Sunday, November 6, 2011

IN THE PERTH PRESS...THE DRESSING TABLE IN THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN


A NEW BOOK BY DESIGNER CLARE PRESS CELEBRATES THE ART OF THE GLAMOROUSLY LIVED LIFE. PIP CHRISTMASS REPORTS.
In recent years, there has been a spate of new publications on vintage dressing, the lost art of etiquette and how to entertain stylishly at home. We are, it seems, nostalgic for an earlier time, when manners were important, women got dressed up to go out, and men could open doors for women without worrying if they were about to get a slap in the face for being sexist.

Fashion journalist and designer Clare Press is one of those who craves the return of glamour, good manners and polite society. She has just released The Dressing Table, a delightful compendium of tips and thoughts on how to live life stylishly that includes chapters on how to have a memorable — not messy — party, travel elegantly, host an afternoon tea, dress up to reflect your individuality or emulate your favourite style icons.

Press started out writing for publications such as The Australian, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar before taking time out to launch her vintage-inspired fashion label Mrs Press. It was during this time that the author decided to write a book summing up all the insights she had garnered over the years on fashion, style, etiquette and glamour.

“It’s part memoir, part style scrapbook of inspirations,” Press says. “I wanted to write about some fabulous fashion icons, some of whom are famous, and some of whom are my own friends and not famous, but are amazing and have inspired me in some way. It was something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always loved women like Diana Vreeland, Marchesa Luisa Casati, or Louise Brooks, but I also wanted to bring things back down to earth with an amusing and accessible take on what style means today.”

Hence there are contributions by fashion journalist Glynis Traill-Nash (on hosting book club soirees), artist Mary Shackmanon dressing to lift your mood through colour, and designer and stylist Michelle Jank on new ways to wear jewellery. The sense of certain things having been “lost” in contemporary society — good manners, primarily — is one that Press admits to feeling very strongly about. “It’s one of the reasons why I was inspired to write this book and a lot of it has to do with my grandmother, who informs all of the reasons why I wanted to work in fashion,” Press admits.

“She always placed so much importance on entertaining beautifully, of having lovely manners, of dressing appropriately for the occasion. The idea of reviving style secrets of the past is something that’s very close to my heart, from wearing gloves and hats to posting out handwritten thank-you notes. Some of those tendencies have fallen by the wayside and I think that’s a real shame.”

Press believes it is possible to be nostalgic for the past and to take cues from it, without being regressive or prescriptive about the way certain things should be done. She doesn’t see The Dressing Table as a “manual” or an assertion that everything was better in “the old days”. “I don’t think we need to be completely harking back to the social customs of the past because some of them are definitely outmoded,” Press says.

“I quite enjoy being a modern, liberated woman, and nobody wants to go back to a past where in social or economic terms, for example, women and men were not on a level playing field. The book isn’t saying ‘You must do this’ or ‘You must do that’. Really, it’s more a case of couldn’t we gain some joy out of going back to this way of doing things?”

And what about that old chestnut, then — a man opening a door for a woman? “I think of myself as modern and a feminist but I still think it’s delightful for a man to open a door for a woman and I don’t think there’s any disconnect between those two things,” Press laughs.

“I mean it really is as simple as good manners making the world a better place, and thinking about how your behaviour impacts on the people around you.”

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