Note to any woman considering her dressing plans as we approach the party season: the single most suggestive body part to flash these days is not cleavage (despite what those Victoria’s Secret angels say), not legs and not even the slices of side that certain fashion designers are pushing with their weird cut-out dresses. No, it’s a well-muscled arm. Stockings have nothing on biceps when it comes to shocking.

What’s been happening over the last two weeks? What’s the news we can use? Here are my top three recent titbits — the ones that at first glance don’t seem so important, but on second look have outsize implications, from NY Fashion Week’s first casuality to Prada’s new super-expensive perfume, and the rise of the magazine brand as star.
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Let’s be honest: Rebekah Brooks, ex-CEO of News International UK brought down by the phone hacking scandal, does not have a great image – and I’m not just talking about her executive style. The riot of red hair with which she is closely associated, combined with her tendency to wear black, landed her on the cover of Private Eye recently with the title, “Salem Witch Trial”. But today a new movie bowed, to pretty rapturous reviews, that may do a surprising amount to change perception. Read more

Recently, a woman in the midst of a career change came to see me. This former banker, who took time off to get married and have children, was on the verge of beginning a new life in the high-end fragrance business. Her launch product is a limited edition perfume called “Tiara” that will sell for $1,200 and features particularly glitzy packaging: nestling inside a white resin box is a glass vial shaped like a cupcake, “crowned” by a special silvery top studded with sapphire blue Swarovski ovals. The look was, she said, inspired by the late Princess Diana’s engagement ring, as now worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.

And so Apple is getting the final ingredient in the arsenal of a luxury brand: a fragrance. Admittedly, it wasn’t developed by the company itself; it was commissioned from a scent manufacturer called Air Aroma by an Australian art collective called Greatest Hits as part of a gallery installation. Still, it pretty much confirms what we already knew about that brand: that it has transcended tech to become part of an individual’s socio-political identity — and hence open to artistic commentary. Now, what’s Apple going to do about it? After all, it may sound conceptual, but I think it has quite powerful real-world applications.  Read more

In a week of big American political news, from Rick Santorum’s campaign “suspension” to the furore over a comment from a democratic strategist over Ann Romney’s stay-at-home Mom-dom, one piece of new has, at least on-line, almost trumped them all: the bombshell revelation, in a piece in American Elle, that Hillary Clinton’s staff is secretly horrified at her penchant for hair scrunchies. If anyone wants to debate whether or not appearance matters when it comes to politics, I think the viral reaction to this information, which was buried in a much longer, non-fashion profile, pretty much answers the question.
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Years in fashion have taught me never to use the phrase “You can’t be serious”. I’ve learned, for example, that saying, “Patrick Thomas, chief executive of Hermès, you can’t seriously expect someone to buy that €1.5m diamond-covered gold handbag?” will prompt both a pleased grin and the perplexed response, “Yes, of course, why not?” And I’ve learnt that noting how all the models in a catwalk show have been reimagined as birds and transformed with moulded headpieces, and how the designer can’t be serious about expecting any woman to wear that, only means that said look is more than likely to appear on Rihanna a few weeks later.

The freezing winter winds are now upon us, which means fashion’s spring/summer ad campaigns are about to launch, and the excited sneak peek emails have been coming thick and fast. The most recent comes from the house of Dior, who have signed Mila Kunis, the 28 year old actress from Black Swan, as their new “face.” Here’s my first reaction (and I liked her as an actress): groan.

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Today, I have learnt an important lesson: when it comes to fashion, last week’s inside joke is this week’s exciting new initiative. After all, there I was a few days ago, giggling with a friend about the Kanye West show, saying “Why did he want to start a fashion line? He’s just a great singer; it would be like Karl Lagerfeld wanting to be a rapper”, when, lo and behold, the information arrives: Burberry is releasing a single: “Rose Unplugged at Abbey Road for Burberry.”

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In the “can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-giant-branded-oak-tree” category I would like to nominate all luxury industry watchers (myself included), who have been so distracted by Burberry’s public assumption of tech-God status, recently met by Gucci, that they have TOTALLY OVERLOOKED the real challenger to both those thrones: Estee Lauder.

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As summer draws to a close (wah!) and September looms, with all its related back-to-school and back-to-work associations, I have a prediction to make for those who may still be at the beach/in the woods (yours truly) but are nonetheless getting a jump on things and readying themselves mentally and organisationally for The Return: this will be the autumn of Elizabeth Taylor.

In the wake of the Prada IPO, where some investors balked at having to pay Italian taxes on their share purchases, according to Guangzhou Daily the government has announced plans to cut their taxes on luxury imports to the mainland by 2-15%. Brands all over Europe must be celebrating. Ooooooh the possibilities! The mind boggles.

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There’s a highly amusing and perfectly-timed, given the current DSK scandal and the subject’s own pecccadillos, profile of Silvio Berlusconi by Ariel Levy in this week’s New Yorker. Among all the gossip, political and personal, and exploration of his myth-making, however, one fact stood out for me: Levy’s observation of Berlusconi’s makeup techniques.

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When the celebrity hair mogul Vidal Sassoon – or, to be entirely accurate, when the celebrity hair mogul Vidal Sassoon’s people – told me he wanted to have lunch at the Monkey Bar in Manhattan, my cynical self leapt to certain conclusions: that, for example, Sassoon had chosen this restaurant because of its fame as a people-watching schmooze fest, thanks to owner Graydon Carter, aka editor of Vanity Fair magazine and the host of a mega Oscars party, who presides over meals from a banquette; that Sassoon would take a walkabout as he entered, past regulars such as author Fran Lebowitz and TV anchor Charlie Rose, meeting and greeting. In conclusion, that the whole point of choosing this place was to demonstrate, in the short space between hostess and table, the extent to which Sassoon has transcended shampoo to become a celebrity.

The other day I was talking to Bernd Beetz, the chief executive of Coty, in his office high over Park Avenue, and he noted that “fragrance is now a crucial building block of a brand.” In other words, it’s the base, not the capstone, of a business. I was thinking about this today because Puig Beauty and Fashion Group just announced a truncated version of their 2010 results and they are pretty good.

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According to the NY Post, Aerin Lauder, the current family standard bearer of the Lauder cosmetic empire (so much so that she actually was the face of the relaunch of her grandmother Estee’s favourite fragrance, Youth Dew), as well as an SVP, is Leaving the Company to Start her Own Brand. This is a big deal. Read more

Turns out, while LVMH’s mouth was busy with its results announcement last week, insisting once again they had nothing but cuddly-wuddly intentions toward Hermes, their hands were busy shelling out for Ole Henriksen, the LA-based “botanical beauty brand.”  Read more

Well, they said it was coming. You know those teasers Coty CEO Bernd Beetz kept dropping last week about plans for a purchasing trifecta before year end? He came through, and yesterday announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Tjoy, the Chinese skincare company, thus completing the third leg of a Philosophy-OPI trinity. Read more