Sunday, 31 January 2010

A Journey to 5th Avenue: part 3

On the way back to my temporary home that night I stopped at a 7-11 to buy a bag of pretzels and a travel plug for my heated rollers, and it hit me…that’s why I love New York so much!

New York City is entirely designed for people exactly like me.

Chaotic, disorganised, time dyslexic, impulsive types who don’t even consider packing a travel plug (because they are too preoccupied with the silk/cashmere ratio in their suitcase) and occasionally need to find one without making the slightest effort or detour at 10.45pm.

As I snuggled into bed that night with Christian Dior’s Autobiography for company I felt sure the next day would be full of wonder…and it was.

I slept like a baby and bounded out of bed at 7am, I showered and dressed in a Julian MacDonald long sleeved black jersey wrap dress, opaque tights and red ‘T’ bar heels.
Before I’d left Bristol my mate Jase (probably the best hairdresser in the world) gave me a valuable piece of advice ‘darling, for Fifth Avenue you need big hair’ who am I to argue? My hair was massive!
I packed my portfolio, a scrapbook full of my press clippings, my CV, some red ballet pumps and a lipstick to match into my black patent tote, I wore my silver Gilly Woo ‘G’ necklace for luck, a quick spritz of Channel Coco Mademoiselle and I was as ready as I’d ever be…

I crossed the street to the Key West diner and sat at the counter, I ordered coffee, muffins, eggs and bacon. The waiter asked me where I was from and I told him I was from Bristol in England. There was a gentleman next to me reading the New York Times, he looked up, ‘do you know the Bristol Old Vic’ he said in a cut glass British accent…’of course!’ I replied, ‘I LOVE the old Vic.’

He told me he was an actor, originally from Kent, he’d played the Old Vic in 1979 and he thought Bristol was wonderful.
His name was Robert Ian MacKenzie, (I found out later that he was in a 'A view to a kill' with Roger Moore!)
He’d been living in New York for 18 years after meeting and falling in love with an American music historian whilst appearing in an Opera in Italy, they married and moved to New York and they are still as in love now as they ever were.

He told me how difficult the visa situation was at the moment and talked of the recession and immigration and his good friend Chesley Mclaren who lived a couple of blocks away. She is a successful fashion designer, illustrator and children’s author, he even rang her to ask her if she’d like to meet us for a coffee, but unfortunately she wasn't in.
Now, you have to agree, this kind of thing just doesn't happen in London does it?

Only in New York City could you meet a guy from a James Bond movie at breakfast who wanted to hook you up with a fashion designer from down the street because it might be helpful to you in some way!

We talked for over an hour about work and museums and the difference between British and American culture, we found that we had both suffered from carple tunnel syndrome and he showed me his scar from a recent operation.
We stayed for pie and had more coffee and then he had to go for a casting so he gave me Chesley’s number and his card, directed me down Broadway and wished me the best of luck.

It was around 10am by now and my interview wasn't until 4pm so I decided to walk down Broadway and take in New York City. I changed into my flats, reapplied my lipstick and set off for 5Th Avenue.

After a while, when I’d walked about 20 blocks I stopped to admire a beautiful clutch bag made entirely of peacock feathers which was nestled under the arm of a mannequin in a shop window.
Just as I was about to tear myself away I noticed a sign in the window advertising for staff. I have absolutely no desire to work in retail ever again and it would be highly unlikely that I’d get a visa application approved for such a job but I had nothing to lose but time so I changed into my heels again fluffed up my enormous hair and strolled in.
A pretty blond by the name of Bonnie, greeted me enthusiastically as I entered the shop (by name and by nature I thought with a grin.)
I enquired about the advert and handed her my CV.
‘You are kidding me right!’ she squealed, ‘you put on fashion shows?’
‘er…yes’ I replied with a smile.
‘God man, *Mark is gonna love you! I’m gonna get you an interview right now, hold on honey, I’ll give him a call.’
(*Not his real name.)
‘I have someone fabulous here,' Bonnie said, 'British, adorable, tons of experience can you see her today?’…And that was that, I had another interview lined up at 6pm on 42Nd and 5Th. (Though I didn't have a clue what for!)

I continued down Broadway until I found an Internet café, I ordered a latte and I googled the name of the boutique to gather some information.
It turns out there wasn't much information to gather, no official website, no company profile, but I did discover that there were a chain of 5 designer boutiques all located on the island of Manhattan, some further investigation gave me information on all the designers they stocked, most of them I knew well, the ones I didn’t I googled and got profiles on.
Bonnie had told me that three brothers owned the company, and that they were very sales orientated.
That would have to do.

I started to make my way across town. I had found both the boutique and the bridal atelier by 3pm so I bought a copy of time out and a pretzel from a vendor and rested on a bench for a while.
Then I made my way over to my first appointment.

