Simon Williams on fashion: ‘Why do beautifully clad people always scowl?

If you look closely at this photograph of me you’ll see a man baffled by what to wear with what. It is a myth that actors are vain. We are self-conscious, modest creatures who are happier with a moving camera and a character to play – a mask. The still camera can have a knack of freezing the moment your smile congeals and your eyes glaze.

My general rule about fashion is: don’t try too hard. Spontaneity is key – the student approach to dressing has much to recommend it: pick it up off the floor, sniff it, put it on. I have pity for those folk who live on the catwalk – especially during Fashion Weeks, when they endlessly strut preposterous outfits up and down the gangplank while gimlet-eyed fashion editors flare their nostrils. I feel for the older customers, too, sitting with furrowed brows wondering how they could reupholster themselves – and anyway, when exactly would they wear a halterneck frock made of tinfoil?

The question is, why do these beautifully clad people always scowl as they stomp towards us like extras in Game Of Thrones? I’ve seen that look elsewhere, it comes with lines like: ‘It’s your turn to empty the effing washing machine.’ Are they trained to be grumpy? ‘Come on, boys and girls, stride, swivel, scowl, snort – toss your head and… exit.’ As the fashion guru Kimora Lee Simmons says, ‘Always dress like you’re going to meet your worst enemy.’

Whereas I’d tell them, ‘You’re never fully dressed without a smile.’ Is ‘comfortable’ a dirty word in fashion these days? And what about a bit of colour?

Who was it who said, ‘I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker colour’? My mother, Margaret Vyner, was a great beauty (aren’t they all?).

In the 1930s she was the top fashion model for Norman Hartnell in London and Jean Patou in Paris. She took New York by storm, too. Cole Porter even added a tribute to her in his famous song: ‘You’re the top, you’re an ocean liner/ You’re the top, you’re Margaret Vyner.’

As I write she is gazing down at me from a watercolour portrait by Cecil Beaton. (I know, Mum, why am I wearing this ghastly shirt?) She always followed Coco Chanel’s maxim, ‘Fashion changes, but style endures.’ She did her best to guide me – buy less, choose well. But alas, I’m very susceptible to the lure of TK Maxx and a bit of BOGOF on a wet afternoon.

If you want to get an idea of the sheer hell of being a dedicated fashionista, go to see the mesmerising Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread – it paints a grim picture of giving a damn.

 

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