Today I want to start a new series of illustrations: Ladies in Vogue, a series of portraits of the women who work for the various editions of the international fashion bible. Maybe not a strict men’s fashion subject as my topics normally are, but a great subject nonetheless.

And it was imperative I’d start with the woman I admire the most among those, a woman that signifies elegance with every cell of her body, who wears barely any make-up and rarely steps out in any colour but black, who doesn’t need crazy gowns to exude sheer class: Grace Coddington, creative director of American Vogue.

Some of you might think it’s an odd choice, as her boss and editor in chief of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, would have seemed a more logical choice to start this series. But whoever has seen The September Issue will agree with me that the real soul of Vogue is in fact Grace Coddington, the one that injects real elegance with her wonderful creative input and painfully beautiful photo shoots. The woman is elegance itself.

The urban legend goes that in the late 1920’s, the then Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, was so besotted with Coco Chanel (whom he’d met at a party in Monte Carlo in 1925) that he ordered for all the lampposts in Westminster to be adorned with her famous logo, the two crossed “C”s, next to his own initial: “W”. Today the City of Westminster (for whoever isn’t familiar with the political geography of London, the British capital is divided into 13 boroughs, among which the City of Westminster) very prosaically states that in fact the initials stand for “city council” and were added only in the 1950’s. Although the former story sounds a bit too extravagant, the latter seems spurious, as if anybody had dared to use a worldwide known trademark such as Chanel’s logo on a series of lampposts, I bet the maison‘s lawyers would have made sure the whole Westminster would remain without public lighting rather than have their brand used fraudulently.

So we tend to believe the Duke of Westminster myth. Sadly he wasn’t going to get lucky with this fancy gesture, as mademoiselle Chanel famously turned his proposal of marriage down. Somehow, despite the attempt at being romantic, we can see why…

Ridiculous. I’ve been wearing my beloved Kurt Geiger cobalt-blue suede desert boots since last summer and I often got funny stares in the street. Yesterday pictures were published of Prince Harry on a visit in Jamaica wearing the same very shoes and today everybody is complimenting me.  Hu?!?…Clearly as soon as a “celebrity” endorses an unusual item of fashion (and Royals even more so), everybody can realx and enjoy. Ahhh, good. No more awkward looks from now on. Cheers Harry. And now all makers of similar shoes are inundated with requests, not just Kurt Geiger, but Russell & Bromley, Clarkes (although I doubt they’d had such fashion-forward smartness to sell this colour) and more.

Me, I’ll just keep enjoying my shoes as I did before, in the hope this will not become such a popular trend to make me go off my them. Because, let me reiterate, I love them love them love them.

There is a very specific breed of heterosexual male, the one that combines a total lack of fashion sense with an overwhelming brand-obsession. Mhhh, dangerous. The result is always the same: all these men go for those very samey and blah brands that can easily blend into each other: Jack Wills, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, Super Dry, Bench… These are what I call “OPADS”: OverPriced Averagely-Designed Sportswear. Just lots of standard T-shirts and hooded jumpers and frayed shorts and jeans. Basically, what you’d find in any bloody high-street store for a fraction of the price. The only difference is the overwhelming presence of branding, that modern society concept that makes people think they’re automatically cool when associated with them. Well, newsflash: you can look absolutely crap even with “trendy” brands on.

I can understand it and even condone it on teenagers. After all we all needed the security that established brands give you when feeling insecure whilst growing up; we all needed to belong to a tribe. But when is it a good age to stop dressing like a hormonally challenged, spotty adolescent: 21? 25? Surely by the time you hit 30 you must feel that certain things belong to the next generation and not yours… But these men, often sporting big beer bellies or too much hair sprouting from their shirt necks, will only wear what the mass around them wears, automatically elevating the brand to “cool” status. Any regular reader of this blog will know that, if the big mass is wearing something, it will be a huge turn-off for me (my immediate reaction being “if everybody’s wearing this, there must be something wrong with it”), but clearly that’s not the case for people without personal taste. And these brands are clever enough to find some angles to sell well to this type of shopper.

