Why do we let these oddballs dictate what women wear?

November 19, 2014, 7:19pm

Karl Lagerfield

Why do we let these oddballs dictate what women wear? A glance at today's leading designers makes you wonder why we take advice from people unable to clothe themselves.

Such a sad sight. A poor little old lady in rags and cast-offs, her meagre belongings wrapped in string. It makes the heart bleed to see her out on the street like this.

What kind of society lets someone like this face the winter weather alone, with nothing but a few bits of old carpet and an old sock worn as a hat for protection? Oh, wait. Sorry. That's not a poor little old lady at all. That's a fashion icon.

Silly old me. How could I have failed to spot the irony inherent in the upside-down jumper/jacket or the post-punk feminist understatement of those brown men's shoes?

Vivienne Westwood: one of the most feted designers of her generation, a woman who has made a fortune from telling other people what to wear — but whose personal style can at best be described as bonkers. 

Vivien Westwood

She's not the only one. Valentino, Donatella Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, Zandra Rhodes . . . they are some of the wealthiest and most influential designers on the planet, heading multi-million-pound corporations that supply clothes to the rich and famous.

Their catwalk designs are copied instantly by High Street stores and dictate what women all over the world wear. Not that you would think so to look at them. Indeed, a glance at today's leading designers makes you wonder why we take fashion advice from people who are clearly unable to clothe themselves. There is nothing of the sophisticated about this lot.

With his shock of terrifying white hair, dark sunglasses and sinister leather gloves, 81-year-old Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld styles himself as a sado-masochistic vampire.

Italian designer Valentino, 82, looks as if he's been given a coat of creosote (never more so than when pictured next to the beautifully pale Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway).


Female designers are no better. Recently, Donatella Versace — who heads her late brother Gianni's eponymous fashion house — showed off a face seemingly rendered unrecognisable by cosmetic procedures. She was clad head to toe in garish leopard print, a look that can only be described as superannuated hooker chic.

Donatella Versace


Zandra Rhodes — feted for her contribution to British style and who founded the brilliant Fashion and Textile Museum in London — sports pink hair, make-up that could have been applied in the dark and eye-wateringly clashing ensembles.

Zandra Rhodes

Doesn't this give us an insight into the world of fashion — and the lack of respect or regard it has for us, the mere mortals who fill its coffers? What it proves is that when it comes to dressing real people — ie themselves — the giants of fashion are hopeless.

After all, it doesn't take much to make the coltish 15-year-olds who model their clothes or the lithe Hollywood stars who parade them on the red carpet look good.

For these gazelles possess none of those inconvenient lumps and bumps and imperfections that you find on ordinary women.

To dress a middle-aged mother of two (or a fiftysomething Italian woman who may or may not have had rather too much collagen injected into her lips, mentioning no names, Donatella) takes serious skill.

And as we all know, there is nothing a designer despises more than a real woman. We are just so unspeakably inconvenient, with our stubborn refusal to wear crop tops in winter and our insistence on trivialities such as underwear and comfort.

Their bizarre ensembles are further evidence that designers think they are superior to us all. Because for them, normal style rules don't apply.

So elevated is their status that they have transcended style and ascended to a higher plane, where wearing trousers up to your armpits (Ralph Lauren, the high priest of American smart-casual style) is acceptable.

What's more, no one dares tell them. They are judged by sychophantic fashion magazines that don't challenge them for fear of losing lucrative advertising contracts.

Things were not always this way. It's true that fashion icons have had a tendency to be a little eccentric in their appearance — that's their prerogative. But there was something undeniably aspirational about Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. The beauty and inventiveness of their clothes was a liberation, not a straitjacket.

Christian Dior, the man behind the New Look and countless exquisite creations, resembled a rather portly regional planning officer. He wore ordinary suits and ties, his balding grey hair cut neatly short.

He didn't need to deck himself out like some ridiculous popinjay to show the world his genius. His creations did that for him.

In many ways, modern style is as draconian and prescriptive as it was in the days of corsets and crinolines. Women still strive to squeeze themselves into a mould: an unflattering array of absurd designs, ranging from the tyranny of the bodycon dress to the impracticality of the see-through trouser suit in a seemingly never- ending quest to lower the bar of good taste and practicality.

Not only are their clothes offensive, some of the designers are, too. John Galliano was recently welcomed back to the catwalks with open arms following a spell in the wilderness after his drunken, anti-semitic rantings were caught on camera. Karl Lagerfeld delights in dispensing insults to everyone outside his narrow perception of what is acceptable, from Pippa Middleton to those who dare to wear elasticated waistbands.

John Galliano

As for self-knowledge, that's thin on the ground. Last week, Dame Vivienne swept into Downing Street to protest against genetically modified food and urged those unable to afford organic to simply 'eat less'.

A true Marie Antoinette moment —though I suppose when your dresses, allegedly designed to 'celebrate the female form', are cut so small you need to be a doll to wear them, it's in your interest to get everyone to starve themselves.

I understand that what comes out on the catwalk is as much about creating a theatre of ideas as it is about what we wear on our backs.

But to take fashion tips from such an absurd looking array of individuals just seems perverse.

Why should we take any notice of what these self-appointed fashion gurus say? They're nothing more than posturing clowns.

Sara Vine Daily Mail