Carrie was still interviewing the previous candidate when I got there so I browsed through the stock and talked to the sales girls.
I was impressed; it was good stuff, Susanne Neville, Cymbeline, good designers, no crap.
When she was ready Carrie called me into her office, she was looking for a bridal stylist, a sales person with experience of dressing women and selling add ons, she looked through my portfolio and we talked about the possibility of me making a bespoke collection for the shop in addition to the styling, as soon as we started to talk figures I lost interest. I've been down this road before I thought, designing in house, selling under someone else’s name, do I really want to go in that direction again? Could I go back to making commercially orientated dresses? Reproducing the same safe boring ivory satin strapless ‘A’ line time after time, year after year?

I liked Carrie a lot, I asked her if she was married, ‘to this shop’ she replied, ‘I know the feeling!’ I said, and we laughed and she winked at me and said, ‘honey, you and I could make a good team, all we have to do is sort you out a visa.’
Carrie said she would sponsor me in terms of helping with paper work and special skills documentation but that I would be responsible for all my own legal fees, she estimated it could cost me in the region of $8000.
Oh. My. God! Four grand! Really! and if they refuse my visa application? that’s it, no refund…just, better luck next time?
‘That’s about the size of it, have a think and let me know what you decide, if you want to move over here having a job to come to is your best chance of having your visa application approved.’
So we shook hands and she wished me luck and I headed off to my next appointment.
To Be Continued...

A Fairy Tale In New York: part 2

I had a hunch.
I needed to be in New York City in the first week of December, I didn't want to delay it. I couldn't wait to get there!
I also couldn't afford the flight...
I rang my fabulous Mother…I rang her so she’d talk some sense into me and tell me not to be so impulsive and that I’d have to wait and save up, but she didn't, she told me that I should go. She fully encouraged me to be irrational and irresponsible because of a hunch. Mad!
So I rang my amazing sister and I told her my thoughts and she said I had to go, she even offered to put the trip on her credit card and said that I could pay her back later.
So I rang my lovely Dad, and he helped me update my portfolio and he printed copies of my CV… and they all encouraged me and sent me on my way.

A few days before I was due to fly out I had an email from a lady named Carrie (!) she owned a Bridal Atelier on Fifth Avenue had seen my CV online and wanted to interview me on Wednesday.

So…I jumped on a plane to New York…

I arrived at Newark Airport at around 4pm local time.
I had a hard time at customs when I told them I was a fashion designer travelling alone.
They searched my bag to check I wasn't carrying a suitcase full of samples to sell! (Luckily, they didn't find my portfolio which was secreted in my hand luggage…) after a thorough rummage through my case the friendly but firm airport security gentleman simply said ‘nice shoes Mam…a lot, of nice shoes’ and sent me on my way.

On the airport shuttle I met an engineer from Berlin (of all places!) who was backpacking around America and a group of girlfriends from Newcastle on a Christmas shopping trip.

I was staying in a hostel in Manhattan on the upper west side, I wanted to stay somewhere residential, with good transport links, somewhere that I might like to live one day. The hostel was basic but super cheap and it suited me fine, I unpacked put on some high heels, a little lipstick and a leopard print beret, and went for a walk down west 94th Street.

I was as high as a kite that first night. Nothing could have bought me down and I couldn't help smiling as I took it all in, I was back, in New York City and anything could happen!
As I walked a man in a suit smiled at me and said he liked my hat as he passed me by, later a lady with a pushchair said ‘cute outfit honey’ as I crossed the street and then I stopped for a slice of pizza and a couple of beers and I felt content and at home and excited and the pizza was delicious.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

A Fairy Tale In New York: part 1

For my Amy...

It all began in Earnest.
It'd been a tricky year, 2009, what with heartbreaks and promises and all that jazz, I'd taken my eye off the ball for a while and I'd lost my mojo.

Things weren't going my way (which was particularly hard for me because things always go my way, I'm a grafter after all.)

A change is as good as a rest they say, and you should never rest on your laurels, and so, I decided... 'It's time for me to leave Bristol!'... for a while at least, to see if I can find what I've lost.

The obvious choice was London Town, I have contacts and friends alike in that there capital city and visit a lot with work and play, the problem is... I'm always glad to leave.

Bath? Cheltenham? the advantages are that people have heard of me in the South West, I've had some good press, done big shows in Bath and already have customers in both cities, the disadvantage is...I'm always glad to leave.

So I decided to think in a different direction, where in the world am I always sad to leave.

Brighton. Berlin. New York.

I don't speak German and much as I love Berlin I'm ashamed to say I have little knowledge of German culture.

Brighton. New York.

