The great style conspiracy…

Is it purely coincidence that when 50 Shades of Grey topped the bestseller lists all over the world, leather was suddenly back in fashion? Even M&S has now come up with a pervy underwear range. I sometimes wonder if there is a conspiracy by some all-powerful fashion force to create the perfect storm every season to seduce us into shopping for new items of clothing we really don’t need.
I have never really bothered about what’s in and what’s out, but recently a fashion photographer friend of mine pointed out that, at my age, one needs to make a bit more of an effort. With friends like that eh…?
So I was quite worried when I looked at the trends for Autumn/Winter. Leather and capes seemed to be the stand-out ones. To be honest I can’t remember when I last wore either of them. A cape on the school run would seem a tad overdressed, and leather in 40 degree heat over here in Abu Dhabi is just plain perverse (which of course fits in with the 50 Shades trend). images
I wonder how Anna Wintour does it? I mean every time anyone sees her their first question must be ‘what is she wearing and why?’ How do you cope with that kind of pressure? I guess she has a lot of help (free clothes maybe?), and I have heard she has a hairdresser who creates her perfect bob every morning. I can’t bear people fiddling with my hair, so that’s not an option. And I have yet to be offered any freebies at all, so I am going to have to rely on myself.
I have decided to ignore the cape and leather trend. I figure as I have read 50 Shades of Grey (utter tosh, wait for the film is my advice) and also have a cape (vintage Dior no less, handed down by my aunt who wore it to La Scala) in my children’s dressing-up box I have that side covered.
With children at public school in England there is no spare cash for designer kit, unless of course it comes from my favourite shop, the Red Cross shop in Chelsea’s Old Church Street. Some kindly lady who is the exact same size as me donates her designer kit there on a regular basis, so every time I am in town I pop in and pick up some bargains.
So my top tip for this season is go charity shop shopping (but of course tell everyone it’s vintage) and remember what Coco Chanel said: “Fashion fades only style remains the same.”
A reminder that we should not be dictated to by the fashion forces, whoever they are.

A day in the life of a fashionista

Ever wondered what fashionistas do? Yes, me too. I spent a day as one earlier this week and have to say, it’s all rather exhausting.

First of all you have to spend hours deciding what to wear. Then you get to the event and think ‘shit, I’m over/under-dressed’. Then you have to try to work out what everyone else is wearing; High Street or designer?

I wore my one designer dress, Maria Grachvogel if you must know, I went to interview her a couple of years ago and ended up spending my monthly salary on clothes.

“Ha!” I thought. “At least they won’t be able to accuse me of being dressed head to toe in Zara, like I usually am.”

The panel event I was attending was organised by a designer clothing store called Symphony around one of the most celebrated fashionistas, or “fashion maniac” as Helmut Newton called her, of our era. She is an Italian called Anna Dello Russo, known affectionately as ADR.That’s her in the middle with the short gold dress. Picture by David Goff.

She is a wonderfully eccentric, positive, outspoken and amusing Italian lady, who apparently has an apartment next to her apartment in Milan where she keeps her clothes.

“Do you ever walk in there,” I asked her, “and say to yourself ‘I’ve got nothing to wear?'”

She looked horrified. “A woman who says that should see a psychiatrist, she is depressed.”

Then I asked her if she ever wore the same thing twice. “Never,” she said. I wanted to ask if she even changes her pyjamas on a daily basis, but would probably have been told that pyjamas are soooo last week.

We discussed a range of topics in front an audience, from what makes a successful designer to whether you should mix and match High Street with high end. Anna claims she does wear High Street, but that the one thing she will never do is wear cheap shoes. It was at that point that I realised that I had committed a fashion faux pas. My shoes are as cheap as they come, something I plan to radically overhaul. If I’m going to be a fashionista, I need the proper kit. Let’s hope Anna didn’t notice them.

Maybe if I can get people to call me HFP I have a future…?

Happy Kitschmas

We are back from Italy and gearing up for Christmas. Apparently real Christmas trees are not readily available here, which came as a surprise to me. The thought of a fake one was too depressing. I considered several options before coming up with this…..I figure if you’re going to go fake, you may as well really go for it.


As Rupert saw me gazing at it last night he said; “You may never agree to having a proper one again.” He has a point.

The other thing on my mind is Tiger Woods. As I struggle to find the time to buy Christmas presents for my nearest and dearest I dread to think how long his shopping list must be. Poor love, maybe he could get a mass-purchase discount at Agent Provacateur. And to add to his woes his Swedish wife has banned him from playing golf, which I think seems a little harsh. I mean to ban a man from his favourite sports is just churlish.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

It’s a tough job….