‘Ooh, it says Super Dry Japan, so it must be a cool Japanese brand’. Nope, it’s designed and manufactured in their head offices in Cheltenham. Niiice! ‘Ooh, at A&F stores the lights are low and the music very loud like in a club, that’s so wicked’. Nope, it ain’t wicked, it’s just disappointing to go back home and find out the red trousers you bought are in fact pink. ‘Ooh, Hollister’s shopping bags show hunky guys with big muscles, it must mean that if I wear their clothes (and let everybody know that with huge logos plastered all over me) I will look hunky too’. And nope. Nope nope nope. But if we could hear people’s thoughts, we’d be stunned to learn how many men think this exact thing. Unbelievable. Just hats off to whoever started that kind of advertising that – although obviously and blatantly homoerotic – still has an effect on straight guys in a very ironic way. It just makes me laugh…

Celebrities and brands. A marriage made in heaven since the invention of cinema and TV. But over the years we’ve all witnessed some -shall we say- “awkward” pairings that never ceased to amuse us. And for some reason Hollywood stars are happy to endorse ANYTHING as long as the advertising campaigns aren’t shown in their home land. In Italy Kevin Costner (back when he was at the top of his game) was the testimonial for a naff and ugly brand of shoes. In Spain Nicole Kidman (when her mouth didn’t resemble Daisy Duck’s yet) advertised some armpit deodorant or food shop of some description. Iggy Pop does car insurances. And then there’s the ubiquitous George Clooney campaign for Nespresso, the naffest brand one could (not) want to be associated with. And let’s not even start with Japanese adverts… This puzzles me no end. I mean: don’t Americans go abroad? Don’t they see these campaigns when in Europe? Are US actors so thick as to think that nobody will see these things in America, ever? Have they heard of YouTube?

But that’s not the point I wanted to make anyway. For the past couple of weeks, on the side of buses all over Britain we could see Ryan Reynolds in the new Marks & Spencer’s campaign. Somebody who -like him or not- is right now Hollywood royalty, should be seen endorsing Prada, D&G or Versace (I’d actually make him a Ralph Lauren type: kinda cute but ultimately bland). But Hollywood and M&S? I actually never thought the day would come I’d write the two words in the same sentence… I mean was his cheque really THAT big to compensate the public humiliation and the instant lowering in Hollywood hotness ranking?

But then one looks closely. Ryan’s expression is rather disturbed. Bothered. Uncomfortable to say the least. Is something going on here? Is it just the sudden realisation on set that his money-hungry agent signed him up for the least fashionable brand on earth? Is it the sky-high content of acrylic in the clothes giving him urticaria rashes? Or could it actually be… No it can’t be, can it? But still, every time I look at those pictures, my mind can’t help thinking that outside the cropping of the photograph, where our eyes can’t wander, something lurid is going on. Are the M&S executives keeping him captive in a sadistic way? Clamping his toenails on low voltage circuits? Choking his manly attributes with a leash? Covering his whole legs in duct tape to prevent him from running away and self-inflicting a painful leg wax? Have M&S letters been inverted in a weird case of public display of S&M, Misery-like kidnap? Something gruesome and unspeakable must be really going on down there… And we will never know…

Today I’ve witnessed something I normally experience in person. There was a rather handsome young man on the tube who clearly had a clue about how to dress. A nice check shirt, a gorgeous cardie, nice pair of skinny chinos… and a perfect bow tie that (excuse the unintended pun) tied everything in for a perfect preppy look.

I’m known for wearing bow ties on a regular basis, although the summer weather wasn’t right for it and therefore I haven’t for a couple of months, but whenever I do I have to endure the most astounding stares from people in the street, ranging from plainly gobsmacked to fully disgusted, from sneeringly amused to downright outraged.

Why???

For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bow tie! Those looks should be saved for pedophiles, rapists or terrorists. I’m only wearing a bloody bow tie, people, get over it!

Isn’t it amazing how much people will repel any possible new fashion trend as something absolutely ridiculous/offensive/outrageous. Even though bow ties have been around for a number of decades, if not centuries, it’s been only recently that they came back in fashion (though I admit I already had a small collection in my second drawer). I remember when ¾ length trousers were first seen on the Prada catwalk in the early 2000’s, and then could be seen in the high street, although only in few, very brave outlets. I embraced the new look immediately and bought a pair as soon as my limited finances could afford me one. And then the piss-taking at work started. ‘Did your flat get flooded Massimo?’ ‘Aw, you’re wearing your little brother’s trousers? Sweet!’ ‘I think you forgot a bit in the wardrobe this morning’. And so on. And on. And on.

Fast forward a season later and every male employee in the company was wearing one. How unnerving. And of course as it often happens that made me go off them immediately: sorry for sounding snobbish, but I simply can’t wear something that everybody else is wearing. For me fashion is about making you look unique and individual, not about mixing in the flock. But of course that’s exactly what most people think or feel like. Should you see just a little bit more bow-ties in the street and in a matter of weeks you’d see even the outdoorsy-mountaineering-sporty guy in the office wearing one (possibly made out of fleece…).