I'd be a small fish in either of these ponds but in one of these city's I'd stand out more, in Brighton I'm the girl in the great dress but in New York I'm the British girl in the great dress...SOLD! to the lady in the great dress!

New York.

I'm going to move to New York.

So... I hopped on a Spain, (I know what you're thinking, give me some credit, my geography's not that bad!!)
I went to see my friend Dolly, a glamorous, beautiful BA air stewardess who lives in her fabulous villa 'Casa Dolly' in Alcalali.

I'd been working very hard on the run up to a big fashion show, (stupid hours an d plenty of stress,) I needed a break to clear my head and gather my thoughts.

I had a wonderful time reading and partying and talking and hugging.

Dolly is one of those people who always makes you smile. A true hostess with the mostess in every sense.

We talked about America, and boys, and Edward Cullen, and broken hearts and dreams and aspirations and shoes and we dressed up in sequins and drank fizzy wine and ate artichoke hearts and she inspired me and encouraged me and sent me on my way.

So..I hopped on a London.

I wasn't ready to come back to Bristol yet, I still felt sore, a little let down by my home town, I work really hard why wasn't I getting anything back any more? why did that fashion show not sell out? why did I not get a buzz like I used to?

I flew into Gatwick and bought two bottles of Tattinger at the duty free.

Then...I jumped on the Gatwick express... to Victoria.

It was midnight. I called Stuart, 'I'm in London and I have Champagne!' I said

'Come right over sweetheart,' he said 'what time do you call this?'

Stuart and I were lovers once, he used to read me books in bed, clever books that mostly I didn't understand, but I loved them all the same.

I got to Islington around 1.30am, we drank Champagne and talked about America and girls and books and a strip club he'd been to in San Fransisco and the next day we went to see Breakfast at Tiffany's at the Theatre Royal and we kissed, I think, and he inspired me and sent me on my way.

So...I jumped on a tube... to Clapham.

I went to see my friend Lee, lovely, lovely Lee, who tidied his house up just for me (though I'll never know why) and we talked about work and when he lived in New York and how we loved it there and how much it felt like home, and he had Jack Daniel's and I had lager and we drank on his balcony for a while.

Then we got dressed up and I wore red shoes and blue sequins and antique earrings and we danced all night and drank tequila with drag queens with pink hair and sang along to Kylie...and the next day we had roast chicken and he inspired me and encouraged me and sent emails on my behalf and advised me and sent me on my way.

So...I jumped on a tube... to Oxford Street.

I went to see my friend Davy, and we talked about our travels and photographs and Dublin and Stuart joined us briefly and did yoga in the pub and then we took a cab to Crouchend, the next day we had Mexican for breakfast and went to a bar with a Union Jack sofa where me met a man, (who claimed to be, the manager of Arsenal) who asked me for my phone number... and when he had gone we laughed and we drank lager all afternoon and I kissed him then and he inspired me and advised me and the next day he drove me back to Clapham on his motorbike and we stopped at tower bridge on the way, just to look at it.

So...I collected my suitcase and jumped on a tube... to Paddington.

I drank coffee and ate sushi and made notes and then it was time to go.

So...I jumped on a train... to Bristol.

I went back to work and I was busy then so I asked Bod to come in and help me sew and I loved not being on my own in the work shop and I loved Bod being there, ray of sunshine that she is, and while we sewed we talked, about America and her travels and our dreams and possibilities and inspiration and different cultures and books and Jessica Mitford and we did research and phoned the American Embassy and looked at flights and we got excited and I felt a buzz that I hadn't felt in over a year.

So...I hopped on a NEW YORK!

To Be Continued...

It's All In The Jeans

The perfect pair of blue jeans...

That illusive staple item that is never quite right.

Now. You know I do my best for you dear reader, but obviously, even I, can not recommend the perfect pair of jeans for every one of you. This is because I don't have experience of every pair of blue jeans on the market nor intimate knowledge of every one of your figures.

But I do know a lot about denim, I know a lot about fit and construction and I know a lot about what suits different body shapes so....

In your quest you have two options, you take what you need from the advice here in and do a bit of educated shopping or you hire me as a stylist or a dressmaker and get a guaranteed result.

(Without bias or I said, just outlining your options ;-)

First of all my own personal, favorite, perfect jeans, oh how I love them!

Virtually every time I wear this style I get a compliment from someone, these are good jeans!My basic straight leg staple jean is Diesel Ronhar (pictured)

If your figure is similar to mine* (see previous post for details) they might well be exactly what you are looking for.

The problems I find with most straight leg jeans are the following: they are too short, they gape at the back, they are too low cut, the pocket placement is appalling!, they are too tight in the thigh, the denim is stiff and uncomfortable.