So pity me. Here I am packing for a press trip. It will be arduous. It will be terribly hard work. And it will be tedious. Where am I going? A mathematics conference possibly? Or the annual-train spotters jamboree in Hull? No….I am going to the Chic Shopping Outlets of Europe.

Yes, such is my dedication to my job that I have agreed to spend six days staying in luxury hotels across Europe while I write an article about the best shopping opportunities available there. The organisers are promising up to 80% off designer clothes and accessories. But obviously that won’t interest me. I am there only because I have to be.

The fact that my research entails detailing just what you can buy for 200 pounds in each location makes the whole thing even more of a task.

How will I ever get through this week….?

On a serious but happy note I am thrilled to read that the Iranians are going to free Roxana Saberi. Shame President Obama can’t step in for the thousands of other women languishing and suffering in their notorious jails. But I suppose one is better than none.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

A horsey weekend

When I was growing up in Berkshire I was mad about horses. One of my favourite stories I tell the children as I try to make them understand how lucky they are is how I used to muck out stables all weekend in exchange for one hour’s riding on a chestnut pony called Conkers.

There was nothing I liked better than a horsey weekend. This weekend has been just that. On Friday I went off to Dubai for the Cartier Cup. It was a glitzy, glamorous event with pink champagne, diamonds and even film stars. Monica Bellucci was there (born in the same year as me, we have so much in common), as well as Anil Kapoor of Slumdog Millionaire fame. Unlike most events you go to where film stars are surrounded with hundreds of fans, I actually got to speak to both of them. I said hello to Monica as she wafted past me looking splendid in white trousers, a purple diaphanous shirt and panama hat. Anil Kapoor looked every bit the villain he played in the film.


“Great film,” I said. “I hated you of course.”

“Good,” he laughed. “You were meant to hate me.”

A friend was invited by local dignitaries to his VIP box just a few metres from the Villa Cartier. She was jolly pleased with herself until I asked her what the champagne over her way was like.

“You have alcohol?” she wailed. It is important at these events to chose one’s VIP box wisely.

Today it was the Dubai World Cup. It was altogether a more brash and bigger do, but not as much fun. There is a competition for the best-dressed lady. The winner gets $8,000 and a holiday to Thailand. The winner of the main horse race gets a cool $6 million. Credit crunch, what credit crunch?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

A dress fit for a king

One of the side-effects of moving to Abu Dhabi, apart from learning to pole dance and belly dance, is meeting interesting people and going to glittering events. It is true that in Gabian the most glittering event was watching Italy beat France in the football world cup with a few locals who seemed to care less than we did. I often wondered if we had hidden ourselves in the depth of the countryside a little too early.

The KingAll that has changed. As I write a stunning brown sequined gown lies in my bedroom ready for a reception this evening in honour of the King of Sweden. It is backless and off the shoulder, cut on the bias. I hope the king likes it. I have been told I might be able to interview him.

I have never met a royal, at least not knowingly. The closest I got was Margaret Thatcher and only because she had by then adopted the royal “we”. I am intrigued as to what he will be like. I know from Wikipedia that his father died when he was nine months old but that he wasn’t told about it until he was seven. Tragic and almost comic; you can imagine questions along the lines of “er, whatever happened to that bloke who used to have breakfast with us?”

I am keen to ask him what it’s really like to be royal. Is it as much fun as I think it could be; sleeping in silk sheets and having anything you want. Or does he feel like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and long to escape? I wonder where he would go in Abu Dhabi – Marina Mall perhaps? There’s an IKEA there, we might find him asleep on one of the sofa beds.

 I suspect it really isn’t that much fun. It must be tiresome never being alone, always having someone around you to pick things up or tell you what your next meeting is. Meanwhile I am very much looking forward to slipping into my full-length glittering dress, it makes me feel like I’m going to the Oscars. Maybe if I’d worn it to the World Cup final the Gabian villagers would have perked up a bit. I may go back and try it at the annual school party.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Save a Prayer…..

When I dropped out of school aged 16 and got on a bus to London from Stockholm with my friend Suzanna I had one burning ambition. I wish I could say that I was heading to London with a fervent desire to free Tibet or even get a degree but no, I wanted to meet John Taylor. Or maybe Nick Rhodes, but one or the other.

For those of you who are too young to remember them, they were (and are) members of the band Duran Duran. They had a huge amount of hits in the 1980s like Save a Prayer and Girls on Film. They were ‘new romantics’, they followed in Byron’s footsteps, at least when it came to flouncy shirts.


So I packed my flouncy shirt (it was black with lots of ruffles) and headed off with this burning and most worthy ambition. Although I did meet quite a few pop stars (I even sang backing vocals on a Steve Strange single with my friend Floss) I never met any of the members of Duran Duran.

