Friday, 20 February 2015


Last night I hosted a Q&A with the owner of new luxe fashion brand Tabitha Webb at the Design Museum as part of the Women, Fashion, Power programme.

Tabitha had an enviable and successful career in advertising but threw in the towel when she learned the gargantuan size of her Saatchi overlord's annual bonus and determined to found her own fashion business. Everyone said 'You're brave' (which is friend code for 'you're mad'), but Tabitha's response was to say that she wasn't brave to leave, they were brave to stay put, and now that I've set up my own show, I completely get what she means. 

Anyway, the spirit of entrepreneurship is strong in Tabitha, and after an accessories business and a slightly ill-fated collaboration with Danni Minogue called Project D, she has a compact yet beautifully considered collection of wearable clothes, a boutique in Belgravia and a website, and numbers the Duchess of Cambridge, Pippa Middleton and Miranda Kerr amongst her customers. I feel that Tabitha has embraced the famous Yves St Laurent dictum, 'what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it', and her clothes are designed to make you feel a happy and fabulous and confident and a well-dressed version of yourself rather than a clothes horse for a designer's rigid aesthetic. Tabitha also hosts salons in the boutique every Tuesday, where women can have a glass of champagne and listen to someone like Glamour's Jo Elvin talk about her life and inspirations. I like this, it's all very friendly, as fashion should be but rarely is.

Anyway, over supper at the Blueprint Cafe after the exhibition and before the talk, I butted in halfway through a conversation Tabitha was having with a friend of mine, academic and star of the Channel 4 show, Four Rooms, Wendy Meakin, about whether one should call oneself a woman or, as Tabitha had it, a girl (now that I've started this anecdote I realise I actually have no idea how this vociferously good-natured debate came about.) Wendy, who was urging me to read the whole of The Second Sex, not the Vintage edit I posted about the other day, maintained no other word than 'woman' is suitable for a person of our gender. Tabitha thinks the word 'woman' very silly indeed and calls herself 'girl','chick', 'bird' and so on. I would say 'woman' because I'm too superannuated to use 'girl' unless prefixed by 'in the olden days, when I was a', but I can see that it can sound a bit seventies yoni-worshipper out of context. Maybe not - there was a stunning picture of a young Germaine Greer in the Women Fashion Power exhibition, and I'd never dare call her a girl or a chick or a broad or a dame or a lady -but then she was rather fierce and wrote things like 'if you think you're emancipated, you might consider tasting your own menstrual blood - if it makes you sick you've a long way to go, baby', in The Female Eunuch. Yikes.
 So I'm perfectly happy with 'woman' and i think 'girl', 'bird', 'chick', 'broad', etc are also perfectly ticketty boo if that's what you prefer. I also confess I quite like it when they call me 'Madam' in John Lewis. I don't like to be referred to as a lady (because it sounds so terribly hostess trolley), and there seems to be a rather irritating habit creeping in of substituting 'a female' for 'a woman' which always sounds very police procedural. I was trying to find an example of the use of 'a female' when I fell across this from Campaign magazine 'Maguire said that one of her former bosses sold her script to a client, but changed her name to Mickey[from Vicki] because the client didn't want a female working on the account', and I was so shocked by the reminder of the appalling sexism rife in the advertising industry, I quite forgot to mind about the 'a female' thing. When you next watch a commercial on tv, remember that only 3% of top Ad agency creative directors are women, fewer than in agencies in the 1930's, and ask yourself how a predominantly male lens affects the way we are sold stuff. I also heard recently of a client getting very wigged about some magazine copy because it was 'too feminist': when men no longer occupy 85% of senior executive roles, and when the pay gap between senior men and women no longer stands at 35% (this widens even more after 45, by the way) you can tell me something is 'too feminist'. Not before.

Of course, I've now taken myself down the path of rant and wandered off the point - where was I going with this, I'm not sure, but anyway, Women Fashion Power: not a multiple choice...

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