Diesel Ronhar are the perfect, classic straight leg cut, they will never date and will always look stylish.

They make a 35" inside leg, they curve in beautifully at the back over your bum so that they fit snugly even when you are sat down, (the waist band is cleverly cut as a curved piece instead of a straight piece like most jeans and there are no seams in it so it is slim fitting and not bulky).
They sit on the hip but are cut about an inch higher than your average high street jean, the pocket placement is exquisite and makes your bum look neat and curvy, the shape in the leg is perfectly proportioned and the denim is soft and has 2% Lycra for fit and comfort.

For me this is the perfect straight leg jean.

I wear mine until they are worn out and then order them again.
I have done for several years now, I never shop for a straight leg jean because you can't improve on perfection.

I'm afraid that I am yet to find the perfect skinny jean, so I have to alter mine, I have tried several brands and have exactly the same problem with all of them, they all gape at the waist at the back.

I would love you to tell me weather you have experienced this too because I know I'm not the only one.

I see girls with builders bums and gapey waist bands everywhere I look...

The way I see it, is this: the problem, (which appears to me to be very common) is caused simply, by cheap, lazy, pattern cutting.

I'm afraid you bring it all on yourselves, if you didn't settle for ill fitting clothing and instead spent a few extra quid on something that has been properly engineered to fit your body then other manufacturers would have to try harder and eventually the prices would come down.

Most jeans are fitted with a waist band which is simply a straight strip of fabric, a long thin rectangle, a tube if you will, this is a shape which, as you know, tessellates well.
At the point at which the waist band of a pair of jeans sits is exactly where most women curve inward, therefore the waistband needs to be smaller at the top than at the bottom to fit this curve, this would mean the waist band would need to be cut in a crescent shape and in two pieces (instead of one folded in half.)
Crescent shapes do not tessellate so well, they take longer to cut and result in some fabric wastage.
This is why fitted jeans never fit you.

Help is at hand of course, you could pay a bit more and try a brand like diesel who cut their waist bands correctly or you could ask your dress maker to dart the waist bands of your jeans to achieve a similar result (I charge around £30 for this service)

Pear Shape:
I would recommend a straight leg or a slim boot cut in a dark colour, avoid distressed denim or lots of pockets or detailing at the hip which can make you look wider, go for a clean look and wear your jeans long with a high heel to elongate you legs.

Apple Shape:
A low rise jean will elongate your body, choose a lighter colour and wear with a darker top to balance out your shape, choose a style with longer back pockets to draw attention down to your slim legs.

Hour Glass:
A boot cut works well with your curves, a dark wash and a high heel will be more slimming, always choose a contoured waist to avoid the gaping back and a denim with a little stretch which will be more comfortable around your thigh.

Specialists denim retailers can be very helpful, they usually know their stuff and if you tell them the problems you find with most jeans they can often recommend something to counter them.

Don't be afraid to use this service, and don't feel under pressure to buy if you don't find the perfect fit this time.

So there you have it ladies...

Go forth and conquer!!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Naked Honest Truth.


Today I started to compose a post (imaginatively titled 'It's All in the Jeans';-) it was (perhaps not surprisingly) to be about finding the perfect pair of blue jeans.

I am lucky enough to have found a pair which are, in fact, 'perfect' for me and I found that by drawing from my own experience and recommending my 'perfect' pair to those of you with similar proportions to me I would have to discuss my own figure with you in some detail, otherwise how would you know?

As I began to write down my statistics I went off on a tangent and decided to prelude 'It's all in the Jeans' with this post, I hope you find it interesting. I will talk about denim tomorrow. x

P.S please bare in mind...SIZE DOESN'T MATTER:

*Gilly Woo's vital statistics: for your information and comparison, (also useful when buying me presents;-)
bust 38", waist 30", hip 38", height 5'9", weight 10st12lb, inside leg, 33", bra 34E, shoe 7, dress 12, (quite well proportioned, bit of a flat bum, fairly low natural waist.)

It is good for you to know these details about yourself and not just guess them, get a tape measure and check out your statistics, write them down and keep them in your purse, take note of how your body changes, most of us fluctuate from week to week and our bodies change as we get older or have babies, knowing your actual shape will help you make good choices when buying clothes.

You'd be surprised at how many of my clients think they are taller, shorter, slimmer or fatter than they actually are. Just this weekend I dressed a gorgeous woman in her sixties who told me she had awful legs, instead of taking her word for it I asked her to show me, actually, her legs were a great shape, they just had an uneven skin tone, I insisted she try a pencil skirt with opaque tights and she liked it so much she bought it, changed into it and strutted off to Harvey Nicks for a glass of champagne, (invoking a compliment from a random stranger on her way I'll have you know:-)

The media publishing pictures of celebrities and randomly sticking numbers next to them which they claim are their correct statistics doesn't help women to be realistic about their figures.

