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August 18 2012

David Bowie: the mannequin who fell to earth

The V&A plans to use David Bowie's exotic costumes to chart his life and times in an exhibition next year

David Bowie is to part-curate an exhibition of his life and work told primarily through his extravagant costumes at the Victoria and Albert museum next year.

The show will chart his rise to cult rock star status from his early years in Brixton, south London, using his collection of outfits to illustrate his constantly changing identity.

Details about the clothes are being kept under wraps until next month's official announcement of the show, but the V&A's director confirmed to the Observer that Bowie is involved in selecting exhibits. Many of the flamboyant outfits worn by Bowie in his years as a pioneer of rock style will come from his own collection.

The exhibition is expected to draw large numbers of visitors. However, some critics lament what they see as a further descent of a serious museum into the cult of celebrity.

Bowie's look was inseparable from his sound. The 65-year-old singer and actor, who merged rock and theatre with his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, is synonymous with futuristic costumes and outlandish makeup, from space-samurai outfits to white satin kimonos, flame-red hair to eye-liner.

He achieved wide popularity with his psychedelic rock single Space Oddity, coinciding with the first moon landing, and became an international star with albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. His films include The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Speaking to the Observer, Bowie's biographer Paul Trynka said that Bowie was at the forefront of fashion, recreating his own image with the aid of cutting-edge designers.

Seeing the costumes close-up would be amazing, he said. "Although he's an artist who… doesn't tend to revisit his own past, there's a kind of contradiction in that he's collected his pieces for over two decades, lots of them historic and iconic, not just for Bowie fans but for popular fashion… He's always had a public presentation in mind." Costumes that Trynka expects to be included in the exhibition at the V&A include the "bunny leotard" created by Kansai Yamamoto, one of the avant-garde designers whose potential was spotted by Bowie.

"That was quite groundbreaking because Yamamoto wasn't known in the UK," Trynka said. "Although other pop stars had flirted with high fashion, [Bowie] was the first one to use it as an integral part of his look. He then went on to even more outrageous Yamamoto designs. There's a fantastic one with hugely-inflated legs … and I suspect that will be there … [It] is engagingly ludicrous. Nobody had that effrontery to wear those kinds of outfits before."

Among other likely highlights, he said, are homemade catsuits created by the late Freddi Buretti, a designer who described himself as a "seamstress".

Martin Roth, the V&A's director, said: "Bowie is incomparable. No one has inspired the whole world not only in terms of music but also arts, fashion and style. He created a vision of individualism for an entire generation."

Others are less impressed, particularly following the V&A's 2007 exhibition dedicated to Kylie Minogue, which included her dungarees from the Australian soap Neighbours. Critics felt that it was unworthy of a museum dedicated to showcasing the finest arts and crafts.

The Bowie show has been condemned by Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the museums watchdog: "The museum world is losing the plot. They're just crazed about numbers at any cost… Obviously you could fill the V&A every day of the week if you had a pop concert or a bunch of celebs."

Noting that the V&A also covers fashion, he added: "Fashion is a bigger thing… than the cult of one man. If Bowie, why not Liberace? It's about the cult of celebrity, particularly youth." Bowie, he added, did not fit the museum's remit for recording significant fashion.

The V&A is of course tapping into a demand, but whether a cultural museum should be meeting it is another matter. The Kylie Minogue exhibition attracted 271,000 visitors and was one of the museum's most popular shows.

Trynka, who wrote the Bowie biography Starman, said: "Bowie epitomises Britain's influence on fashion and textiles. He represents the best of it. Kylie is a wonderful pop icon, but she hasn't had a lasting effect on popular culture outside of her fanbase."

Today Bowie himself remains elusive. He has not toured since 2006, and turns down requests to appear in public – most recently, the Olympic Games closing ceremony, although his song Fashion was used.

There have been reports of ill-health. Roth said: "[People] try to build a story around him. There's a lot of gossip."

Bowie's spokesman declined to comment.


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August 17 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My dad's last step on Burmese land

My father, Wilfred Carroll, left his homeland of Burma twice. First in 1942, when the Japanese army forced a retreat of allied troops into India, and then in 1951 when, having retained his British nationality after independence, he made the momentous decision to emigrate to England.

This picture captures his very last step on Burmese land, as he boarded the SS Salween in Rangoon on 21 March, holding my brother Michael's hand and carrying me. Also with us were my mother, Norma, and two-month-old sister, Denise, ready to sail to Bristol and a new life.

I can only imagine the first culture shock, departing in tropical heat and disembarking, four weeks later, into the cold and damp of Avonmouth. My father was never to return, or to see his parents again, but he always believed he made the right choice for his family, despite the hardships endured in establishing a home and a career in postwar London. He worked at the head offices of the Co-operative Wholesale Society for 30 years, and helped to raise seven children, spending eight years of his retirement in Western Australia. He died in Sidcup, Kent in 2004.

I was two and a half when this picture was taken, so I have no memories of that day on the dockside.

As we grew up, my parents made us aware of our diverse ethnic background, which was half-Irish mixed with Burmese and southern European, frequently recounting stories of strict Catholic schooling and a hectic social life in prewar Rangoon, and keeping their Asian culinary skills very much alive in the kitchen of our council house in Essex.

The one thing my father did not speak of was his experiences as a Chindit in the jungles of Burma.

So it was with much excitement and fascination that in February 2012, 61 years after this photograph was taken that I returned for the first time to the street in which I was born in October 1948. We managed to deviate from our package holiday tour long enough to track down my parents' house, their schools, the church where they were married and the hospital where my older brother and sister were born.

Places had been renamed and there we saw some crumbling facades, but these were still the unmistakable edifices of my family's colonial past that I had seen in many a photograph album. At the docks in Rangoon, I conjured up a vivid image of my father taking that nervous step into the unknown, against the best advice of friends and relations.

When the aircraft wheels lifted off the Rangoon Tarmac, I had that sense of abandoning something that was dear to me, forever lost in the past. I knew then how my father had felt in 1951, and I cried. Patricia Perrin

Playlist: My grandad's financial dealings

Pop! goes the Weasel (nursery rhyme)

"Half a pound of tuppenny rice / Half a pound of treacle / That's the way the money goes / Pop! goes the weasel"

As a small child, whenever we visited (or were visited by) my nana and grandad, I could expect to be lifted up on to a knee and sung to. I am sure there were lots of songs, but the one that is clearest in my memory was a favourite of Grandad's.

I am unsure now, as I was then, what the song is all about, and a Google search hasn't enlightened me. Of one thing we can be sure though, "that's the way the money goes".

My grandad's financial dealings are something I wasn't aware of until later in life. As a nipper, when I was told he was popping out to the Salvation Army, I believed that was where he was headed. It would be many years until I found out that this was code for the bookies. One such trip, long before my time, resulted in a winning accumulator bet that eventually (after much debate with the company involved) came through and pretty much paid for their family home.

There is a photograph in my home of me as a toddler on Grandad's lap, and this song always drifts through my head when I see it – complete with index finger in cheek "pop" sound effect. I hope my little niece, Alice, will also treasure memories of having this sung to her by Great-Grandad.

My grandad would have been 100 this year, but sadly missed this landmark by a few years. To mark the occasion, the extended family is meeting on his birthday this month for a reunion. There will be lots of tales of Tom (or Thomas on Sundays) to be told and I suspect this tune will be sung. Ruth Goodwin

We love to eat: Fairy sandwiches

Ingredients

Sugar sprinkles/hundreds and thousands

Sliced white bread (sliced pan, preferably)

Soft butter

 

Butter the bread, cover with the sprinkles and cut into tiny, dainty triangles, fit for a fairy. Be sure to take the crusts off – neither fairies nor children like them!

I used to love fairies, especially the flower fairy books of Cicely Mary Barker. I would dress as a fairy and hide at the bottom of my grandparents' woodland garden in the hope of catching a glimpse of these magical creatures.

