Return of the hourglass look Sunday, Oct 24 2010 

Return of the hourglass look

By Dana Thomas

Published: October 22 2010 23:06 | Last updated: October 22 2010 23:06

A fashion show presenting gowns
Designs by, from left, Louis Vuitton, Oscar de la Renta, Jason Wu and Prada

First lady Michelle Obama, the “most powerful woman in the world,” according to Forbes magazine, is back on the campaign trail, stumping for Democrats in next month’s midterm elections, trying to weave a little anti-Tea Party magic while demonstrating stylistic consistency.

In fashion terms, she’s firmly in the 1950s, hourglass, curve-celebrating camp – and she’s not the only one. This autumn, everyone including Michael Kors, Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, and Jason Wu, have revived Christian Dior’s postwar New Look for a new decade. It is, says Ikram Goldman of Ikram, the influential Chicago boutique, “a fashion moment”. The question is why or, more specifically, why now?

Ken Downing, fashion director at department store Neiman Marcus, says: “In a challenged economy, designers want to make clothes that create desire, that make women want to shop. Women want something that they do not have in their closet – something opposed to the straight up-and-down figures we’ve seen for years. Clothes that celebrate the woman’s shape do that.”

Of course, it’s not really a new look and it wasn’t even in the 1950s. When Christian Dior introduced his wasp-waist styles at his debut show in Paris in February 1947, he was simply refashioning the corseted gowns that his mother wore before world war one – a silhouette that had dominated women’s dressing for centuries. With its masses of fabric, clusters of beaded embroidery and sexy line, what Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow dubbed “the New Look” has long been hailed by fashion historians as a giddy response to the austere war years.

While the New Look eventually gave way to freer silhouettes such as the trapeze and the mini-skirt, the idea that a woman should show off her curves instead of hiding them became a permanent element in fashion design, and a trademark of designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Roland Mouret and Azzedine Alaïa.

But now many young designers are also discovering the beauty of the 1950s and mining it for ideas. American designer Jason Wu, whose autumn/winter collection is heavily wasp-waisted, says: “I was influenced by Irving Penn’s incredible portraits and personal style as well as the majesty and craftsmanship of classic couture.” Similarly, Erdem Moralioglu, designer for the London-based fashion company Erdem, also embraced the silhouette. He says he loved the innocence of “girls in skirts and their boyfriends’ sweaters with the waist cinched in”.

Part of the reason for the prevalence of the hourglass shape is surgical: the extreme body reconstruction many women have been undergoing, with breast and bottom augmentation, alongside hours of Pilates and yoga, has created a figure as contrived and Barbie-like as bullet bras and waist cinchers (or “waspies”) did 60 years ago. “Just look at Victoria Beckham,” says Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty, London. “She is the hourglass girl.”

And, lest we forget, there’s the influence of Mad Men, the television series about a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the early 1960s. “We are all captivated by the glamour and style of the programme,” says Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods. “Grown-up, ladylike elegance is cool, and it exudes sophistication, confidence and presence.” Burstell says: “The Mad Men girls are all over the red carpet wearing the look, particularly Christina Hendricks.”

But ultimately, like most decisions in fashion today, the return of the New Look comes down to a cold-hearted business strategy. Burstell says: “There always has to be a new reason to buy and shop: the length goes up, the length goes down, the shoulders are padded, then they’re soft, street athleticism turns into curvy fabulous fashion.” The new New Look, by being the direct opposite of what Holli Rogers, buying director for, describes as “the fierce aesthetic of previous seasons”, does just that.

How long will this moment last? Judging by the spring/summer catwalk shows during the past few weeks in New York, Paris and London, just about that: a moment. Come spring, retailers will replace the 1950s hourglass dresses with tailored 1970s Yves Saint Laurent-style trouser suits, which will make everything in your closet look hopelessly out of date again. “Designers want to sell,” Downing shrugs. “That’s what we are in the business to do.”

Dana Thomas is the author of ‘Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre’ (Penguin)

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.


Facebook and Skype Deal to Dial Friends and Family Sunday, Oct 17 2010 

14 October 2010 Last updated at 21:19 GMT //

Facebook and Skype deal to dial friends and family

By Maggie Shiels Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley
Mobile phone with Facebook app
Together the deal means access to around 1 billion users

Skype is integrating with Facebook to make it easier to call and video chat with friends and family on the social network.

