Monday, 27 February 2012

The best, the worst and the strangest Oscar fashions

As threatened by innumerable commentators, The Artist proved to be the big winner of last night's Academy Awards, with a Best Actor award for Jean Dujardin that in your hostess' opinion should have blatantly gone to Gary Oldman. See my previous blog post for the furrowing of brow that accompanied my exit from the cinema.

Since the official Oscar livestream is unavailable outside of the US, I spent the evening flicking back and forth between the PopSugar and OTRC streams; although the latter lost points for its surreally panicked voiceovers of "Ok, are we doing this bit now? No that's wrong. Umm..." and the host who clung onto his powder compact and blusher brush for grim death, fervently grinding face powder into his shiny forehead with ever more regularity.

I was expecting an Oscar red carpet that would be of a more muted hue than usual. With the US economy sinking ever deeper into recession and with a corresponding anger and resentment towards the super-rich, I was anticipating a palette of muted plums, pinks and gunmetal greys, with a more understated level of bling than in previous years. I wasn't entirely correct, but my instinct that this would be a less colourful affair than previous years was borne out by the lack of bright hues, though there were a couple of notable reds and a couple of greens; although these were muted dark forest shades rather than emeralds. Classic blacks and whites were popular choices along with metallics and sequins, particularly in gold. There wasn't much jewellery that caught my eye, and I'm normally drawn in like a tractor beam and hypnotised by anything above a couple of carats. Overall, the fashion choices were safe and even a little conservative.

Makeup was classic with few surprises. I love dark nail polishes so I was happy to see Kirsten Wiig with a midnight-blue manicure in a universally flattering oval nail shape. For the most part hair seemed to be soft and natural-looking with soft waves a far more popular choice than updos. Out of all the beauty trends that could influence this season, I can see the simple twist worn by Stacy Kiebler as having the most mileage among the public.

After the jump, an image-heavy rundown of the bests, the worsts, and the could-do-betters.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Why "The Artist" has no clothes

(Warning - this post contains spoilers for "The Artist")

Tonight sees the 84th Academy Awards, and like last year I will be spending the evening watching a livestream of the red carpet and trading commentary on instant messenger on the fashion choices of the be-spangled celebrities running the press gauntlet.

The prospect of the ceremony itself fills me with dejection, because if the pundits are right, "The Artist" is going to sweep the board. I know I'm in a tiny minority, and I know I'm going to get flak for this, but I'm going to come right out and say it. I really disliked the film. I admit I am biased because the presence on-screen of cute bouncing performing dogs makes my teeth hurt, but I also have more objective criticisms. The lead character was unpleasant, the plot was paper-thin, and the ending blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever seen "Singin' in the Rain."

In fact, the great Gene Kelly musical casts a long and dark shadow over The Artist, which borrows from the earlier film so heavily that it borders on outright plagiarism. The entire opening sequence, where the "hero" arrives at the premiere of his latest film to fainting fans and a gushing audience, then delivers a pseudo-humble tribute to his crew and co-star - a blond harridan who looks ready to tear the romantic lead into bits and is prevented from reaching the stage to get her own tribute - is lifted directly from the 1952 movie.

My biggest problem with "The Artist" is its lead character, the silent film idol George Valentin. Again, he's a pale shadow of Kelly's Don Lockwood, but with a markedly more bland personality. Despite the film's title, he's no artist - his entire screen career has been built on the wearing of white tie and tails, looking heroic and playing with his cute Jack Russell dog. He's a spoiled, selfish man-child who has been given an entire movie studio as a sandpit to play in and who has never had to face the real, adult world. He's meant to come across as fun-loving and carefree, but to me his clowning is simply tiresome. The scene at the breakfast table where he brandishes the dog  as an attempt to defuse his (much older) wife's anger over a publicity stunt which involved flirting with an attractive young fan smacks to me of a little boy trying and failing to charm his way out of trouble. 

Not me, watching this film. But close.
Where Don Lockwood had his highly-implied Sassy Gay Friend in the shape of Don O'Connor's Cosmo, Valentin seems to have real trouble building a relationship with anyone of his own age. His wife is a stern and humourless Old Money mother figure - the splendid mansion they live in belongs to her, and she has no hesitation in throwing him out when his career nosedives. His loyal valet is again much older; an overlooked, self-sacrificing cypher of a character who lives only to care for his master, even refusing wages and preferring to work for free rather than find other employment when Valentin is inevitably made bankrupt.

At no point in the entire movie was I rooting for the lead character. I found it hard to see him as having any emotional character arc; he's as stubborn and self-important at the end of the film as at the beginning. By the end of the movie he's gained a new career and a new love, but what has he truly learned? No humility, no real gratitude - no real maturity.