So today the fetching guy in the tube looked blissfully unaware of the variety of bad stares around him (apart from mine, that is) as he kept his eyes on his book, although I’m pretty sure somebody so self-assured must have known what was going on around him and simply not giving a flying straw about it.

So in support, tomorrow I’ll be wearing one of mine. Question is, which one? The grey vintage Pierre Cardin one? The knitted blue one? The monochrome houndstooth one? The brown/blue paisley one? The…

My dear friends NS and PB got married last week end. We spent a beautiful day in a Kent refurbished barn and we all enjoyed the moving ceremony and were blessed by a warm-ish, half sunny last day of summer, one of the very few ones in a season that was otherwise cold, gray and rainy like a 3-month long late March day.

One of the guests was the designer Ben De Lisi, personal friend of the bride and who also had designed her wedding dress. To be perfectly honest he was (apart from me and W, of course) one of the very few well-dressed men around, as weddings are always populated by women who are delighted to have the occasion to dress up and show off their latest buys, and men who clearly look like they’ve just taken their suits out of naphtaline and look completely ill at ease in them and would rather be wearing shorts and flip-flops and head down the pub. Ben had a nice light brown (but darker than beige) suit with a very handsome combination of white on navy blue polka dot tie and a belt with stripes of the same colours. The only weird detail was his footwear as his shoes would have fitted better an orthopaedically-challenged school boy. But with such a summery (although not completely sure right for a wedding) look, the perfect detail was the rim of his trousers turned up and showing naked ankles.

One can say that this has been the summer of the ankles for men (I refuse to use the horrid term mankles that could be found on any fashion magazine in the last six months), as the Thom Browne look has finally seeped through to the masses. And I must say it’s a trend that I find rather fetching. And even sexy.

Without exagerating with turn ups that show half calves, and exclusively worn with slim-legged trousers, this affectation adds a dandy-esque accent that can make your outfit immediately less serious and boring, but without becoming a comical overstatement. It shows braveness, but also lightness of touch.

I’ve been sporting it all summer around Soho, and even though it did make a few pairs of eyes stare, I know this is one of those trends that will look daring at first and absolutely normal once they get sported en masse by anybody (which is in fact when things get boring). I like it so much that, come autumn (well, it kind of has already) I won’t drop it . I plan to invest in interesting, bold and strongly patterned socks instead.

Back from holidays last week: a fortnight in Italy, on the Ligurian riviera. Lots of swimming, delicious seafood, reading (6 novels overall) and most of all 14 days of uninterrupted Yves Klein-blue skies. Bliss.

Although the Cinque Terre aren’t particularly famous to foreign tourists and are therefore very genuinely Italian (which is why I love them so much, as opposed to fashion-boutique-ridden Capri, even though geographically that riviera has nothing whatsoever to envy the Amalfi coast), that means that the locals and the holidaymakers aren’t particularly dressed up, in fact they’ll look quite relaxed and show a lot of non-chalance in their choice of clothes. So far so good, especially since on holiday you want to feel at ease even with a basic pair of shorts and and old T-shirts. But Italians will always be Italians, so they won’t give up a certain level of attention to detail even on vacation. Sadly, the detail I’m going to talk about isn’t a good one. It’s something I’ve felt very strongly about for sometime, as it’s something not specific to Italians but to a certain type of man in general. In fact this is something I’ve seen in London for a long time and all around me, but after noticing it on my fellow Italians, I reached saturation point and thought I ought to send out a cry of alarm.

I’m talking about the collars of polo shirts popped up. Disgusting. I can barely think of a worse fashion crime that’s so widespread, from the whole UK to Italy, to the whole western world. There is no justification whatsoever for it as it looks absolutely and abysmally bad. Whatever possessed the almost entirety of straight men on both hemispheres is a mystery. Yes, because that’s something you wouldn’t see on a gay man, ever. Gay men certainly aren’t immune to fashion faux-pas, no siree, but this one specifically just won’t apply to them. And it’s a particular type of straight man that will do that, i.e. the type who will wear the above mentioned polo shirt on a pair of distressed/washed out jeans, obviously loose-fitted, almost certainly frayed at the bottom, on a pair of rather pointy medium-tan brown shoes. Basically the very “now” look of circa 1997. The polo-shirt-collar-popping seems to be their way to “update” the look, as if adding  bird shit to a stale pizza can make it taste any better. There must be some evil spirit lurking around, a sort of bad taste monster that cruelly hypnotises people and makes them commit hideous fashion blunders.

The ONE and ONLY way to wear polo shirt collars is down. DOWN. D-O-W-N. Let me say it again to avoid any misunderstanding. DOWN.