I am pleased to report that is all about to change. Tonight Rupert and I are invited to a private event where they will be performing. Rupert says he is coming along purely to restrain me. I am wondering if they will still be wearing silly shirts and what they will look like; middle aged? gorgeous?

Whatever else, it’s a great excuse to party, dance and wear a flouncy shirt. As the song goes; don’t say a prayer for me now, save it till the morning after….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Another tough day in the office….

I am back at my office at the Kempinski, gazing at the ski slope. The skiing the other day began badly. We all got to the top of the slope and the children refused to go down it.

“I’ve forgotten how to ski,” declared Olivia.

“How do we get down?” asked Leo.

“I’m scared,” wept Bea.

We tried everything but in the end Rupert had to take them down, one by one. Then we hit the nursery slope, where I am at my happiest. After 20 minutes of patient training by Rupert the girls were yet again ready for world domination (their natural state). They demanded to go up to the top and asked me to lead them down. Soon they were overtaking me. Leo had a lesson and came out glowing.

“I LOVED it,” he said, his cheeks all red from the cold. “I went so so so fast.”

FakesI am doing some work in my new office while I wait for them to arrive for another skiing session. This work includes looking at handbags in Harvey Nichols and all the designer shops in the mall to compare them with fake ones I saw last night. I am writing an article about fake versus real (I’d love to hear your opinion on this). I am also writing a piece about belly dancing.

As Muriel was told in that classic film, Muriel’s Wedding, “you’ve got to find your level”. I think I have found mine and I’m loving it. I may even get used to the skiing soon, one advantage of there being a total of two slopes.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Leo wants a Porsche

When I was a teenager I had a friend who owned a Porsche. It was white, sporty and made a hell of a noise. A nice noise though. A sort of deep sexy roar. I vowed that one day I would have one.

It's a Porsche!I don’t know if it’s being part-Italian, but I do like a fast car. Not that I like going fast, that terrifies me, but I just like the roar of an engine and the knowledge that there is all that power there, should I ever need it.

The children have picked up on this. Every time we see a Ferrari or a Porsche they yell “Ferrari” or “Porsche”. Leo is the best at it. The other day he even recognised the Porsche logo on a flag above a garage.

When Rupert first told some friends about our plans to move to Abu Dhabi they said “you’ll be able to buy a really cheap second-hand Porsche. They throw them away there”. Finally my dream was going to become reality I thought. Obviously now I have three children the sporty convertible is not an option, it would have to be the four-wheel drive. I started fantasising about abandoned Porsches littering the roads with notes stuck on their windscreens reading ‘please look after this car.’

This has not happened, although we did see one brand new BMW for sale at a knock-down price. The explanation? “Unwanted gift”, read the ad. How could you not WANT a brand new BMW?!?

Every time we see a Porsche Cayenne (the four-wheel drive) Leo shouts “there’s the Porsche we want.” This happens every ten minutes, because here they seem to be the car to have. They are even more ubiquitous than the Swedish flag in Sweden.

He has even decided that we need the sporty one as well. “The good thing about Porsches,” he told me very seriously yesterday, “is that you can get a big one and a little one.” Now there’s an idea which would send our bank manager to an early grave.

Clearly it’s unrealistic. We can get a perfectly decent car for less than a third of the price of the Porsche and we’re here to consolidate, not race around the Corniche pretending to be as rich as everyone else clearly is.

But if there was ever a time when we just maybe could do it, it’s now. They really are cheap. Well, cheaper than at home. And so lovely. And as the advertisement rather cleverly says: “You have to ask yourself. Do you want a car, or do you want a Porsche?”

We all know what Leo wants.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

The act of a madwoman?

So the international conspiracy to keep me awake has now reached ridiculous proportions. I leave the hotel room next to the mosque to move into my friend Amanda’s flat while she is away. But now instead of the mosque I have the combination of four cats and the insomniacs on the 9th floor to keep me entertained.


I have realised that the only sleep I can hope for is before 1.30 am, when cats and insomniacs are at their most active. This has been going on for days. This morning at 3 I finally decide to write a note, not to the cats, to the insomniacs. In said note I ask them politely if they could perhaps be a little more considerate as they keep waking the children up (total lie of course, they have slept remarkably well). I decide to deliver the note immediately. Problem is I am wearing a pink and yellow nightie and all my clothes are in Amanda’s bedroom and I don’t want to risk waking the babes. So I find a raincoat, put that on and take the lift up to the 9th floor.

It does occur to me en route that if anyone sees me barefoot, in a nightie and a raincoat carrying a note written in pink at 3am, they might well call the men in white coats. But at least at the asylum in my sound-proof cell I would get a good night’s sleep.

Meanwhile I tried to phone the sheikh’s property man as arranged, about 100 times. His phone was switched off. It doesn’t look like my happy ever after is happening. But right now I’d be content with a few hours sleep.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008