Galliano-style lace at the neckline. Women's bodies actually morph into prevailing fashions. 1950s women needed smaller waists (they used corsets). 1990s women needed to be toned (they used gyms). Twenty-first century women need bigger, sexier boobs (they use mybreast.org). Galliano turned fashion soft instead of hard, feminine rather than mannish, girly rather than grown-up, vulnerable rather than armoured. Every kind of tailoring disappeared in favour of soft, structureless flou, which is Parisian couture language for the slithery, sexy, bias-cut evening stuff that used to come out only at night and hang by a thread.
I hate flou. I like fashion-as-armour, not fashion-as-boudoir. I missed jackets. I missed coats. Women stopped wearing coats completely: I meet women even now who don't own a coat. Even in winter, women went coatless, wearing more-or-less useless coat-substitutes instead. They would run out to parties in draggling chiffon with bits of nonsense thrown over: shrugs, shawls, tippets, capelets, ponchos. I missed lined, padded, seamed, collared, sleeved, structured clothing for 10 years. Now – suddenly – it's back. Whatever the moment was to bring it back, I missed it. But if M&S is selling leather dresses, it means tailoring is back. If women finally bought raincoats during that relentlessly wet summer, it means tailoring is back. If the current issue of Vogue can sprinkle phrases on their pictures such as "Winter whites take the form of provocatively tailored body armour", it means tailoring is back. My shoulders ache for a bit of padding right now.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson had a reputation as a sensible bloke until he decreed that from 2009, all women who are seven months pregnant will be paid £120 to spend on fruit and vegetables. That's a lot of bananas. Considering there were 635,679 live births in 2006, it's £76.3m worth of bananas. And broccoli. Johnson told the Commons that his department would not "send round the broccoli police if someone spends part of their grant on other items they may need in pregnancy". So how he'll stop them whacking it out on Marlboro Lights is anyone's guess.
Me, I'd have spent the £120 on shoes. No point throwing it away on fruit and veg, because I couldn't eat it. In my first pregnancy, I threw up all day and night. In my second, everything I ate or drank turned to metal – as though a mesh of fuse-wire had been stapled to my tongue. I couldn't chew or swallow fish, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, bread, Cornflakes, lamb chops, bananas, apples, Cheddar (iron filings). I couldn't drink tea, coffee or water (rust). The village GP said: "It's perfectly normal." By the sixth month, the baby was huge but I was wasting away. After weeks of Heston Blumenthal-type kitchen experimentation I finally found two beverages (iced Ribena and hot Bovril), but the only food groups I could swallow were either forbidden (bufala mozzarella, caviar) or unobtainable (redcurrants, fresh lychees). We were living in the country: no gourmet food shops. One day, ravenous, I ripped open a forgotten tin of petits pois we'd brought back from France. Bliss! Tiny, undyed, khaki-coloured, salty, they had that bursting-on-the-roof-of-the-mouth quality you get from caviar. I ate them all and called for more. My husband had to cross Hampshire to source them, buying entire stocks.
When the baby was born she weighed 8lbs, which was deemed "normal". Now, I don't recommend the Ribena/Bovril/petits pois diet for any mums-to-be out there, but I weighed 7 stone after the birth, which was thrillingly abnormal and great while it lasted. I'd have spent Alan Johnson's £120 on petrol alone and sod the bananas, frankly.Reuse content