Sustainable Style Advise

Wanting to read something substantial about an interest of mine, fashion, prompted me to buy this book: "To die for - is fashion wearing out the world?" by Lucy Siegle, a journalist specializing in sustainable and fair fashion and writing mainly for the Observer.

See that hanger on the cover? That´s the only image in this book. It´s not even in the book, it´s an almost-illustrated cover. Which is, frankly, a relief. Fashion "journalism" is so often all about the image, the clothes, the pictures of it on models and celebrities and the words jotted down next to them are full of laughable clich├ęs, the result of sloppy thinking.

While I read, I get other images in my mind´s eye, from other articles I have read over the years. You see, what Siegle is writing about isn´t exactly news. Anyone paying the least attention to what goes on in the world knows what it looks like at what used to be the Aral Sea, knows the faces of the women and children left by the desperate Indian cotton farmers having committed suicide by drinking of the pesticides, faced with bankruptcy and no hope for the future. I have seen the children working the sweatshop floors and the bodies of the women perished in a factory fire because they had been locked in by the supervisors.

What Siegle does is paint the entire picture, connect all the dots, and lead the trace back to our own closets. It´s not pretty. And I´m not even a "fast fashion fashionista" - I´m way too old for that. I actually do a lot of things that Lucy Siegle proposes one do to create "a perfect wardrobe" - suggestions that have nothing to do with style and fashion, but everything to do with economic fairness and ecologic sustainability. I buy second hand. I make some of my own clothes, I mend, I re-design, update, downgrade and upgrade. Still, I feel bad and like I could and should do much, much more.

A few years ago I subscribed to a magazine that was promoting eco fashion and eco consumption. Being an enthusiastic knitter, I wrote them for a more in-depth article about yarn and textile materials. The answer I got was that "we did this two issues ago". I had to go back to that issue and found something that I had taken for an advertisement! I don´t consider a modest compilation of manufacturer´s pitch lines serious journalism, and after some more reading and consideration realized that the entire magazine was basically just advertising in disguise. Eco may be fine, but paying for ads isn´t very sustainable, is it? At least make some effort to give me some proper information. Like Lucy Siegle does.

I wish there was more of this in mainstream fashion mags.


The Leopard

The latest offering of excellent, free, online-magazine Five Dials, was entirely devoted to (one article only) Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s "The Leopard". Reading the article made me curious about the book, but it was not avaliable at the local library. The film from 1962 was, however, being a classic apparently, with Burt Lancaster in the lead and directed by Luchino Visconti. I have generally no idea about Italian literature or film and I got a friend on board to watch it with me last Saturday.

I know almost as little about Burt Lancaster as I know about Italian literature, but I remember him vividly from "The Crimson Pirate", a film I saw several times in my childhood (we had just got our first video recorder and recorded it off the television - just being able to watch a film as many times as we wanted and when we wanted to was novelty enough!) and that had me thinking of Lancaster as an acrobat, come from the circus. Which he was. In "The Leopard", however, he makes no somersaults.

A modern version of il Tricolore. From Rome, last November.
The story is about a Sicilian prince, Don Fabrizio Salina, living through the early 1860´s, when Italy was changing and becoming, eventually, one nation. There is much talk about Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel, but I will not go into that, there are whole essays on the complications of the Kingdom of Italy on Wikipedia in case anyone is interested. The Prince is a creature of the old world, ruled by "leopards and lions" as opposed to the new breed of rulers, capitalists and industrialists, "the jackals and the hyenas" - to put it in the words of the Prince himself. His passivity and old age (he ages from 45 to 47 in the film, but the book apparently follows him as far as his death in 1910) is set against the vitality and opportunism of his nephew Tancredi, heir of an aristocrat who has lost his fortunes and who has to make his own way in the world.

First, Tancredi joins the Garibaldi redshirts, then he joins the regular army and suddenly the garibaldinis are despicable, and at the very end of the film, some of these are publicly executed while Tancredi celebrates his engagement to a rich and beautiful, but common and trashy, burger´s daughter. In one of the key speeches of the film, he declares to his uncle that they must join the new rulers to remain in power. "For everything to stay the same, everything must change", he says (or something like that). The slick, charming Tancredi is perfectly played by Alain Delon, and the beautiful, vulgar Angelica, his bride, is played by Claudia Cardinale.