After one such adventure I asked my mother: What do fairies eat? Why, fairy sandwiches and flower tea, was her swift response, which she probably lived to regret. Soon I was demanding fairy sandwiches for birthday parties and afternoon teas on the lawn.

I have no idea if she got the recipe from somewhere or created them from her own imagination. The bread (sliced pan as we called it, according to Irish custom) was thickly buttered and sprinkled with multi-coloured hundreds and thousands. The soft, savoury bread, rich butter and crunchy sweetness of the sprinkles was magic itself.

I still get to enjoy fairies through my three young children. My seven-year-old son doesn't believe in fairies – but still requests these. And I am only too happy to sprinkle a little magic on them. Lucy Pearce

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number


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At the age of 37, you needn't start dressing like J*r*my Cl*rks*n | Charlie Porter

Men may lose interest in fashion in their late 30s, but a sense of personal style is another matter

Pity poor men. It has long been a curiosity why, after a certain age, men appear to lose interest in fashion. It is a conversation which turns menswear into a forum for mockery: those that have gone to seed are scorned for the inadequacies of their appearance, while those that still make an effort are goaded for vanity or self-importance. A recent survey has made this mockery specific: it has found that the age at which men lose an interest in fashion is 37. I am 38. Poor me.

Fashion is about identity. For many men, identity is something that matters most in their years of prolonged adolescence, from their teenage years into their 20s, even early 30s. It's especially true for men whose adolescence occurred pre-internet, before social media overtook fashion as a means to express character. In the late 20th century, clothing played a primal role in youthful identity, especially with the obstinacy of punk, the baggy of acid house or even the sharpness of mod that is still so important to 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins.

In their late 30s, the need for identity in men seems to wane, overridden by the individual male's growing responsibilities or life-changes: parenthood, employment or unemployment, changes in body-shape and health. The identity of adolescence goes. Fashion goes with it.

When fashion goes, what seems to remain for men are those unprintable words: "J*r*my" and "Cl*rks*n". Of course what no one realises in this is that Cl*rks*n uses his non-identity as an identity in itself. He makes great profit from dressing badly. It is his uniform for hammy belligerence. Cl*rks*n symbolises the male menopause as a return to adolescence. Sadly, it is an adolescence stripped of its need for style and difference. The Cl*rks*n look allows men to shift from identity to non-identity as they head towards the grave.

But this is not always the case. Most of my contemporaries not working in fashion still seem alert about their appearance. As the identity of adolescence has waned for me, what has become important is how I appear to myself. I do not mean by this self-image. As I'm typing this, I can see in my lower field of vision the white shirt I'm wearing with its blue and orange polka dots. I love it being part of my visual experience. I don't care if I look daft. As long as I like it, I'm happy.

There are obvious male celebrities over the age of 37 who could be listed now as examples of middle-aged male style, but these are red herrings, usually actors involved in profiting from image to further their career. Celebrity fashion is something separate from real-life fashion, and citing male celebrities as examples of how to dress is a futile, empty exercise.

Much more interesting to cite examples of men who retain personal style for whatever reason of their own:

Chris Dercon, the new director of Tate Modern, is an extraordinarily dapper man, now in his 50s. He has a particular way with wearing jackets and coats with an upturned collar.

Seventy-five-year-old David Hockney has long dressed his body in the colour that is placed on his canvases, or more recently selected on his iPad.

The 40-year-old Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant came to his profession from his love of clothing and his continuing interest in how garments are made. And it is clear from the severity of 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey's obsessions that he would have dressed in his chosen manner even if he'd not become globally known by his surname.

Examples of such personal style go deep into the past. The recent male fondness for Breton striped sweaters always makes me think of Pablo Picasso. The multidiscipline of Jean Cocteau extended to the drama of his clothing. And examples of male style beyond the age of 37 will only increase in the future. Today's post-internet male adolescents take looking good for granted, their appearance ever Instagram-ready. Cl*rks*n already feels antiquated. When post-internet adolescents reach maturity, he will have been an aberration.


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Weekend readers' pictures: Square

From houses to windows: your best pictures on this week's theme, Square





Homes: bold in the bathroom

Forget the wall-to-wall white tiles. The best bathrooms mix paint, patterns, textures and vintage accessories, says Hannah Booth





August 11 2012

It bag creator Katie Hillier turns her talents to jewellery

Katie Hillier, the designer behind one of the most desirable fashion items of our time, the It bag, is now focusing on jewellery

Katie Hillier is the most important designer you've never heard of. When bags became big business in the 2000s, she created many of the accessories that made the big brands millions. She's one of the people who, with the beading and bobbles she stuck on her bags for Luella in the 2000s, is often credited with creating the It bag, the iconic fashion statement of our time, a highly decorated object of desire that changed seasonally, cost a month's salary, and often weighed an absolute tonne.

Today, sitting in the sun-drenched yard of her east London studio, Hillier remembers those years with a dry fondness. "I had this denim Fendi Baguette I'd covered with badges and key rings," she says, ponytail bobbing. "At the same time, Giles Deacon at Bottega Veneta was reinventing what you could do with luxury fashion – taking this pure thing and fucking it up in beautiful ways. Until then, accessories had no… personality."

That's what Hillier did best: personality. She gave names to bags then, adding 'hardware' (chains and buckles); she made them clink. You could hear them coming. "Hardware was a way to add value. Then the price of gold rose and it began to disappear. When Phoebe Philo started at Céline [in 2008] she brought in a cleanness to design."

The It bags Hillier now creates for Marc by Marc Jacobs, Victoria Beckham and Loewe have evolved. "Hardware now seems gratuitous. We think more about the leather. If you're killing an animal, you ought to acknowledge the skin."

She grew up in south London with her grandmother, a cleaner for the BBC, who she followed round the costume department, and her grandfather, who'd take her to a museum every day of the holidays. "Which is where my love of collections comes from. I'd curate my bedroom: the displays on my rocking horse, my Madonna wall. I still collect stuff – shoes, brooches, things with rabbits on, bags…"

In a tall room near her office, Muji storage boxes line the walls. They contain a fraction of her collections. Fifties box bags, Chanel purses, vintage leather cracking at the spine. This room, and her mood boards, with photos and notes like "too normal" on handle details, help put her work into context. "It's not about me," she says of her work. "There's more to success than ego." What is it about her, then, that led Victoria Beckham to her door? She ponders. "She thinks I'm nice."

In 2010, after being named Accessory Designer of the Year, Hillier launched her own label, a collection of fine jewellery she calls "luxury with a wink": little diamond-eyed rabbit doodles that look like they've been bent from 18ct-gold paper clips and nestle on the sternums of Britain's most fashionable ladies, including editor-in-chief of Love Katie Grand. "I've known her forever," says Grand. "She was one of my students at Harrow. I got into trouble for giving her 100% for her degree project. "

Hillier's new collection includes glow-in-the-dark ceramics, and those rabbits again, this time joined by a menagerie of other animals. "Our customers are people who love fashion, but are a bit ironic with it," she explains. "A bit girly, a bit quirky, a bit arty, a bit clever." A bit like her.

"I'd like the paper-clip rabbit to become iconic, but not as ubiquitous as, say, the Tiffany heart. It has to stay a bit secret."

Why? "So cool girls carry on wearing it."

As the person behind the trend, how does she feel about the It bags? The way they Towie-fied, and climbed in price? Can you ever justify a £28,000 handbag? "It's all relative," she sighs. "There will always be a customer who wants to buy one. And sometimes it's grotesque. But I understand if a skin is treated with respect. The term 'luxury' has changed. Now it's often just used to validate a price point."

Does she still love the clinking bags of her early career? "Yeah, you have to," she laughs. "You have to love everything you make. I love it all." hillierlondon.com


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August 10 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Laura's wedding challenge

This is a picture of my daughter Laura and her husband Jamie about two hours after they had promised to love and cherish each other in 2006.

I am not keen on weddings. Having been happily unmarried to my partner Eileen for 33 years, I am not sure I see the point. The cheesy commercialism, extravagance and stupid cupidity surrounding many marriages these days does not endear me to the custom. So when my eldest daughter announced her intended nuptials, perhaps I was not as enthusiastic as I could have been; even less so when a small family affair escalated into an event for around 100 guests.

