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The Doisneau Department – Austalian Financial Review

AFR | November 2012

by Marion Hume

Paris in the sunlight. As my taxi slows in traffic near the Hotel de Ville, I am once again convinced of the existence of a secret agency of the French government, or perhaps a hidden team within the offices of the mayor. Their mission? To hire gorgeous young people and send them out on the streets to kiss, thus maintaining a worldwide reputation for romance.

The codename, or so I like to think; “The Doisneau Department”.

The smart bit is that whoever is in charge doesn’t just reach into the costume cupboard for vintage pieces and send the actors out to “do a Doisneau”. The trick keeps working because the fashions are always up-to-date.  But even if they did just try to stage literal recreations of Robert Doisneau’s eternal and endlessly-reproduced photograph, The Kiss (or Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville, to give it the original title), the snapshots you’d catch from a cab would still look utterly contemporary.

If you can picture the original image, first published in Life magazine in 1950, in your mind’s eye, you’ll recall the young man is wearing an oversized double-breasted jacket which, today, you’d source from Yohji Yamamoto, plus a scarf like any you’d find in a good menswear store. The lass looks like she’s in Prada, although that nipped-in cardigan, pretty blouse and fit-and-flare skirt could just as easily be Marc Jacobs. Or Zara.

The two in my view now? They’re the “on-trend” versions. The boy (long black hair, thick as a paint brush and scrunched up with a rubber band) is in a T-shirt so sheer you can see a tattoo on his flank, worn with pants that are charcoal in tone and multiply slashed. The girl is in a jacket of this season’s Yves Klein blue + skinny jeans. J Brand? Citizens for Humanity? I’m not so close I can read the label. But I can spot Pierre Hardy strappy sandals at 100 paces, which signal the stylist has a considerable budget to work with.

The Paris Metro may be cheap and fast but the way I see it, cabs are a necessity to keep abreast of what the Doisneau Department is up to. This season, I’m noticing a marked casting choice towards Vanessa Paradis lookalikes, perhaps out of solidarity to the chanteuse since her split with Johnny Depp or maybe just because, if you are hiring an actress to look chic in a clinch, you go for the girl with the bee-stung lips.

As for the boys, if I were in charge, I’d be telling the prop stylist to stop handing out guitar cases – there’s been too much of that “Boho/busker” look lately. And all the boys grasping a plastic bag from techo-supermarket, FNAC, in their free hands?  That doesn’t do much for romance, does it?

Ah! But maybe it does! For what better proof that Paris herself is ravishing, than “couples” who can’t help themselves, even if  they only popped out to pick up an external hard-drive?

The Doisneau Department has a long history of getting it right. They’re good, these guys. They managed to keep a lid on the fact that the original picture was a set-up for 42 years. Word only got out when a real couple, who thought they were “the couple”, sued for a slice of the profits of a photo that launched a thousand fridge magnets. Only then, in 1992, did Robert Doisneau himself have to fess up to having hired a couple of actors; a girl of 20, a boy of 23.

Which is exactly the age I’d put on the pair lip-locked outside the Hotel de Ville now. As for me, I love that we’ll always have Paris, the city of love – even if, to keep the myth alive, civil servants are toiling away, somewhere behind these grand Haussman facades, calculating the day rates.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Australian Financial review

AFR | 2012

by Marion Hume

By the time you read this, you may either have been delighted by the feel-good movie of the season or have vowed that a herd of Indian elephants wouldn’t drag you to see a bunch of old folk cavorting about “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

For myself, while I loved witnessing the finest thesps show how terrific they are at enunciating, what pleased me even more was that not one of the seniors looks like a dowdy old nana, in stark contrast to how those beyond their Botox years are usually depicted on screen (if, of course, they appear at all).

What this movie gets spot on is that today, those of advanced years are as diverse in their clothing choices as everyone else, although perhaps with longer sleeves. Dame Judi Dench (78) plays the widow, Evelyn, who looks lovely in loose linens of a tonal palette flattering to a silvery pixie crop hairdo. Evelyn’s light layers semaphore that she is the innocent ingenue – despite her years – who embraces a new world with an open heart and in very pretty scarves.

But how satisfying that, just as the villain often gets all the best lines, in “Best Exotic” Penelope Wilton (66) plays Jean, and is by far the best dressed. Jean hates the heat and dust. She simmers with righteous anger that she has been robbed of the retirement she imagined, back home. That she does this while looking well turned out shows she is not some awful cliche of an old lady “losing it”, instead she is simply not in love with India or indeed, with the man she has stayed married to through habit. She wears a bang “on trend” and flattering indigo tie-dye shirt waister for the scene in which she proves she is brave enough to go home alone.