Please I urge you all out there: glue your collars to your Polo shirts if necessary but do never, ever let anybody see you with those horrendous wavy semi-rigid collars wrapping your necks as if your heads were bunches of fried chips in oily paper cones. Please. I beseech you. Do not impose such horror to us…

Whether you want to button up both buttons (which I’d advise) or keep one or two open is up to you. I won’t even explain why you shouldn’t wear it with a white T-shirt underneath, as it’s such a pot-noodle-eating geek territory that it’s not even worth discussing it here. There’s only so many fashion horrors I can deal with at a time. But a great detail to make your polo shirt look very smart is to wear it with a tie, which I often do, which will deliver immediate result with very little effort (just count the amount of compliments you’ll get. You’ll be surprised).

So there you go. It’s finally off my chest. But you all please just keep it off your necks!

My very stylish colleague IMC said something quite revealing the other day. He’s been wearing lots of blue lately and he especially likes stripes, so I’ve seen him sporting Breton stripes for a few months now. All of a sudden Breton stripes are everywhere and he was almost spooked out: “My God, I didn’t know I was so avant-garde!”.

The fact is that the Breton stripe was all over the catwalk at the last S/S shows and it’s been an unusually quick trend to appear in every shop. It normally takes at least a year, if not two or three, for big haute couture trends to percolate down to the high street (think of houndstooth coats, chunky-knit cardigans etc), but I guess this is such a classic, something that somehow has always been around, that it was easy for clothes manufacturers to simply up their stocks and flog this look everywhere and so promptly.

And yes, I do love it, it’s a very elegant and summery pattern, with very a very strong fashion feel as it immediately reminds you of Coco Chanel or Jean-Paul Gaultier (whose sailor T-shirt is such a signature of his that it even ended up on the packaging of his perfumes).

But I have a genetic resistance to follow ubiquitous trends. As soon as I spot something more than twice on a single Tube journey, that’s it for me. I just believe that fashion is something that should make us unique. And although of course trends are important, and I am always on the look out for new interesting ones to experiment with, I’d rather not follow the flock but try to have a more individual look. Many people do just the opposite, as they need the validation of their peers in order to try something new (which, by definition, won’t be new anymore). But that’s just boring for me. Where’s the fun in that?

So instead, I decided to invest in a gorgeous blue gingham blazer. I like the Breton stripe, but I am absolutely in love with gingham, which I think is the freshest, lightest, most youthful and cheerful pattern one can wear in spring and summer. I already have a black gingham tie and a lovely shirt with gingham inserts, but I wanted a piece of clothing that could make a bolder statement. This Feraud seersucker jacket just had my name written on it when I spotted it on the rack. And only 2 minutes later it was leaving the shop with me. Some people might find it a bit too bold, but hey, that’s the fun part, innit?

I’ve been wanting to talk about fashion for a long time and I kind of waited for the right occasion to set this blog up.

As a result of my recent commission for a new book with Macmillan (101 Uses For A Dead Meerkat, out in September 2011), I decided I should deploy part of the advance fee to my first ever proper shopping spree. I decided that after much work-related struggle in the past, I finally deserved it. And £1,000 aren’t that much, are they? After spending three solid months on drawings 101 cartoons about dead meerkats used as loo-roll holders, bras and nanny-cams, I thought that a mere £10 per cartoon wasn’t a bad price after all.

So there I was, a couple of weeks ago, having delivered all the material for the book to my editor, going out on a two-day shopping binge. And although I did nip in to high street stores and bought the occasional item there too, I made the executive decision that I’d get myself some proper full-fat designery stuff for the first time.

And. That. Was. Awesome.

Even carrying the shopping bags is fun...

When W, my partner, saw me coming home on the evening of the first day, struggling to carry bags from Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Liberty, his face was a mixture of unavoidable amusement, honest pleasure for my obvious and evident glee, and understandable apprehension.

In fact, I haven’t even spent my whole budget as one of the very few specific items I had in my shopping list (yes, this time I even jotted down a shopping list, just replacing ‘soya yogurts’ and ‘toothpaste’ with ‘cashmere cardigan’ and ‘patent leather shoes’) was a proper raincoat which I couldn’t find (but that’s a subject for another blog).

But I really loved it and it felt like a sort of “baptism of fashion”. So here I am, about £600 worse off, but with some A-MA-ZING new pieces in my wardrobe and jaw-dropping bargains (Etro shirt for £50, anybody?!?) and the perfect excuse to kickstart this blog, where I’m going to draw and tell what I like to wear, what I would like to wear, what other people wear… anything fashion-related that will capture my fancy and I will deem worth of a sketch and a few lines.

Enjoy.