Fortunately, others involved saw it as an opportunity, a challenge even, to have a good old shindig without bankrupting families and friends alike. And so we all (even me) sat around a table with Maureen, Laura's mum, and made a plan.

It went like this: hire a beautiful but dilapidated castle on the banks of the River Tyne, usually used by youth groups, for three days. Spend a day cleaning and decorating it. Have enough food delivered from a supermarket to provide two breakfasts, lunch and an evening buffet. Prepare the food ourselves. Ask guests for a small contribution per night for basic dormitory accommodation and meals. Ask them to bring their own alcohol.

Book a local register office for the ceremony and use our own cars for transport. After the vows, arrange a mass game of football back at the castle. Do not hire a disco. The bride and groom will concoct a playlist.

Ask for volunteers among family and friends to help in the organisation.

What could go wrong? Er … that might have required another, much longer list! Fortunately, though, we pulled it off.

The football game was not that incongruous because the bride and groom had met while he was coach of her football team, who were all guests. One of my personal highlights was sneaking away from kitchen duties (briefly) to join in the football just long enough to nod in a cheeky far-post header. Other games, scenic riverside walks and fishing were available for footyphobes. Asking for help was also a masterstroke. People I had never met were clamouring to join in our collective effort.

At times we thought we had taken on too much, especially with the food, but when the weekend was over and the bleary-eyed guests made their various ways home, there was a definite feeling that we had all shared in something special, something personal, getting to know people in a way that wouldn't have happened at a "normal" wedding.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the last ingredient: a warm September weekend with cerulean skies, after a week of rain. Perfect. Anthony Peacock

Playlist: Now I can hear what I didn't before

Wow by Kate Bush

"Ooh, yeah, you're amazing! / We think you're incredible"

This song reminds me of visiting Crystal Palace park in south London during my early years. My childhood memories are of outings to parks and museums, and we often went to Crystal Palace park, with its fake dinosaurs and open spaces for riding bikes.  

My parents had a blue Vauxhall Astra estate and there was always a tape playing in it. Kate Bush is the soundtrack to my early childhood in the mid- to late 80s and this must be one of my earliest memories – in the car, staring out of the window at the tall south London terraces of Norwood and Beulah Hill while Kate shrieked in the background.

I have started listening to Kate Bush again and the memories come hurtling through time. The lyrics of Wow are about being "alone on the stage", the lone actor in your own story, the selfishness of the human condition.  

Music is a significant part of my life and listening to this again is also an exercise in reinterpretation. At four or five, I just heard the tune, but now that I'm 30 I hear the meaning of the words.   Frances Hawkins

We love to eat: Granny's chocolate pudding

Ingredients

2 tbsp cornflour

1 dessertspoonful cocoa

1 dessertspoonful sugar

1 pint full-fat milk

Place the cornflour, cocoa and sugar in a saucepan and add the cold milk a little at a time, stirring until it blends. When all the milk is added, put the pan on a medium heat. Stir slowly and continuously until the sauce thickens smoothly, making sure it doesn't catch on the bottom. As soon it starts to boil, take off the heat and pour into bowls. On a cold evening, eat straight away, like thick, hot chocolate, or wait until it cools and a delicious thick, rubbery skin appears on top.

Granny used to make this for my sister and me when we were children. We adored staying at her little cottage in a bleak coal-mining valley in County Durham. As Mum drove us over, we would watch for the smoke from her chimney and then chant, "I can see Granny's house! I can see Granny's house!" all the way down the fell until we arrived.

Her house was a ramshackle treasure trove of adventures. Mum despaired at the fact that she had no fridge, there were cobwebs in the larder, and she never brushed our hair, but my sister and I loved the wildness of it.

At Granny's house, preparing lunch involved a scramble up the bank to "South America" to dig up potatoes. Bread was toasted on a fork in front of the fire while we guzzled "pink drink", a homemade elderflower brew, which, looking back at the increased zest it gave us for handstands in the garden, must have had a bit of a poke to it.

I love to remember my special Granny by making her chocolate pudding for my small children now. These days you can buy a hundred varieties of chocolate pudding from the supermarket, but there is something special about putting a few store-cupboard ingredients together to make a simple teatime treat. Holly McEnaney

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number


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Weekend readers' pictures: Getaways

From hillsides to planes: your best pictures on this week's theme, Getaways





August 03 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My trip to the 1936 Olympics

In the summer of 1936, when I was nine, my grandfather, mother and I made a trip to eastern Europe that I will never forget. My grandfather, Aaron Schindler, was a member of numerous Jewish charities and followed the activities of European politics as he had quite a few relatives living in various European cities. He had been hearing about Germany's escalating campaign against its Jewish and minority populations, and felt he should see for himself what was happening and took my mother and me – much to my delight.

We crossed the Channel in July and headed by train to Vienna, Krakow and Warsaw, where we met lots of relatives. Getting them to understand me was quite difficult, but with the help of my grandfather translating from Yiddish to English, we managed. My grandfather, who could see signs of uncertainty and unrest throughout the region, was trying to persuade various members of the family to consider leaving their homes and businesses to start a new life in London. He could offer them jobs, as he owned a successful ladies clothing business in Bow, east London.

Our journey continued to Hamburg and then on to our final destination, Berlin, where we met more relatives. There, my grandfather surprised me. As a special treat, he asked me to accompany him to the XIth Olympiad as he had managed to get two tickets in the main stadium.

With my pocket money, I bought two Olympic brooches from one of the shops outside the stadium.

Inside, I saw a mass of people waving flags – more than 45 countries were taking part. I also saw quite a few men in uniform waving flags I did not recognise. Later, I found out that they were swastikas.

Almost opposite our seats was a row of boxes, and we could see a group of men sitting in them. The German couple beside us told my grandfather that some of the men were Olympic officials and the man seated next to them was Chancellor Adolf Hitler. I was too young to understand the importance of Hitler's presence at this great non-political sporting event with the sea of swastikas and military uniforms but, years later, the 1936 Games were often referred to as the "Nazi Olympics" and I realised that I had witnessed an historic occasion.

One of my most memorable recollections of that day was watching Jessie Owens, the great American athlete, win one of his four Olympic gold medals. I can't remember whether it was the 100m or 200m, but there was a lot of noise in the stadium. Owens made history as the first athlete to win four gold medals at the Olympic Games, a feat not equalled until 48 years later when Carl Lewis won gold in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. As Hitler had intended the Games to showcase his Aryan ideals and superiority, it is both ironic and poignant that Owens, a black athlete, turned out to be the most successful Olympian that year.

I wish I had been old enough to fully appreciate what took place that day in Berlin, but, still, I knew it was a very special occasion.

After our visit, my grandfather managed to get only one relative out of Vienna and another from Poland. Fortunately, some managed to get to the United States. Sadly, the others perished in the Holocaust.

Now the 30th Olympic Games are being held in London and it is bringing back many memories of that trip. I am so glad I was able to be a  part of history and to share my story now.

Anita Silberstein, nee Zerman

Playlist: In memory of my true love

Blow the Wind Southerly (traditional English folk song)

Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly/Blow the wind south o'er the bonny blue sea/Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly/Blow bonny breeze my lover to me

In 1957 I was filled with excitement at the thought of singing this folk song in a junior school choir festival at a Norfolk secondary school, which at the time seemed many miles away, although in reality it was just six miles. In the spirit of inclusion, all the class were to sing, although, as the teacher moved along the line to hear us, some were asked to mime. I was terrified at the thought that I would be one of them; in the event, not being chosen to mime gave me misplaced confidence in my singing voice. Since then, I have always felt free to sing loudly, despite comments from my unappreciative family.

We were dressed in our finest clothes and it was a day to savour. In later years, I could always remember the words to this song when other memories failed me.