Set against this opportunistic match is the vain pursuit by Tancredi´s friend, count Cavriaghi, a Milanese gentleman seeking the affections of the Prince´s daughter Concetta, who has no interest in him. She is a woman of the old order, her father´s world, and she falls out of love with Tancredi when she realizes what little morals he has. Tancredi tries to explain to the disappointed Cavriaghi that they are world´s apart - "in Milan, it takes a month to plan a meal of spagetti" (or something like that). It´s the way of the south, the catholic, rural, old world against the north, protestant, industrial, new world. Cavriaghi is played by Mario Girotti, more famous perhaps as Terence Hill of the Bud Spencer-partnership.

In another part of the film, a representative of the new government visits the Prince and offers him a seat in the Senate, which he declines. The official expresses his profound regret, saying that if all wise men decline, how are we going to change things? The Prince answers that the Sicilians are not prone to change. They think themselves already perfect.

Much is made of manners and dresscodes and in this way Lampedusa reminds me of Austen, who also chisels characters against such settings as visits and balls. The dresses are to die for, if you´re into that kind of thing. There are also humorous bits, like in the way the Prince talks with his priest, father Pirrone, and his hunting partner, don Ciccio.

I really enjoyed this film. I though Lancaster was fabulous as the Prince of Salina. The cast was international, Lancaster said his lines in English and the version I saw was all in Italian. One doesn´t really notice much, even though I´m not used to watching dubbed movies. I think seeing it for a second time, with the commentary track on, helped me appreciate it more.

Sadly, Lampedusa didn´t live to see his book in print or the film being made, he died in 1957, a year after he finished the book. His son visited the set and is introduced, by his real name, in the ball scene, as a kind of homage to the man.


A Modest Memoir

This book was gifted to me by my husband the first time he went to England without me, when he was doing his post graduate work. It was published in 1996, so it must have been there abouts, he says he still remembers how it was advertised, rather agressively, in the bookshop on Charing Cross Road, and he knew I was a fan (yes, originally because of Star Wars, and he wouldn´t have liked that, but I have loved his other works too, dragged a friend along to "Dr Zhivago" and she thought it the most long and boring film ever...) and so got a copy for me. I attempted to read it then, but for some reason didn´t get into it, but now it was just perfect - or perhaps I was just perfect for it.

I´m talking about Alec Guinness´ diary/memoar "My Name Escapes Me - the diary of a retiring actor". It´s a very unpretentious thing, a lot of it is about his and his wife Merula´s (married since 1938) quite life in Sussex, trips to town (London), lunches and dinners with aging actor and director friends, memories of past times, outrage at some of the current politics, complaints of illnesses and loss of senses, like hearing and seeing. It ends with a lovely week on Lake Como at a friend´s house, a week that almost didn´t happen due to hip operations, vertigo and such.

Guinness is hardly the kind of honored actor that´s full of himself (he was knighted by the Queen as early as 1959), he has a kind of self-deprecating tone that´s typical of people (I find) that have not been loved as children. He loathes to perform as himself, making speeches and pr for films and books, often beats himself up the day after a dinner party for having been a bore, making his tales to long and never getting to the point, not allowing others to speak. He resents his wife asking him to tell a story and at the same time giving away the punchline, but he understands it as her way of asking him to be a bit briefer than is his nature. He is uncivil to his fans and later regrets it. He seems to have been a man not entirely comfortable in his own skin (he died in 2000 and his wife survived him by two months).

I like him a lot, of course, I have an affinity for old grumpy men and women. I like the unassuming chronicles of a simple, small, but rich life. There is something to be said for the joy of daffodils in spring, birdsong in the early morning, a piece of music on the stereo after a light dinner. No matter how exciting and prominent lives we lead, in the end, if we survive, that will be all, as friends die and our strength leaves us.

And why not be happy about the daffodils now? Mine have just started to bloom, and this morning I encountered the first hedgehog of the summer, busy on his way. He looked like a big, strong fellow. Or perhaps he was a girl, I don´t know. Summer will be here soon, even though at present, it looks rather bleak. Until then, the best we can do is enjoy being curled up in a sofa with a good book.