Monday, 2 August 2010

Style Centre: Cardiff

Peacocks - A/W 10 - Demonstrating a hint of Chanel-diff style
(Image: Peacocks)

In Drapers this week, an advertisement in the jobs section of the magazine caught my eye, with ''fast-fashion'' company Peacocks stating: ''You don't have to be in London to have a great buying career.'' This is a sentiment many of Drapers readers will no doubt concur with. Although Drapers covers all the major sectors of the British fashion industry, from ''luxury'' to ''value'', as the UK's leading ''fashion trade bible'', a large part of its readership is made up of independent (''indie'') boutique owners. While I have been a long-time resident of London, Cardiff is the the capital city of what I consider to be my ''home'' country, Wales. Until quite recently it used to be the case that Wales' greatest export was its people, and that if you wanted to ''succeed'' it was necessary to leave, often permanently. In some areas this has caused a ''brain-drain'', which in some sectors it has never been recovered from. So seeing this advertisement, it was intriguing to note how bold the statement was from this Welsh-based fashion firm: ''forget London, Cardiff is where it's at''. While Cardiff may not be a ''Fashion Capital'', it's not entirely unreasonable to consider it as a potential ''Style Centre'', with it's lively student population, and status as one of South Wales' leading shopping centres, with a mix of ''indies'', such as Pussy Galore, and well-known chains, including Peacocks, not to forget the number of grand venues in which to appear stylish in, such as the Wales Millenium Centre (Opera House) or the bar of the St. David's Hotel and Spa. Indeed, many firms often choose Cardiff to open''pilot'' stores, to test out new shop-formats or VM strategies, such as the first ever John Lewis department store in Wales, anchoring the new St. David's 2 shopping centre.

Catherine Zeta Jones for Elizabeth Arden's ''Mediterranean'' Perfume

Intriguingly, the most recent Sunday Times Style Magazine ran a profile in beauty trends in several leading UK ''Style Centres'', including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Bristol. Strangely no Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish city was included in this line-up, perhaps indicating, yet again, that while the London-centric fashion media has finally realised that the ''style-savvy'' do exist outside the M25 (London's main ring-road), they remain ignorant of any further extension of this amongst England's near neighbours. Yet the same magazine's cover star and lead feature article was on the acclaimed Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones. As the article proclaims, as well as being a part of Hollywood royalty through her marriage to Michael Douglas, and a Tony and Oscar winning actress in her own right, Jones is also the ''face'' of the beauty brand Elizabeth Arden. While Jones may have attained a lifestyle that is only in the dreams of many Welsh girls, she is ,in many ways, a typical exemplar of the Welsh style scene. Not least in her apparent love for the high octane glamour of full-make-up and high heels, which can also be seen in the stylish locale of many of the bars and clubs of Cardiff, Swansea or Newport. Other Welsh stars, too, can be seen to exemplify this take on glamour, including Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins and Duffy, all of whom, like Jones, still retain close connections to Wales, either through living there, family connections, or working with local organisations or charities. In the case of Jones her ability to transcend her ''Welshness'' through her acting talent and looks has meant that, at several points throughout her career, she has even been cast as ''Latin'' or ''Latino''. This includes her role in the film Zorro with Antonio Banderas (in the days before Hollywood ''discovered'' genuine Latin/Latino-ness in the form of Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz). In her work for Elizabeth Arden, too, Jones has been cast to epitomise the ''look'' of Latin Europe, as in the campaign for the perfume ''Mediterranean''. Not bad for a girl from Mumbles.

What each of these examples demonstrate, is that the notion or concept of a ''Style Centre'' can emanate from a variety of sources. In turn, they also demonstrate how this can be manifested. With developments in technology, communications and travel, a fashion firm can be based (and succeed) in a ''peripheral'' site (Peacocks). The dissemination of beautiful ideals or so-called ''national looks'' in the form of ''spokes models'' (Jones), reveals how these can be manipulated to challenge ideas about what constitutes a given ''style'' of a specific place. If Cardiff has a style of dressing it can be perhaps summed up thus: during the day it's very much ''dress to work'', advocating practicality and comfort, but when evening comes around, it's very much a case of ''dress to kill''. Those London girl's had better watch out...

Catherine Zeta Jones: Elizabeth Arden's ''Provocative Woman''

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