My lover did come, although not by boat, and regrettably he died young. I think of him as I sing the song to rock my new grandson to sleep. When he is being particularly fractious, my daughter will phone up and ask me to sing it to him down the phone, in the knowledge that it calms him. When he has been in my charge, I have played him a better version on my phone. I regret that he will never know his wonderful granddad. If only his grandad could be blown over the horizon to meet the little soul and, of course, me. Any direction of wind would do.

Rosie Penna

We love to eat Ayrshire: tatties by theirsels

Ingredients

Ayrshire potatoes

Water to boil

A bunch of syboes

The cooking is simplicity itself. Scrub and boil for 20 minutes in their skins and serve with melted butter and syboes (spring onions)

A few weeks ago, I read the long-awaited notice in my local greengrocer's window: "Ayrshire tatties now in."

To all Scots, the arrival of this uniquely flavoured "pomme de terre" is greeted with as much gusto as the wine lover's first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

In season for a matter of weeks, the crop is devoured by the nation as quickly as the potatoes are pulled from the ground. First batches are initially sold at a premium in suburban shops and local markets, prompting me to comment to my salesman that he balanced my produce as if trading in gold – to, which he replied, "I am, sir, I am."

I lived abroad for many years and invariably my trips back home were out of season, leaving my taste buds deprived of this national delicacy. My sister would invariably tease me by describing how she had savoured the current year's crop and telling me it was the best she had ever tasted.

One of the distinct summer memories I have of childhood is returning home after marathon games of football to enormous plates of butter-slicked Ayrshires heaped high and washed down with a glass of cold milk. My taste buds tingle as I write. With four hungry mouths to feed, my mother would buy a daily supply when stocks became plentiful and much cheaper, knowing there would be no complaints from her brood. "Is there any more Ayrshires, Ma, just by theirsels?" was the constant request in too short a season.

In 1990 I returned to the UK to live and work in London. On phoning my sister, I was told the Ayrshires were in season and, to my delight, she sent two pounds of the nuggets by parcel post. I don't think I have ever received a tastier welcome-home gift.

Now resident in my native land, there is no need to wait for the post. I just keep the pot boiling until, sadly, the season is over for another year.

John Bookless

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Food as art: it looks almost too good to eat

Put away your recipe books. If you're wondering what to eat tonight, take inspiration from the world of design, art and literature instead

A few years ago, I wrote a cookery book called Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer that was inspired by the delicious food and treats enjoyed by the characters in children's classics. There were recipes for Mary Poppins' Raspberry Jam Cakes, Swallows and Amazons' Seed Cake, and Anne of Green Gables' Layer Cake. The idea emerged on a family holiday during a conversation with my then nine-year-old daughter, who at that point was engrossed in a marathon reading of Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outer series, which contains multiple references to macaroons and fry-ups. As I was also something of a greedy reader when young, together we decided to ransack the library to create a collection of recipes that could be made with and by children who wondered how the foodstuffs that are so avidly consumed on the page actually taste off the page.

As it now turns out, the book was an early example of a new phenomenon that sees adventurous cooks finding inspiration everywhere but in a recipe book. Today, there is a flourishing movement of food from art and food as art, with young food writers and stylists mining painting, design, literature, poetry and even Pantone charts for ideas, and using them to create strikingly original dishes and recipes.

Megan Fizell, an Australian based in Sydney, is an art historian who began her Feasting On Art blog in 2009 as a way of combining her interests in food and art. The results are rarely a direct recreation of the image, but more image-inspired. So Cézanne's Still Life With A Plate Of Cherries (1885-87) is the jumping-off point for a rich and fruity cherry and nectarine clafoutis, while a glorious vase of red poppies painted by Van Gogh is the basis for lemon and poppyseed bread.

The blog is richly creative and educational, with each post providing a very palatable side dish of art history. It's also refreshingly down to earth, as Fizell tells of the challenges, difficulties and mess. Unlike more professionally produced shoots and articles, there is no pretence of perfection.

While her savoury dishes are historically accurate and authentic, many will be wowed by the sweet things she creates, the fabulous geometric Mondrian pound cake, colourful, circular Hirst cineole cupcakes, and Warhol-esque tomato soup cake. A chicken is a chicken, but sponge, icing, chocolate and food colouring are the kitchen creator's media, just as clay, stone and paint are for the sculptor or painter. In fact, there is little in the artist's studio that cannot be substituted in the kitchen.

Take colour charts, for example. Emilie Griottes was inspired by the Pantone colour chart to create a range of Pantone tartes. Griottes is a French food stylist and, although she gives recipes, the tarts are really for looking at admiringly, wonderingly, while you ask yourself why you never thought a banana, marshmallow or apricot was an example of a Pantone reference rather than simply a food. Hers is a playful approach, the grown-up version of the food art created spontaneously by children who arrange alphabet spaghetti into words and draw faces with ketchup.

Equally creative, but more low-key and with a plain, contemporary, fashionably stark aesthetic is the series of Fictitious Dishes, by Dinah Fried, an American graphic designer and photographer who takes famous literary meals and turns them into artfully arranged pictures on her website. So Oliver Twist's bowl of gruel is suitably meagre and miserable, while the famous chapter on chowder in Moby Dick is distilled into a thick, pale, appetising clam chowder (for another take on this, as well as Jane Eyre cardamom seed buns and Toni Morrison tribute beloved blackberry tart, check out Cara Nicoletti's yummy-books.com).

Fried's photographs are shot from above, so that they look like paintings, with the food arrangement becoming a modern-day still life. Since there is no text to explain anything, the images have the reverse effect of sending you back to the classics to read and digest the food sections on the page. There are just five dishes in the series so far, but Fried is asking for suggestions, so perhaps we can look forward to her interpretation of Miss Havisham's wedding feast or the wonderful descriptions of food in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar or George Orwell's Down And Out In Paris And London.

Fried's approach is to stay close to the inspiration but to give it a cool, modern twist, whereas Eat This Poem, a blog written by young American poet, Nicole Gulotta, has a more reverent tone. It offers up recipes inspired by the spirit and mood of her chosen poems, mostly by contemporary US poets but with a few by writers such as Elizabeth Bishop and William Carlos Williams. Gulotta's dishes and writing are more tangential and esoteric. She is at her best, and the connections most interesting, when she is inspired by a poem that contains a direct reference to a foodstuff, such as when she selects Pablo Neruda's Ode To An Onion to create a rich and comforting onion galette with blue cheese and honey.

It's vibrant, energetic and very modish, but this style of arty food also raises the question of "gastro porn". Some certainly give out a look-but-don't-eat message, but the most successful combine fun and inventiveness to produce something you know will taste great and – you hope – be eaten with relish.

Taking art and literature as inspiration means no rules, and the freedom to express your culinary creativity as you please, according to your vision and the contents of your cupboards. It's a far cry from the hand-holding of our usual kitchen guides. If you don't know what to make tonight, start by putting away those recipe books.

• Jane Brocket's new book, Vintage Cakes, is published by Jacqui Small in September at £25. To pre-order a copy for £20, including free UK mainland p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop, or call 0330 333 6846.


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Tea with Grayson Perry. Or is it dinner, or supper?

What you call the evening meal reveals a lot about where you come from – and maybe even where you're headed…

Grayson Perry

When I was 19, I went out with quite a posh girl. Not only did I lose my virginity with her while watching Life On Earth on the telly, but I also received a crash course in dining and class mobility. On evenings when I was to visit her, I would eat my tea with my family first. Tea, in this case, not being Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches, but the working-class evening meal, served perhaps between six and seven o'clock. After tea, I would ride my motorbike over to her parents' Elizabethan manor house and there I would partake of supper. This was good news to a growing country lad who could easily eat five large meals a day.

Supper, as in "kitchen" or "country", is upper class. It implies that this is just a casual family meal, maybe with close friends. It may involve a simple starter, wine, and cheese and fruit to follow, but would probably not involve a white tablecloth and starched napkins. Supper is elegant sufficiency. It has overtones of Billy Bunter's midnight feasts, Hogarth prints or officers on campaign. The real significance of supper, I think, is that it implies the user is familiar with an altogether grander style of meal held in stately halls, the formal dinner with copperplate invitations, waiters, silverware, port and speeches. The word supper, I think, implies a subtle rebuke to the aspirational classes who are gauche enough to hold dinner parties at home.