The deal comes amid fevered rumours that Facebook plans to launch a phone of its own.

Meanwhile Skype is gearing up for a $100m (£62m) share issue.

“The essence of the Skype experience is communicating with the people you care about,” said Rick Osterloh, Skype’s head of consumer products.

The new Skype for Windows will include a Facebook tab. This means that for the first time Skype users can keep up-to-date and interact with their Facebook news feed including posting status updates, commenting and liking directly from Skype.

Added to that, the Facebook phonebook in Skype allows users to call and text Facebook friends directly on their mobile phones and landlines.

And if your Facebook friend is also a Skype contact, then users can make free Skype-to-Skype calls.

Group video calling is available in beta form as a free trial.

“We’re working with companies such as Skype to make it easier to find your friends anytime you want to connect,” said Ethan Beard, director of Facebook’s developer network.

‘New market’

The move is seen as a natural one for the world’s biggest social network, which is aiming to be the central communications and messaging platform for its users across a range of media.

Commentator Ben Popper of business technology blog told BBC News it is a win-win for both firms.

“For Skype they are getting built right into the conversation. For Facebook, which has the bulk of its users in the US, this is good in terms of expansion because a chunk of Skype users are in Europe and the rest of the world.”

Mr Popper also said he believed this points towards “a possible new market”.

“The deal makes this space a lot more interesting and indicates a different direction of where communications could go.

“Right now phones are owned by the cellular networks. This partnership is big enough and deep enough, it could point towards a different kind of telco [telecommunications company] in the future.”

Skype has around 560 million registered users and 8.1 million paying users. The Luxembourg-based company said that people spend an average of 520 million minutes every day talking to one another on the service.

Facebook has more than 500 million users, helping the two companies close in on around one billion users, though there will be some overlap.

The research company ComScore reported that in August Facebook users spent more than 40 million minutes on the social networking giant.

The new Skype version 5.0 for Windows is available now. There has been no announcement about when Mac or Linux versions will follow.

Criticism causes Gap to Backtrack on Logo Sunday, Oct 10 2010

Criticism causes Gap to backtrack on logo

By Jonathan Birchall in New York

Published: October 8 2010 22  | Last updated: October 8 2010 22


Gap, the global clothing chain, has backtracked on a substantial relaunch of its renowned logo just days after it was unveiled.

The new logo – three black letters and a small blue square – provoked a storm of online abuse from both customers and graphic designers on blogs after it was unveiled on Gap’s US website on Monday.

Three days later the company used its Facebook page to announce that it was “thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding”, but was seeking alternative ideas from its fans and critics through a “crowd sourcing” project.

“We love our version, but we’d like to … see other ideas,” the statement said.

Marka Hansen, president of Gap’s North America business, followed up with commentary on the Huffington Post, the news and comment site, explaining that the new logo had been chosen as “more contemporary and current”.

But she said the brand now wanted to take customers feedback “and work together as we move ahead”, promising that details of the new crowd sourcing effort would be released soon.

The new logo was developed by Laird & Partners, a New York creative agency, as part of a brand overhaul at Gap that began two years ago under Ms Hansen, who reports to Glenn Murphy, Gap’s chief executive.

In addition to the logo, the new typeface and imagery has been applied to its North American online site, although it has not been applied its recently launched European and UK online business.

Designers have compared the turnaround with PepsiCo’s decision last year to abandon a redesign of its Tropicana fruit juice brand. Unlike Gap’s rapid response, PepsiCo’s reversal took four weeks, and came after evidence that the new design had led to falls in supermarket sales of its juices.

Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer goods company, this year battled through a highly visible surge in internet comment from customers when it relaunched its Pampers nappies.

Its executives argued that the volume of online criticism was consistent with reactions to previous evolutions in its products.

Dorothy Wolden of Creative Intuition, an Arizona-based design company, said she initially “kept thinking it must be a joke”.

“I guess we just don’t understand in the first place why they had to change what they already had,” she said.

“The brand equity that they had with the old logo was just tremendous.”