Jean’s travel attire is anchored by a tailored beige jacket in a good cloth that doesn’t crease. Here is a woman who will never slum it in a comfy top, despite the indignation of a seat at the back of the plane. We see Jean chasing down the high court judge while wearing a long line floral shirt (its sartorial message; “spirited” but not “young”). What’s clever is we see her working the same seperates into different combinations. Jean may not be the heroine but she knows how to get full use out of a 23kg budget flight luggage limit.

It’s no surprise “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is proving a worldwide hit with retirees or that audiences emerging from cinemas are so stylish. While no sensible fashion label markets to the “old” – if they did, who would buy? – the grey dollar is a segment ignored at peril, given this generation discovered their dress sense before the rise of fast fashion and while they may indeed be interested in “good value”, are loath to accept second-best.

Indeed, some of the Best Dressed anywhere are of this age group. Look at the red carpet and how the likes of Dame Helen Mirren (67) always nail it. Among the chicest women in Sydney is the best selling author, Marion von Adlerstein, who, at 79, has just completed a book tour for “The Freudian Slip” dressed head to toe in daringly bright combinations of Issey Miyake. Maggie Tabberer is still, deservedly, an Australian fashion icon at 76 (her breezy summer elegance remains a lesson in chic for our climate). And should you ever walk past the pyjama emporium, Peter Alexander, and wonder who wears the brightest picks, with the parrots in hot pink, that would be my always adventurous godmother (80), although of course her taste is tame in comparison with what Dame Vivienne Westwood (71) would dare to wear.

In 1961, a 29 year old poet called Jenny Joseph promised; “When I am old, I shall wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t go…” Instead, the poet (80) has lived to an age where purple and red do go, if you want them to. As to the cliche of “nana dressing”, there’s still a place for wooly cardies and furry slippers. The under 25s rock that combination and look terrific.

Bentley – Australian Financial Review

AFR | 2012

by Marion Hume

Can I start by saying I don’t like cars? Couldn’t care less about them. Indeed, I am so not engaged with the world of hot rods, that every time I book my trusty minicab driver to collect me from an event, he has to get out of the car when I wander outside because, while I rarely forget a face, cars, well, I know his is silver but that’s all I can tell you.

So when, out of the blue, I was offered the chance to test-drive a Bentley, I shrugged, “Nah, not my thing”. You know the expression “steam coming out of your ears”? I actually think I saw that happening to my husband. Hence some backtracking and then a Bentley delivered to my door, (here, bear in mind I live in Riot Central, North London). I must state this treat was unconnected to AFR, (I write for other publications in the UK). I’m mentioning it because AFR’s readers are wealthy enough to buy fast cars. As to how much wealth you might need, don’t ask me. As I said; cars, couldn’t care less.

That was until I confronted a mighty power that goes way beyond a handbag’s. My neighbours; hard scrabble Londoners, came out of their doors not to key the car, but to purr. I let one of them sit inside, because he’s good at setting a GPS, while I finished a few phone calls. My lack of interest was genuine – until I got inside the vehicle.

What extraordinary, practical, beautiful, lovingly crafted design! And the smell of that leather; no wonder they are always trying to bottle it for men’s fragrance. On looks alone + the button that made the seat glide back, I was smitten, although the test drive was spoiled a bit by my realization I should have had my hair done up in a chignon.

Later, I was asked to comment on how design might be improved. I am surprised my suggestion of a device that says, “you cannot afford me” to those who get too close has not been taken on board. For it is disconcerting when you are trying to park and men in bad sandals start to stroke your vehicle.

Still, my other suggestion (not implemented either) of a bumper sticker reading “I’m not a footballer’s wife” must have been deemed innovative enough to score me an invitation to the London launch of a limited edition Continental Spur a few weeks’ later. This car can be ordered in a deep shade of chocolate brown, which, I assure you, is the new black. The armrest between the rear seats folds down to reveal a bar fridge. The make-up mirrors have better lighting than a West End theatre dressing room.

You, of course, already know a Bentley is a treasure-trove of great design. Whereas I am like the Chinese; on a voyage of discovery. In 2002, Bentley sold 41 cars in China. In 2011, it sold 1,103 from 13 dealerships. How much is a Bentley in China? Oh why sweat the small stuff? If I were a newly-minted billionaire, I’d be first in line with a big bag of yuan.

Have I been suckered in? Of course. Yet the experience has been useful. For I am left wanting something I know I can never own. I have spent so many years covering fashion, I realise I have become largely immune to feelings of covetousness. Those with their noses pressed against the glass, looking at handbags they can’t afford? BB (Before Bentley), I’d be saying something logical, like, “At the end of the day, a duck egg blue Birkin is not that practical. You’ll find another bag”. AB (After Bentley) despite recognizing the wisdom of “Thou shalt not covet thy (billionaire) neighbour’s Bentley”, I feel that pain.