Noel Gallagher

Me and my kids call it tea. My wife calls it dinner. She went to uni, I didn't. She's middle class, I'm not. As for supper? What is that, exactly? As a kid, I ate Irish stew. As unemployed teenagers, it was something with beans. After that, until I left home, it was, "Make it yourself!" That's when it started to get tricky. I still eat shit, to be honest. You can move the boy to London, but he'll always be a northerner.

Helen Fielding

Growing up in Yorkshire, breakfast was a fry-up at the start of the day, dinner was at lunchtime (often a cold collation of what, in hindsight, was probably slices of giant sausage made from BSE) and tea was at the end of the day – a lard-based feast of something like suet and mince roly-poly with gravy and carrots, followed by treacle sponge topped with cream, ice-cream and custard. Supper was Ovaltine and a biscuit at bedtime.

When I descended to the south and Oxford, in the first week my tutor invited me and my tutorial partner, who was also from the north, to dinner. We duly turned up in the middle of the day to be greeted by kindly astonishment and a gracious attempt to explain how things worked in the sophisticated world we were about to enter.

Emboldened by this new knowledge, the next time I was invited to dinner, this time by fellow students, I arrived at the appropriate time – the evening – but wearing a long gown, admittedly one from C&A, but somewhat in the style of pictures I'd seen of Oxford drinking clubs and summer balls. Unfortunately, my worldly-wise hosts were wearing jeans and serving spag bog on a kitchen table decorated with candles in old wine bottles.

Things got better for a while, but when I moved to Los Angeles, the whole nightmare started again. People wanted to have power breakfasts in the middle of the night – 6.30am! – meet for lunch before noon and the earliest I was ever invited to dinner was 5.30pm. Even then, it didn't seem to be quite acceptable actually to eat anything. The concept of "supper" doesn't really exist in LA, as far as I can make out. People don't seem to cook very much, so either it's dinner in a restaurant or a posh, carb-free dinner in someone's house done by a cook, but again, quite often ridiculously early and all over by 9pm. The closest thing to a Cameron supper is going round for "take-out" or "carry-out", which means you just hang out informally and eat something that arrived in a van.

Back in London, I find myself using the word "supper" quite a lot, usually to suggest the sort of informal, just-a-bunch-of-incredibly-cool-friends-round-the-kitchen-table soirée I aspire to, with something I've knocked up from the Ottolenghi cookbook. In reality, I'm more likely to spend the evening eating spoonfuls of odd things out of the fridge while watching telly in pyjamas. But at least you don't have to call that anything.

Rachel Johnson

I remember my parents giving dinner parties in Brussels, in the 1970s, during the tragic Ice Storm period of my childhood. My mother would cook. My father would carve, occasionally with an electric knife, like a baby buzzsaw. They divorced when I was 14. I learned from my mother that the best parties have nothing to do with "fine dining" – I have to this day a horror of hushed tones and chinking cutlery – but lots of wine, rowdy guests, and rough peasant food with plenty of things to pick at even after pudding. It's a model I try to follow myself, although for some reason even "kitchen supper" can take three days, not counting all the time one spends convening exactly the right cast, and clearing up. I still do "kitchen suppers", but have long banned "dinner parties" as both exhausting to give and to attend: they're like taking a four-hour exam in someone you don't know and may never see again. I've noticed a new trend, though: often, the host will ting a glass and want guests to sing for their supper, and get a "general conversation going". Being highly competitive and noisy, I enjoy that (the last dinner I went to, we had Stephen Hester talking about banking). If it's in Notting Hill, "kitchen supper, just locals" can be a £200-a-head catered dinner for which the whole mansion is transformed into a souk and there will be at least two household names present as trophy guests. A "country supper" is eight people, something killingly calorific and crumbly out of the Aga, followed by drunken driving through country lanes. No one gets invited to dinner parties any more: that's déclassé thanks to Come Dine With Me. It's always supper, sometimes even "sups", but only if you're really grand. It's at "sups", of course, that you're most likely to get the Lynch-Bages or the PM.

Joe Dunthorne

There was a constant war between my sisters and me for the best seat in front of the TV. This meant that dinner became, in essence, nothing more than a race to finish first, so that we could run from the dinner table and claim prime position. With the good seat came the remote control and with the remote control came dominion over one's destiny.

We always ate quite late, at eight or so, which was proof that we were authentically middle class. Sometimes, the names of the dishes my parents cooked sounded unsettlingly exotic – ratatouille, moussaka – and I would long for parents like those of my mate John, who lived on the hill. When I went to his, we ate tea early, at 6, sometimes even at 5.30, and had proper food: fish fingers, pizzas, crinkle-cut chips.

After school, knowing that I would have a long wait for our evening meal, I always put two chocolate muffins and half a tub of custard in the microwave. Then I'd eat them with a spoon in front of Neighbours. I didn't know it then but I was having high tea.

David Lammy

Breakfast was always rushed - a slice of toast and out of the door. Lunch was terrible – baked beans and two chicken nuggets from the school canteen. Dinner, however, was something to look forward to. This was always real Caribbean food: chicken rubbed with allspice and scotch bonnet peppers, rice and peas, yam dumplings and plantain. Sometimes, we'd set out the table, but more often than not we'd sit in front of the TV with our dinner trays (mine was a tacky metallic one commemorating Charles and Diana's wedding).

The first few weeks at university brought some culture clashes. Newly made northern friends talked about "tea", but to me "tea" was just a warm brown drink that my teachers enjoyed. My family never had it. The closest we got at home was Ovaltine, and that certainly wasn't a meal.

I was first introduced to "supper" at the inevitable visit-your-new-friends-at-their-homes that follows your first term at university. It was more ritualistic than our dinners ever were. Supper was something you anticipated, that you perhaps got changed for. Inevitably, it was a faux pas minefield: multiple courses, a plethora of cutlery and alcohol (which, until then, was something I had only ever had in a park or a pub, never in front of a consenting adult).

This was all new and novel, but it was mundane and stuffy, too. As I've grown older, friends who have "supper" make their children have "tea" with different food, at a different time and on a different table. I don't see the point. I find it hard enough to see my kids as it is, and even harder to make them aware of their Caribbean roots. That's why we have dinner. The four of us sit down at the table and we eat food their grandmother would approve of.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

There is no such thing as a "country supper" in culinary or sociological terms. Or at least there wasn't, until now. What there is, is "supper", the meal that posh(ish) people eat at home most days in the evening – when they are not going out to or hosting "dinner" – a meal of some formality designed to entertain and impress your social peer group. You can invite someone to "supper" and know they will not expect tablecloths or candles or more than perhaps half a dozen guests. They might expect to chat to you in your kitchen, though, while you prepare the meal in question.

Then there is "the country" – not to be confused with "the nation", but a posh shorthand for what might more generally be described as "the countryside". It means anywhere with more fields and hedges than streets and lamp-posts. It's a word used in such sentences as "I live in the country, but I have a flat in London", or "I live in London, but I have a cottage/farm/stately home in the country."

To me, therefore, the term "country supper" is specific. It can be meaningfully used only by and between people who regularly eat "supper" in each others' houses, and have (at least) two residences, one in a rural location. (Though, being a Devon man, I'd call Chipping Norton suburban. Or at best "home counties".) On that basis, although "country supper" is a hot buzz-phrase right now, I doubt it will permanently enter the lexicon of either gastronomy or class analysis.

I know all this, of course, because I am reasonably posh myself – and if there really was such a thing as a "country supper", I would expect to have been invited to one.

Bee Wilson

In 18th-century London, supper was posh: an insubstantial final snack eaten by the upper classes long after dinner – cold beef and punch, perhaps, nibbled to sate the appetite before bed. But growing up in the 1980s, supper wasn't grand. It was just what we called the seven o'clock meal, whether it was toad in the hole, cottage pie or that exciting new discovery, the M&S ready meal.

