The Great Leg Debate

12 May 2010

Have you had your legs out yet? Mine made a brief appearance over lunch two Saturdays ago. The sun came out. I debuted a J+ (Jil Sander for Uniqlo) dark denim skirt that I bought when the summer collection landed (back in January ……it seems almost old now) and my new Castaner wedge espadrilles. The sun might have been bright but there was absolutely no heat in it. So the legs, which had over-wintered under flannel and black opaques, looked pale and goose pimpled, like things that belonged on a slab. They’ve been under denim ever since. Only ankles have been allowed any air at all.  It may be May but the weather is Baltic. And yet some primal seasonal instinct tells me I should be getting my skin out.
If I worked on a NY publication, I’d probably never have put them away. There, in spite of Arctic winters, it’s not uncommon to find fashion editors going bare legged even in the frigid depths of January. Those naked limbs signal a steely dedication to an exercise routine (even over Xmas), meticulous attention to monthly grooming rituals and, most importantly of all, an account with a limousine company.
Here we keep ours under wraps for about seven months out of twelve. And at about this time of the year, it takes several aborted unveilings to reacquaint ourselves with our own limbs. The spring trim ensures the hair looks great, the mani/pedi with Chanel’s new colours have the extremities bang on trend. But the legs are like a distant and embarrassing relative you have to hang out with.
I did the winter to summer wardrobe swap over a fortnight ago. My bathroom is full of white cotton and silk prints. But my daily uniform is still my J Brand Garbo jeans and my Stefanel cashmere sweaters.
When I canvassed friends and colleagues for opinion I found out that many are equally mystified about how to get the legs out. So I am sure you will be pleased to know that I am currently doing exhaustive research on your behalf at the coal face of fabulous flesh: St Tropez in the South of France, where Karl Lagerfeld is showing the Chanel 2010 Cruise collection.
The uniform here is pretty much a panama hat, a Chanel jacket that hits at the hip bone with bracelet length sleeves, t shirt, shorts and flats from Rondini (the home of the classic St Tropez thong sandal). But then there are almost as many models this week in this seaside town as there would be in Paris for the shows. And they all have the legs of a prize colt. Depressingly, there is not a lardy leg in sight to make me feel like my own are anything near normal. Day one: I moved on to white J Brands.
Sophia Neophitou, editor of 10 and fashion director of Harpers Bazaar, owner of a peerless collection of Azzedine Alaia dresses, Pierre Hardy shoes and a Mediterranean Marilyn Monroe figure, has bare legs. She winters in black opaques but come Easter, whatever the weather, the legs are out. ‘It’s all about a sheer tight,’ she announces, to the horror of the group who are immediately thinking of Virgin Atlantic crew. ‘No, silly, Agent Provocateur silk stockings with suspender belt.’ Of course.
I tangled with a suspender belt once and didn’t enjoy it. But Natasha Fraser Cavassoni, a Paris based fashion journalist who has worked with Karl Lagerfeld and W Magazine makes the argument for hold ups (I agree) and cites the advice of an aged sage of the Galerie Lafayette hosiery department who says the secret of successful sheers is not to try and change the colour of your legs. ‘She advises only ever to try to even the skin tone,’ says Natasha. ‘So buy a shade that is as close to your skin colour as possible.’

Day Two: we are having lunch on the beach at the famous Club Cinquante Cinq. The sun is out and I am still in J Brand. I have mentally stocked up on sexy sheer tights but there is no circumstance when they would ever work at the beach. At lunch, Charlotte Stockdale, stylist with British Vogue, who works with Karl at Fendi is in the shorts and Chanel jacket combo but she also has satin-y pale olive skin that probably looks good even in February. Her tip is a drop of fake tan added to her moisturiser.
Chanel PR, Jo Allison, uses tinted moisturiser. An American editor makes free with her Bobby Brown primer (which comes in small jars and is intended for the face so this is an expensive option). No one is up for leg make up. Several at the table have tried the Sally Hansen spray. Coverage is good but the job is finicky and you make a terrible mess in the shower.
Back to the hotel to change for the 7pm show. The sun is out. It’s warm: almost hot. I am wearing a black dress. I have my arms out but still have black opaque tights for my legs. It feels wrong: way too heavy. I look out the window and see Ariella Goggi, legendary fashion editor of Italian Vogue getting into her car in a black tunic dress, black heels, black sunglasses, slicked back short black hair and gleaming, bare legs.
That’s it. Opaques are off. Slap on half a tube of foundation to cover the bruises and winter blotches and am off. It feels like summer is here: free and breezy. My legs are almost celebrating. In St Tropez the sun goes down at about 8.30 and as soon as it does the nip in the air is more like a nasty bite. I am wrapping tablecloths around me to keep warm. Maybe last night’s look was a little in advance of the season for me. Today, I am going back to London and am back in my J Brands. 

- Paula Reed


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