It's all nonsense of course, do you really think Cheryl Cole is gonna stand on a set of scales in front of a fashion editor or a news room to confirm their guess work? No. Ridiculous isn't it?
The only person who knows what Cheryl Cole weighs is Cheryl Cole (and maybe her personal trainer.)...and why do you care anyway?

The Fashion Industry is a Bitch.
It will build you up and knock you down at every opportunity.
On the one hand shops make their standard sizes subtly bigger every year to fool you into thinking you are slimmer than you are.
On the other hand they tell you you have to be smaller and smaller to be attractive.

It doesn't matter what it says on the label as long as it fits you, don't buy a skirt that doesn't suit you just because it's a size 8, it doesn't make you a size 8 it just means you now own an incorrectly labeled garment that doesn't suit you.

Size Zero
I had a Saturday job at The Gap 14 years ago and I sold size zero jeans.
At that time I wore an American size 6. American sizes are different to British sizes, an American size 6 equates roughly to a British size 10, but not exactly, the proportions are different, a UK10 would be far too small around my waist but probably fit my hips ok (because of my flatish bum) a USA6 fitted me for the same reason.
By this token a UK6 (USA 2) could comfortably wear a size zero jean if she had a smallish bum.
I realise that a UK6 is little but it's not ridiculous! a petite woman of 5'2" could easily be a healthy, curvy sexy UK6.

God only knows why the British media have felt the need to make such a massive drama out of it now!

Your dress size is not a bloody status symbol, it's just your dress size and it really doesn't matter what it is at all as long as you are a healthy weight. If you're a size 14 in Topshop and a size 16 in M&S so what? get to know your favorite brands and you'll always know what size to try...and by the way 6ft tall models are not a size zero...I work with them, I take their real measurements, trust me, the media make it all up.

While we are on the subject of not be under any illusions that models are just a pretty face, there is a definitive skill to looking good in a photograph, and taking direction from a photographer, you could be the most beautiful person in the world and not make it as a successful model.

(N.B. Why ever models are such aspirational figures is beyond me! being photogenic is lovely I'm sure, making a career out of it might be a nice way to earn a living but it's not easy money, it's hard graft!)

This may be controversial, but the fact of the matter is thin people look better in photographs.

(Let me be clear, I promote a healthy body image and I am fully behind the idea of banning models with an unhealthy BMI but some girls are naturally very thin)

They are easier to direct because there are less distortions when they reposition themselves and there is less airbrushing with angular subjects which means less time and less money needs to be spent on an image to achieve a slick and professional result.

Hiring a thin model to make a pretty picture is the same as hiring a courageous fireman or a brainy lawyer, there is nothing more to it than that.
Please bare in mind that just because a girl is a model does not nesascerily mean that she is always the sexiest woman in the room, she is just the most photogenic....

(...also please don't hate her because she is beautiful, she is only doing her job and does not necessarily have an eating disorder.)

There is one more myth that I would like to put to bed please...

Marilyn Monroe was NOT a size 16.

I have been in the room with, and seen very close at hand actual dresses that Marilyn Monroe wore and, (unfortunately perhaps,) I would not have fitted into any of them, Marilyn Monroe by today's standards was around 5'4" and a size 8-10. Get over it.
N.B. If you use the measurements from a size 12 1950's commercial dress pattern they would equate roughly to a modern day size 16, Marilyn Monroe may have, once, (when she was having a fat day) worn a 1950's size 16 dress but she probably had to have it taken in even then.

Monday, 25 January 2010

"Illusion is the First of All Pleasures" Oscar Wilde.

Did you know that Agent Provocateur was a house hold brand name before they had opened a single shop?
Their marketing campaign was so successful that everyone wanted the product before they even knew what it was.
Astounding isn't it?
The company branding was, (and still is) more important and more impressive than the actual product and people still, happily, pay a premium for it.
On the contrary there are people making exceptional products and paying attention to quality, design, ethics and value for money and no one has ever heard of them.

Such is the crazy world we live in…

It is my (self imposed,) mission to bring to your attention these unsung heros of the fashion and beauty world.
Without bias or agenda I will share with you the secrets of a stylish, quality, functional capsule wardrobe, I will advise you when to save and when to splurge, and I will educate you on garment production and alteration, and on how to achieve a perfect fit.

But first... I need to talk a little bit more about your underwear.

I know you are probably thinking by now that I have an unhealthy obsession with your boobs and bums (and who wouldn’t? they are fabulous after all…) but this is important stuff!

All I’m doing is starting at the beginning...

That is to say…eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly, smile lots, love lots, have good underwear...