I'm not sure why we called it supper rather than dinner or tea. Our Oxford household was thoroughly middle class, but also eccentric, very bookish and Anglican; the Last Supper was much discussed. My mother was a Shakespeare scholar, so she may have been talking in Elizabethan English when she called us in for supper: "Men sit down to that Nourishment which is called Supper", as it says in Love's Labour's Lost. Or it could have been an affectation from my grandmother, who tried hard to shrug off her roots in a Devon post office, referring to "the drawing room" and going so far as to ennoble Marmite with a French pronunciation: to her it was always "Mar-meet". She would never have dreamed of calling the evening meal "tea", which meant small cakes and china cups at four.

Personally, I don't find "supper" snooty. It is only when you add an adjective that it becomes pretentious: country supper and kitchen supper are both phrases used by people like David Cameron, who normally eat dinner, but are slumming it. My husband's family, much posher than mine, always eats dinner, implying candles and several delicious courses at 8pm. The joy of supper, by contrast, is that it carries no particular expectations besides nourishment. It could be anything from fillet steak to poached eggs and Mar-meet toast. Supper is simply the comforting end point to which the whole day has been leading.

Tom Parker Bowles

Dinner party: two words to strike fear into even the most open-minded of hosts. It comes barded with sneers and marinated in petty snobbery, an event that seemed less about eating and more about a smug sense of belonging – Debrett's with fish knives and a par-frozen bun. They have tea, you have supper, I have dinner. Visions spring to mind of jellied tomato rings and overcooked soufflés, an excess of velvet and the degradation of a perfectly good meal.

But, really, it's a simple matter of semantics. There are few things more civilised than having friends over for supper or dinner. It matters not which word you use, so long as you don't go and call it a dinner party. I can think of nothing worse than asking people to clad themselves in black tie or, worse still, "smart casual" before coming over to eat. Or to subject them to the half-witted, smeared and foamed approximation of a three-star Michelin chef. Good food, well cooked, and plenty of grog, shared with people you love. That's not a dinner party, rather having dinner, at home, with mates.

As children, we had tea – sausages, fish fingers, whatever – at about 5pm. Then my parents had dinner at about 8.30. I was always rather jealous of those mums and dads who had "supper". It seemed far cooler and laid back, resolutely more modern. But whatever it was called, there was always comfort in falling asleep to the clatter of knives and forks, and the easy hubbub of well-watered good times.

So yes, the dinner party, with its forced dress code and fussy food, stilted conversation and whiff of self-satisfaction, is something to be feared. But then, so is any meal possessing these horrible qualities, regardless of whether it's branded "supper", "dinner" or "feast". All that matters is the shared pleasures of the table, time to eat, drink and be merry. The dinner party might be dead, but the fundaments of domestic edible pleasure will endure for ever and ever.

Peter York

I'm not a foodie, but I know foodies, and I find their dinner parties most alarming. I want meat and two veg spread in an orderly way on the plate. And a pudding that contains something nice like meringue.

Dinner parties have changed a lot since I wrote the Sloane Ranger Handbook with Ann Barr in 1982. There still exist in corners of the country meals of almost stunning simplicity, usually involving something I hate – game birds – produced with a certain amount of fanfare. Horribly red stringy things. But at least you know exactly where to start, which is the main course, and what's the end. And there is all sorts of silverware.

At a foodie supper, the sequence is disrupted, and it's done with the utmost of casualness. I remember eating at a foodie neighbour's house 25 years ago and thinking, which bit is which? What goes first? Is that a pudding or does it just look like one? For a person of conservative habits, it was very disconcerting.

Now you can see it in full bloom. There used to be five kinds of cheese from about three nations that one could take to a dinner party. Now there will be Colombian drug smuggler's cheese and something sourced from a farmers' market in Aberdeen.

Of course, I don't give dinner parties. Mostly I eat out, but when I'm at home I have kitchen suppers in the most literal sense: "This delicious thing I found in Tesco, let's just put it in the microwave." I'm not northern, so I don't call it tea. And I don't call it dinner, because it's not dinnery. So it's supper, I'm afraid.

Jeanette Winterson

Dinner parties make me feel like a desperate housewife on Come Dine With Me. I grew up in Lancashire in the 1960s. Dinner was eaten at 12 noon and it was pie and gravy. Except on Sundays, when we had a joint of beef or lamb, the remains of which would be put through the Spong mincer on Mondays for a week's worth of aforementioned pies. My first dinner party happened to me when I went to Oxford. I never wanted it to happen again. The real issue is that I like food and I like to eat my food, not try to shove it in my mouth while talking to someone I hope never to meet again. My girlfriend is Jewish, a great cook and seriously social. When we got together, I said, "I will do cocktail parties and I will do supper with friends. Never make me go to dinner." She tried, twice; the first time I refused to eat and the second time I refused to speak. We haven't tried since.

I love suppers with friends. Is there a class thing? Yes, for sure, but if you are a writer or an artist of any kind, you can avoid class. You can mix wherever you want to and say what you like. That helps. I have to say, though, that the best dinner party I ever went to was thrown by an eccentric member of the Guinness family in a crumbling house in Dublin. The dining room hadn't been decorated since 1840 and, as the room was colder than the fridge, we left the champagne out to chill. Food was cooked on a burner of the kind road-menders use to melt tarmac. I was sitting next to Neil Jordan and we both ate in silence until we had eaten enough to be able to speak.

Oliver Peyton

I'm rarely invited to dinner parties these days – being a judge on Great British Menu, as well as a restaurateur, people just assume I'm the guest from hell.

Maybe that's also why, when I have people over for dinner, they're often surprised by my food. They turn up expecting some sort of whizz-bang gastronomic experience, only for me to serve up a fish that's been covered in herbs and salt, and shoved in the oven. Dinner parties, to me, are about family, friendship and fun, not networking or spending all night in the kitchen.

That attitude's probably a throwback to my childhood in Mayo – mealtimes were extraordinarily important, and we wouldn't dream of not sitting down to dinner together. And it's "dinner" or "tea", by the way – I'd never even heard the term "supper" until I came to England.

When I was young, dinner parties didn't focus nearly so much on the food. They were more about staying up all night, and if there was any actual cooking involved, it usually got burned anyway. Perhaps it's just an age thing that the dinner parties I go to now aren't like that at all, but I kind of miss those days.

• Interviews: Charlotte Northedge, Bob Granleese, Becky Barnicoat.

The guidelines: Tea

When? 6.30pm, or whenever Dad gets home from work.
What are we eating? Fish fingers, chips, beans. And then a yoghurt.
Who's coming? You, your siblings, your parents, possibly a friend, so long as they've checked with their mum first.
Topics of conversation Shhh… Hollyoaks is on.
Tableware Not the good cutlery. That's for Christmas Day and Christmas Day alone.
Dress code Your school uniform, unless it's in the wash because you got it muddy at lunchtime.

The guidelines: Dinner

When? 7pm, or thereabouts.
What are we eating? One of those Marks & Spencer meal deals, bought on the way home from work.
Who's coming? Whoever's at home.
Topics of conversation Work, your journey home from work, that thing Joanna who sits opposite you at work does with her teeth that's really annoying.
Tableware A plate on your lap. Who has space for a table any more?
Dress code Whatever you worked in (although freelance writers may wear trousers as a point of etiquette).

The guidelines: Supper

When? 9pm, or later.
What are we eating? Something light and self-consciously rustic, usually cooked in a bloody Aga or something.
Who's coming? You, Rebekah Brooks, David Cameron and, indirectly, Robert Jay QC.
Topics of conversation Chipping Norton, NewsCorp's BSkyB takeover bid, whether or not Dave can lend you a horse.
Tableware Silver cutlery, ironed tablecloths, goblets full of children's blood.
Dress code Top hats left at the door. We're all in this together, remember.