The film's not all bad. The costumes and the 1920s setting are beautiful, and female lead Berenice Bejo as the young, feisty new kid on the studio block (another character we've seen before in Singin' in the Rain) is simply luminous. Her character has the potential to be far more engaging than Valentin and unlike him she keeps hold of her altruism and integrity, remembering that he helped her on the road to stardom and wanting to help him in return. Her character of Peppy Miller is presented as a genuine talent who embraces the new format of the talkies as a means of creating a new type of art and performance. Compare her to Valentin who knows only how to gurn into the camera and repeat the same film over and over again. Sadly, to me that's exactly what this film is doing - repeating something that was classic and magical and only showing up its own flaws.

Duo Boots: a paean

Spring finally seems to be coming here in Eclectic Lady Land, and thank goodness. It's been a very long and cold few months, and your gracious hostess has been encased in corduroy trousers for far too long; my favourite winter look of long skirts and knee length boots being prohibitively cold when one factors in an hour's commute to the office on a drafty train. This week I've decided to take a deep breath and chance my skirts once more.

For a Lady whose legs are somewhat wider than the cocktail-stick proportions that the average shoe manufacturer seems to use as a template when designing boots, I have only one word. Duo.

The boots made by Duo of Bath are quite simply the most comfortable and best-fitting footwear I've ever had. If, like the majority of women if surveys are anything to go, by you find it hard to fit into the average knee-length boots you are almost guaranteed to find a pair here that suits you.

The flagship Bath store's elegant surroundings and wonderful customer service are a plus, especially when compared to larger chains. I'm always baffled at the inability of certain well known high street shoe store in my city (which may or may not rhyme with Flarks) to be able to produce a size eight shoe from their back room. It seems no matter which design I want, they've run out. Someone ought to have a word with Flarks' management of stock control and send them on a visit to Duo because only once in the last five years have I not been able to try on the size I want. Given that Duo stocks a huge range of boots and shoes in up to 50 cm calf width, that's a stockroom of proportions that I and my humble maths GCSE is unable to comprehend.

When it comes to melting into a lustful swoon over shoes with spindly heels and peep toes and 1950s polka dots I'm as impressionable as the next girl, but when it comes to boots I'm all business. Give me a classic, sharply tailored riding boot style that will look sharp under a long skirt every time.

The first pair of boots I bought from Duo were Ravenna described as a classic riding boot style with an easy fit and rounded toe. They lasted me six whole years with re-soling mid way through. Soft and comfortable with a soft fabric lining, they're the type of boots that you could walk a mile in through snow and rain - and I frequently did. They went with anything and everything from cord trousers to silk skirts. My only complaint would be that this particular style is almost too forgiving; the leather is incredibly soft and after a season or two of wear the leg stretches and begins to sag at the ankle. I more than got my money's worth out of them so consider this is only the wistfully, nostalgic regret over the behaviour of a long-gone lover rather than a genuine complaint.
After Ravenna came the purchase of a heavier boot in stiff brown nubuck, with a higher heel and a detachable ankle strap fastened with a decorative brass buckle. Sadly it's no longer available, but the closest style now on sale is Brindisi. More casual than Ravenna and with more attitude. They lasted just as long as the softer pair, but I found the stiffness of the sole and its general heft led to it being not as comfortable as my first and beloved soft black Ravenna.  

I've recently purchased a pair of Beech boots to replace my dearly departed Ravenna. They wonderful. A little tighter, a little narrower at the foot and ankle and a little sharper and more streamlined in shape, they're going to be my most frequently-worn footwear through the transition season of winter and spring.

Ravenna represents the lowest price band of the shop but at £135 it is certainly not economical. That said, it's not a great deal more expensive than Flarks, whose prices seem to have inflated astonishingly in the last two years without any corresponding improvement in longevity or quality.

That £135 represents the low end of Duo's prices; for anything more elaborate such as the brogue-style and faintly-steampunk, pleasingly military look of Ashburn or the delicious mock-croc of Amora you'll pay up to £250.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

*taps mic* Ahem. one-two-one-two.

Welcome to Ladies' Things, a new blog on fashion, beauty and modern living. I'll be posting reviews of makeup and skin care, commentary on fashion both red carpet and retail, sharing thoughts and links on the subject of entertaining and subjecting you, the Dear Reader, to all manner of strange and wonderful musings on the related subjects of general fabulousness.

A little about me, with no apologies for what anyone might see as mutually exclusive traits: I'm a plus-size fashionista, a wearer of several hats both in fashion and in life, a high-end make-up lover living on a strict budget, a feminist who adores burlesque and likes it when a man opens doors for her, a modern, independent girl with an old-fashioned attitide about being Lady-like. Note the capital L. There will be a lot of that as we go on. I'll explain later. 

Don't take me too seriously. I might get Ideas about my station and think what I have to say is any more relevant than anyone else who may post or comment here. I promise you, my faithful readers, that I will never become one of those bloggers.