Problem solvers-the dos and don’ts:
First of all if you have any of those awful ‘invisible’ clear plastic bra straps in your lingerie draw throw them out immediately!! I mean it! Do it right now, (dancer’s you are exempt but ONLY when you are on stage and to be seen from an extreme distance.)
They are NOT invisible. We can all see them…who are you trying to kid?
You have two choices, a good strapless undergarment, or a garment with straps, it’s as simple as that.

Lingerie tape is your friend:
Use it all the time.
Affectionately called ‘tit tape’ it is a double sided, hypo allergenic, tape, which is a staple in any good stylist’s (or stylish person’s) ‘kit’. Use it to stick your top to your skin or your bra in order to avoid ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ and nipple flashing.
A great quick fix for a loose hem, lingerie tape can also be used to secure a slippy sling back or stick a lose court shoe to your foot, (particularly useful when wearing tights)
It can be purchased on rolls or in strips, which can easily be popped in your purse for reapplication (or for educational gifting to less stylish friends.)

Gym matters:
A good sports bra is essential for every single woman.
I wear a normal underwired bra underneath a super supportive sports bra when I do any high impact activity.
I always wear 100% cotton knickers and socks to the gym too, it’s healthier and more comfortable.

Magic knickers:
I hope you realise how difficult this is for me, I go against everything I stand for by telling the world I used to hate my boobs and now I’m discussing my granny pants!

First of all, as far as anyone knows, you don’t own any.

Only wear the ‘cycling short’ type under trousers (…or floor length skirts if, you are not planning on doing any of the following during the course of the evening: falling over, dancing on tables, doing the cancan, or demonstrating your high kick.)

N.B. As imposing these rules on yourself at any kind of social event is likely to hinder the experience Gilly Woo would suggest ONLY wearing them under trousers.

Tummy control knickers (which I don’t have any of;-) are great under dresses, particularly if they cinch your waist in too.
They smooth your contours and even out your shape.
The ones that I don’t own come up to my bra and are seamless, (this way you avoid the unsightly knicker line that can sometimes be visible at the waist.) Always buy them a size too small for maximum effect.
Department stores are your best resource for this item as they will carry lots of styles for you to try, I would avoid anything with boning unless you go made to measure, when buying off the peg I prefer to stick with ‘industrial strength’ elastic, it’s more comfy and less likely to show under clothing, boning only works when it’s rigid (as in corsetry.)
Do not be fooled by clever marketing! Just because Gok Wan or Trinny and Susanna are grinning at you from the label doesn’t mean it’s the best product on the market, try the old lady section in Debenhams, you might be surprised…

If you own any kind of contour dress and are bigger than a size 10 you need these in your life.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Holy Grail

The strapless bra.
Complete waste of time...uncomfortable, unattractive, and always slipping down.
For years I have been saying 'why doesn't someone make a strapless bra based on corset technology?'
With corsetry all the support comes from underneath your bust so there is absolutely no need for a strap unless it is a design feature, no matter what your bust size.

(N.B: I'm talking about proper, good corsetry here girls, not basques or bodices or anything from Anne Summers, or anywhere at all actually, other than a proper corset maker.
I can't begin to explain the difference here, suffice to say, if it has less than 16 bones and less than 8 of them are steel it ain't a corset in my book...or in Dita's book or in any body else's, if they know their stuff.)

Because a corset fits snugly around your rib cage there is no where for your bust to go, it has to remain in the cup that you put it in, it is impossible for a corset to slip down and they never need to be 'yanked up'.
Because the cups are heavily boned you always have a perfect bust no matter how many shapes you throw on the dance floor.
As a perfect example I have a fabulous client who is a big fan of the 'running man' dance move (you know who you are;-)
To my knowledge, whilst donning her Gilly Woo Couture, she hasn't once had to do that awful unsightly 'hoik' action that so tragically accompanies most strapless ensembles.

For years I have been saying 'why doesn't someone make a strapless bra based on corset technology?'

and finally, FINALLY! someone has!!

I can not express how thrilling it was for me to discover this little gem in Debenhams 5 months ago.

As soon as I saw the oddly proportioned architectural esq structure, ( it was bathed in a halo of light, there were angels singing in my head and...) I said out loud, 'BY DIOR! THEY'VE ONLY BLOODY GONE AND DONE IT!!!'

This rush of elation was quickly followed by a swift metaphorical the hovering shop assistant backed away from me with an uneasy look in her eye and I realised, yet again, that somebody was going to make millions out of my idea and that somebody wasn't me....It was wonderbra actually.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Foundations of Success

I have two lingerie draws... one is full of pretty everyday bra and knicker ensembles and occasional lingerie in fabrics such as, embroidered mesh, lace, silk satin and velvet, it also contains, suspender belts, seamed stockings, hold ups, fishnets and, of course...a home made lavender bag ;-)

The other draw contains plain black 100% cotton briefs, sports bras, socks, opaque tights and weird looking 'problem solving' items. (more about these later...)
Please note that neither of these draws contain ANYTHING, grey (by design or decay), loose (in terms of fit or elastic) or holey (blergh!)