By Stuart Heritage


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Ultraviolet Beauties, by Cara Phillips – in pictures

These replications of the damaging effects of UV light might make you think twice before overdoing it on the sun lounger



Weekend readers' pictures: Fresh

From peas to fruit: your best pictures on this week's theme, Fresh





August 02 2012

Somerset House to show Valentino collection that took 50 years to make

Valentino: Master of Couture to feature over 130 of the Italian designer's gowns, as worn by Grace Kelly and Julia Roberts

A 60-metre catwalk will be installed in Somerset House in London this autumn as part of a retrospective spanning 50 years of the work of the fashion designer Valentino Garavani.

Valentino: Master of Couture is set to feature over 130 hand-crafted gowns, worn by the likes of Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. They will include the wedding dress Jackie Kennedy wore to marry Aristotle Onassis in 1968 alongside Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece's pearl-encrusted ivory silk wedding gown from 1995.

The outfits, painstakingly made by the finest dressmakers and fashion specialists, have never been showcased in the UK before.

Alongside red-carpet looks, such as Julia Roberts's 2001 black Oscar dress, catwalk pieces and one-off commissions, the show will also feature photography and mementoes from the designer's personal archive. Clothes will be themed in groups according to style, from volume to a section celebrating the designer's trademark red. Films showing the designer at work in the atelier will also be screened.

Somerset House, the main site for London fashion week since 2009, has previously staged innovative exhibitions celebrating the likes of avant garde label Maison Martin Margiela and style magazine Dazed & Confused. The director of Somerset House, Gywn Miles, said: "We are delighted to welcome Valentino and show off his beautiful designs in such a spectacular way."

Garavani has not designed for the fashion house since his retirement in 2007. His career has previously been celebrated with an exhibition in Rome and a documentary film, Valentino: The Last Emperor.

Last month, the Valentino brand was bought by Mayhoola, an investment group thought to be backed by the Qatari royal family.

Designed since 2008 by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, who previously worked alongside Garavani, the label has successfully staged a revival. The duo's collections have received critical acclaim while appealing to a new generation of the young and fashionable, including Alexa Chung and Carey Mulligan.

• Valentino: Master of Couture, is at Somerset House, London from 29 November to 3 March


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August 01 2012

Food photography: the tricks of the trade

Social networks are now full of pictures of people's lunches and dinners. But follow a few easy tips and you can produce truly mouthwatering images

Last week, I met my new neighbour for the first time, at 7am, over the garden fence. He was getting on his bicycle; I was squatting, in my pyjamas, photographing an ice cream sundae. It wasn't until later I realised he probably thought me strange. Barbecuing jerk chicken on a grey and chilly Monday to get a shot before the rain sets in, or crouching over a lone scotch egg in the local park is all in a day's work for me.

I never gave food photography much thought before joining the industry. My first food shoot, while on work experience with a BBC cookery magazine, was a shock. Not only was there a photographer and a food stylist, who cooked and groomed the dishes, I was making tea for the photographer's assistant, prop stylist, and art director. It took all day to take four photographs.

Nowadays, I take my own shots for my "Perfect" columns, although the picture editor offers gentle advice, usually a plea for "more natural light!" Hence the incident in the garden. Natural light is an obsession with photographers. As Hélène Dujardin, chef turned blogger and professional food photographer, writes in her book Plate to Pixel, the second thing people notice, after the food, "is how the light hits a certain part of the dish ... too much or too little, will make a viewer like or dislike a photograph.". And all light is not created equal – shot under the energy-saving bulb in my kitchen, food has a sickly yellowy cast.

You can use professional lighting kit, but Dujardin doesn't think it "natural to the human eye". And artifice is a definite no-no in modern food photography. Chris Terry, who has photographed cookbooks for the likes of Jamie Oliver and Anna Hansen, is quite clear. "Use daylight, not the crap light in the cooker hood ... don't use the flash on your compact camera or phone unless you work for forensics."

Easy. Except, it's not that clear-cut. Food and drink photographer Paul Winch-Furness, who runs photography courses in fashionably dim restaurants and busy markets, thinks every light has its place. If the photo is for "people who have to come home and bake in the evening, then you don't want natural light". It's more realistic, as far as they're concerned, to show your cake basking in the warm glow of a lamp instead.

Handily, things shouldn't look too perfect these days: a fingerprint in the icing, or a slightly wonky souffle helps people relate to the food: "People don't want a photo to make them feel stupid," says Winch-Furness. Jonathan Gregson, a photographer and director whose work has appeared in everything from Hovis ads to cookbooks agrees that details entice: "How frosty ice cream melts and runs down the side of a cone … these lovely foodie bits which, more often than not, people are tempted to clean up. Aiming for imperfection in an image is no bad thing"

Things were not always like this. Pictures from the 1950s, when cookbooks embraced photography in earnest, tended towards fussy presentation, but little attempt at scene setting, with dishes crammed into the frame. Cookbooks from the 1980s and 90s are all microscopic garnishes and towering cakes, rarely encouraging the home cook to have a go.

Stuart Ovenden, deputy art director at the BBC's Good Food magazine, says that this has changed recently: "Five years ago we'd agonise about the placement of herbs, or that, in a salad, everything was perfectly evenly distributed; nowadays, we're more likely to leave mistakes in for a more interesting picture." Perhaps that's why no food stylist I talk to admits to using the old mashed-potato ice-cream trick, or the infamous hidden tampon to create steam.

It's all down to what Winch-Furness calls the rhetoric of the image. "People know how to read a photograph these days," he says. The light, the crockery, the background, all tell their story. He is not wrong.

Everyone is a photographer now. (Except, perhaps, me.) I have received a bit of criticism from readers. My ginger cake looked like "something my dog regurgitated", while the summer pudding was described as "bloody".

But what amateurs can forget is Chris Terry's golden rule: "Unless the food is being photographed as evidence, the point is to make people want to grow, cook, eat, or even just enjoy looking at it." The briefest skim online will prove that it is all too easy to lose sight of this.

Smartphones, with their eight megapixel cameras and nifty apps for giving your fish and chips that sun-bleached look on a wet day in Widnes, or turning them into panoramas, have those with only the slightest interest in food snapping away at the table. And while natural is best, neglecting to remove the dirty paper napkin from the shot is enough to put the entire internet off its dinner. Bad food photography must have overtaken cute kittens and naked ladies as the scourge of the worldwide web. Uyen Luu, a Vietnamese cookery teacher, cook and food writer, takes gorgeous pictures of her dinners using the Instagram app, and says she likes using her phone because it's so easily accessible: "I love to quickly style a plate of food, a scene, snap and share."

On the flipside, not all fancy apps are a good idea. "Everyone will have seen beautiful cookbooks and magazines with lovely photography," Terry says. "They are beautiful for a reason, don't go way off-piste with the weird, cross-processed filters. They look shit. Just don't."

Armed with all this advice, I take a picture of this week's "perfect" - salade niçoise. It is a Mediterranean dish, and the sun is finally out, so I plate it on fishy crockery and take it outside, bearing in mind the sage advice of Delicious magazine's food editor Lizzie Kamenetzky, that salad is "all quite last-minute – it goes quite quickly, so work fast". I toss ingredients, take experimental shots, then artfully scatter olives and a drizzle of dressing, ensuring that all the ingredients are visible.

I send the results to Gregson. He approves of the overhead angle, observing that it "suits things which have a lot of top detail [or] are bitty, like chopped salads", and the wooden surface, which doesn't vie with the food for attention. He is not keen on my beloved crockery, which "fights with the food ... the eye finds it hard to know where to look". A simple muted glaze is his choice but, as I haven't yet built up my prop cupboard, I settle for plain white.

The bright sunlight, which I fondly imagined would evoke Nice in high summer, doesn't flatter the food – the salad looks sweaty. He suggests taking the dish into the shade to catch "the sky reflecting in the shiny surface of the olives", thus the colours look less harsh . I like his idea of including salad servers in the edge of the frame and, as it's a meal for two, he advises taking a serving away, "as though someone were just tucking in", to give the shot structure and a story.

The results? Well, you can judge for yourself. I wouldn't claim my photography is as perfect as my salad, but you know what they say about practice ...