Your every day bra must fit, support, be comfortable and match your knickers.

If you want my advice, when you find a brand you like stick to it! I buy everything Freya make twice a year.

For me, their fit is second to none, their sizing is consistent, the quality is great and they use fabulous colours.

In my opinion there is little point in shopping around for bras when you are a 32F.
The companies beginning to make bigger bras haven't got it right yet, and old faithfuls like Triumph and Fantasie (whilst achieving a faultless fit with years of research) are frankly in need of a new design team and a company image to match! (*note to self*: maybe I should send them some sketches...)

I realise that they are working on it, but their collections continue to disappoint me season after season. For some reason lingerie companies were, until very recently, under the impression that every girl who is bigger than a D cup is also over 65 years of age and has no desire to look remotely sexy. Ever.

If you are amply blessed in the bosom department forget paying less than £20 for a bra. It's a false economy.

The fact of the matter is that you can't make a good, big bra cheaply (yet).

I don't even think Marks and Spencer's do a good enough job, forget Asda and Primark!
They woo you with pretty fabrics, expensive (airbrushed) celebrity photo shoots and £7.99 price tags, but don't be fooled!

They can not yet compete with lingerie companies who have been supporting giant bosoms for hundreds of years.
We are talking about engineering here! decades of pattern cutting and sampling and wear tests... you can't just send a vacuum press, a load of foam and some satin bows off to Shanghai and expect to get the same results.

When you buy a bra it should fit you on the loosest hook, over time and through washing and wearing the elastic will stretch which is when you will use the other hooks to achieve the original fit.
Over more time the elastic will perish and lose it's stretch even more, which is when you will throw it in the bin, (not when you will rename it your 'comfy bra' and develop some kind of ugly attachment to it )
When putting your bra on you should lean forward and allow your breasts to 'fall' into the cups.
The underwire should be flat on your rib cage and sit snug to your breast bone, if you have a gap you need a bigger cup size.
Your breasts should sit comfortably in the cups and there should be no spilling or cutting in.
The support comes as much from the strap around your back as from the shoulder straps.
Don't be tempted to wear your shoulder straps too tight to achieve more up lift, all you will achieve is unsightly back fat and ridges in your shoulders (which can become permanent after years of incorrect wear)
The strap across your back should be straight and in line with your under bust It should be snug but not tight.

As I said before your bra should ALWAYS match your knickers.

Do not expect me to justify this statement, if you have to ask why I'm afraid there is no hope for you.

To Be Continued....

It's All In Your Mind

To begin with I need to give you an important piece of advice.
NEVER discuss your flaws and body hang ups with anyone EVER.

There is absolutely no good that can come of it, at best you will be drawing attention to the bits you should be glossing over and at worst you will appear to be fishing for compliments.

The only exception to this rule is your trainer at the gym or your dressmaker, it is perfectly acceptable to say 'please help me tone my thighs' or 'design me something that hides my tummy' but only because you are taking a positive step towards realistic self improvement, a comment directed at a friend or (heaven forbid!) a boyfriend, such as 'look at this disgusting cellulite' or 'I hate my enormous feet' has no positive connotations what so ever and therefore has no place in your vocabulary.

I hate to tell you this girls but essentially, you are what you are, so you may as well deal with it because the alternative is being miserable about something you have no control over.
If you are a pear shape then you will always be a pear shape, if you are flat chested or have a round tummy or a large bust or short legs you just have to accept it, learn to work with it, and realise that you are beautiful just the way you are.

Allow me to paint you a picture...
When I was 18 years old I started saving money for a breast reduction, I was of the impression, at that time, that if I had smaller boobs I would be happier and my life would be improved.
The only bras available in my size were enormous granny ones with inch thick straps, and no underwire. I couldn't wear anything strapless, backless, high necked or drapey, there wasn't a single dress on the high street that fitted my figure remotely, men would make rude comments at me when I was at work which made me uneasy and nervous (as a bar wench in a cocktail joint, why I would of expected anything else is beyond me!)
I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and it made me insecure and miserable.
Around this time I met a man who inspired me to travel, to this day we are still the best of friends, he recommended a book called work your way around the world and I ended up spending my 'breast reduction' money on an 18 month trip around Europe.
There is little space for vanity when you have to live out of a backpack for over a year and I was so busy meeting people, seeing sights and experiencing new things, (and sometimes, just surviving!) that I didn't have time to obsess about my boobs!
I built up confidence because I felt I had interesting things to say about my trips and experiences, I found it easier to interact with strangers because I was forced out of my comfort zone and gradually I began to hear the compliments people paid me in a completely different way.

I began to believe them.

When I returned I was a little slimmer, I stood a little taller, and...(I've never had a tan in my life but, after living in Spain for 6 months) skin was marginally less 'glow in the dark' white.
I went back to work in the cocktail bar briefly while I looked for a job.
When a raucous stag party came in and said '8 tequilas sweetheart, and by the way, GREAT tits!' I smiled genuinely, said 'thank you fellas, I agree' then I popped a drop of Tabasco in each of their shots ;-)

Those of you who know me may be surprised to learn of my early hatred of my fabulous embonpoint, not least, perhaps, because I don't look particularly top heavy, this is because I learned how to dress. When I couldn't find something that worked in the shops I made it myself, I scoured specialist boutiques for 'pretty' bras in larger sizes, I researched flattering necklines and made subtle alterations to shirts and tops. I do chest presses at the gym, wear a bra to bed and use a good body cream with collagen.
Now a days, with better lingerie production techniques, and the Internet, I have no trouble buying great underwear but dresses and tailored tops still need a nip and a tuck 99% of the time.

When I think back I can't believe I almost had unnecessary, major, invasive surgery.
The problem wasn't with my body, the problem was with my head.
I know a lot of women who have had reconstructive and cosmetic procedures and in some cases, I think plastic surgery is a wonderful option but I have to admit that in my experience it is rarely the quick fix it is often portrayed as in the media.

My point is this... make the best of yourself, always, but don't neglect your mental health or set yourself unrealistic goals.
Don't try and fit into anyone else's 'ideal'...If you have mousey, poker straight hair no amount of peroxide and hair extensions will make you look anything like the girl in the Timotae advert. If your skin is so fair that it looks blue in some lights no amount of fake tan will make you look like Penelopie Cruze. Just because Anna Wintour says purple leg warmers are 'in' doesn't mean you have to wear them.
You'll just look ridiculous.
Embrace what you have and make the best of it.
Your own 'ideal' should be the best version of yourself, just the way you are.

Most importantly of all, don't overlook the fact, that the problem you think you have with your looks could be all in your mind...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Gilly Woo - An Introdution.

Hello and welcome to my very first blog!

My name is Gilly and I'm a designer, dressmaker and stylist based in Bristol in the UK.
I design and make bespoke finery: bridal gowns, occasion wear and corsets, I style photo shoots, fashion shows, performers and individuals and I party pretty hard too.
I'm 30, I'm single and I live with a gay man, a papier mache flamingo and a lot of hats in a little flat in Cotham.

I decided to write this blog to offer impartial honest and realistic advice on style and beauty that comes from years of experience working with women of every age, shape and size and a deep seated, in built passion for making women feel beautiful, feminine, stylish and (above all) confident. Not from a load of celebrity endorsements and beauty industry back handers often designed to hard sell you unnecessary products by making you feel inadequate.

I deal with self depreciating, body dismorphic women every day and it makes me so sad that they can't see the beauty in themselves that is so obvious to me.

When I go out dressed up I get as many compliments from women about the way I look as I do from men, on one occasion, in a ladies powder room, I had an actual queue of women asking me where my outfit was from and complimenting me on my look, it took me 20 minutes to get out of the loo!... my date thought I'd climbed out the window ;-)
One of these women became a client, I told her her correct bra size, (2 cup sizes bigger that the one she was wearing) made her a corset (a welcome addition to any wardrobe and the only comfortable strapless garment she had ever owned) and altered some of her work suits so that they fitted her properly and drew attention to her tiny waist. I made an empire line dress which was entirely the wrong shape for her and far to small around her bust) into a pretty summer skirt and found a beautiful piece of silk to make a matching camisole (that fitted her bust perfectly.)

Most of these jobs were small and inexpensive but that woman told me I'd changed her life.
By learning how to dress her figure she began to love it for the first time.
People asked her if she'd lost weight or been on holiday and complimented her on how well she looked, her posture improved with her confidence and she told me that she was genuinely happier.

I'm not a model, I'm not unusually pretty, I'm an average size 12, I'm not rich or famous, (I'm not getting any younger!) there is nothing much spectacular about me at all, except that I know how to dress, I'm not afraid to stand out in a crowd, I know about underwear and structure and cut and fit and how to flatter my figure, I know how to apply good make up, I'm lucky enough to call my hairdresser my best friend and I'm on first name terms with my shoe repair guy.

It's as simple as that girls, it just takes a little knowledge and a little practise and it could just change your life....