Top tips

• Don't splash out on equipment: "limiting yourself can force you to be creative".

• Plan your picture and decide on the story you want to tell, but don't overcomplicate things.

• Plan composition and background: "Don't leave your can of Red Bull in the shot!"

• Experiment: Take pictures in different locations or lights to see what works.

• Get as much light as possible, and balance your camera on a tripod or a flat surface – "just hold it still!"

Inspirational food photography at paulwf.co.uk, christopherterry.com, leluu.com and jonathangregson.co.uk.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




July 30 2012

London 2012: Nelson's Column gets an Olympic makeover - video

Admiral Lord Nelson gets a colourful Union Flag hat complete with an Olympic torch to mark London 2012



July 27 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Why I'm lucky to be alive

I was born in Glasgow on 8 June 1942 and this photograph of me, with my 18-year-old mother, Bridget Devlin McIvor, was taken on 21 July. I feel duty bound to inform you – because it meant a lot to my mother, who lamented the fact every time she looked at this photograph – that we had been caught in a heavy downpour just before we reached the studio and the, "dead mean photographer" would not give her enough time to fix her hair.

A lot had happened between my birth and the day of this photograph. On 14 June, Glasgow's medical officer of health had sent a letter to all the city's GPs notifying them that six crewmen of the TSS Awatea, a troopship that had docked from Bombay, had been diagnosed with smallpox.

Just over a fortnight after I was born, Glasgow's first smallpox case was diagnosed. The following week, smallpox vaccination centres opened all over the city – but not in time for my mother's visit to Clackmannan, taking me to stay with her mother and grandmother for a few days. At the bus station, the Red Cross would not let her board the bus as I hadn't been vaccinated against the disease.

We returned home and I was duly vaccinated a day or so later, with the certificate to prove it. We set off again to Clackmannan. At the very beginning of our visit, I cried and cried. The vaccination site on my upper left arm had become swollen and inflamed and I had a slight fever. At her grandmother's urging, my mother rushed me back to Glasgow and I was admitted to our local general hospital.

My mother was told that I was not expected to live and there was nothing they could do. My father was given immediate compassionate leave from the Highland Light Infantry. I was dying of general septicaemia caused by a "dirty vaccination needle", as my mother later described it. Courtesy of the army, my father arrived in Glasgow in record time. By then I had been transferred to Yorkhill (Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children).

In all, 36 people caught smallpox during this outbreak, 11 ship cases, two of whom died, and 25 people in Glasgow cases, six of whom died. In August 2009, when I watched a BBC4 film, Breaking the Mould: the Story of Penicillin, I was astonished by what I learned. When I was a child my mother had told me that a consultant paediatrician at Yorkhill had arranged my rushed hospital transfer. He had a son – an army doctor – who had somehow got hold of penicillin and given it to his father to give to me. I loved this story and heard it many times as I was growing up. I also have a reminder – a large vaccination scar and slight muscle wasting of the upper left arm.

Until I saw that film three years ago, I never knew how very lucky I had been. I later discovered that in the summer of 1942 there was only enough penicillin in the world to treat a couple of hundred people or so. Penicillin was not mass-produced until 1943-44.

So how did an infant-sized course of the antibiotic become available to me, a child from a single-end in Lyon Street, just off the Garscube Road, Glasgow? Was I part of a clinical trial, I wondered?

As you can see from this photograph, by 21 July I was fully restored to health. I can imagine the awe that the experienced nurses and doctors caring for me in Yorkhill must have felt when, for the first time, they witnessed the power of penicillin.

For me, what was truly miraculous was that two Glasgow doctors, a father and son, cared enough to put themselves in the firing-line. I wish I knew who they were. I remember asking my mother, when I was about 14, what their name was – she thought it might have been Cowan but could not remember. I think that was the last time we ever discussed it.

I wish she could have been there to watch that documentary with me all those years later. Mary McIvor

Playlist: The day I found music

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2

"... But I still haven't found what I'm looking for"

It is an older brother's job to pass music down to his younger siblings. In his room, my brother hoarded dozens of plastic cassettes mysteriously marked in ink. The handwritten words were strange, words like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Sisters of Mercy. They made little sense to me as a nine-year-old, but Nick was obsessed with them – and with one cassette in particular. One with just two letters: U2.

When he heard U2 were coming to Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, he began a relentless campaign to go to see them. He was 14 and my parents thought him too young, but there was no way he was going to miss out. After days of silences and bickering, a solution was reached – we would all go.

Early on in the day, none of it made much sense: queuing in the pouring rain for hours, flanked by smelly hamburger vans and strangers necking cans of Tennent's lager. As soon as we got there, I wanted to go home.

So I waited, moodily, as the sky darkened and the seats filled. Then the lights came on and the sound of a slow organ began to creep around the ground, followed by a jangly, building guitar and a tremendous, deafening cheer as Bono and The Edge walked out on stage. It was electric.

The sounds were the same as those that came from my brother's room, but much louder. My bad mood evaporated as thousands of people clapped, sang, cheered and climbed dangerously on to the thin plastic backs of the stadium seating to be just an inch higher, to see U2 play. Now I was one of them, albeit a very small one who couldn't see much. But I could see Nick, in awe, singing.

That moment, U2's Joshua Tree tour, August 1987, watching my brother sing "... But I still haven't found what I'm looking for" was when I began to love music. My brother did his job well. Adam Dewar

We love to eat: Avgolemoni soup

Ingredients (serves two to three)

3 oz rice

1½ pints chicken stock

2 eggs

Juice of ½ lemon

Gently boil the rice in the chicken stock until it is almost cooked. Beat the eggs and mix with the lemon juice and a ladleful of stock. Very slowly, add the egg mixture to the stock, stirring all the time over a low heat. Season and heat until slightly thick.

Avgolemoni is Greek for "egg and lemon," and this soup is the most traditional of Cypriot meals. When I taste and smell it – two senses so fragile yet so enduring and faithful – I am instantly transported to my childhood in Cyprus. Tearing up the stairs to my Cypriot grandmother's flat and running into her arms, as she hugs me with one and stirs with the other. Too short to see into the pot, I wait impatiently, leaning against her. Warmth, safety and soup.

Before she died, she taught my mother to make the soup. My mother is Welsh, lived in Cyprus for 54 years and knows how to cook only one Cypriot dish: avgolemoni soup. That's how important it is. It is there on cold nights, when I'm upset, when my team have lost. It's even become medicinal. Got a cough? Soup. Scratched your leg? Soup. My first night in England for university, staying with relatives, disorientated and nervous: guess what my Cypriot aunty cooked? "Everything's going to be fine."

When I cook avgolemoni now, often it is because I need to feel its restorative power. There is something beautiful in its simplicity, yet equally complex in the feelings it creates. It connects me to my past, giving continuity, redolent of my Cypriotness and youth, and in the present it binds me to a community that I live far away from.

Now, in full circle, when I serve it to my family I know exactly what is coming. The ritual I never tire of. The sharp intake of breath as it appears, hot and steaming: Dad will slurp, sister will tell him off. Mum will sip. I'll dive in, dipping mountains of bread. And then, always, a few seconds of complete silence – my favourite part – as minds drift and memories roll in. I really don't know where everyone is at that point, but I know we are bonded.

Proust famously recounts the moment he tasted a madeleine dipped in tea, and the profound memories it gave him. "Whence could it have come to me, this all powerful joy? … It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup, but in myself …" He wrote seven volumes based on this experience. I can't do that, but I do know that avgolemoni is more than just a bowl of soup. It is identity, nation, tradition. It is home. Paris Christofides

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Weekend readers' pictures: Run

From rugby to sand: your best pictures on this week's theme, Run





Homes: a tall order

How do you make a narrow house feel bigger? Charlotte Abrahams gets the inside track from the owners and architects of this tall Victorian home





July 25 2012

Lego birds: the tropical collection - in pictures

Following on from his series of British birds made out of Lego, Thomas Poulsom has designed a collection of tropical birds



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