The Secret of Cool is Style Not Money

Lifestyle guru shares her top 10 tips

We all like to think we have our own ideas about what’s cool and what’s not. It’s simply a matter of taste, isn’t it? Yes, of course we like to spot the latest trends from New York, Paris, Milan, and increasingly from a reinvigorated Berlin, that’s natural. We are fashionistas, after all. We like to keep our fingers on the pulse. But we can think for ourselves … well, can’t we? Of course we can! The question is: do we really want to bother? I mean what’s the point in planning a pleasant afternoon relaxing by the pool with the last 50 pages of the global economics bestseller, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – if I keep being distracted by worrying about what I’m going to wear to the Michael Douglas-Catherine Zeta-Jones summer bash tomorrow evening?

I mean, which is more important: learning how financial success is less a function of skill and strategy and more the result of happenstance – or deciding whether I should slip into a little something by Jil Sander or by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada to raise a glass or two of Cristal with Catherine and Michael? My money is on financial know-how every time. How else am I going to afford a new frock?

On the other hand, being cool is not simply about knowing which designer is in the ascendant and paying inordinate amounts of money for his or her latest creation. It’s about being able to carry it off. And that’s something all the money in Wall Street won’t help you with …

It’s about matching your personality to the style which suits you best, whether it’s a timeless creation by the late-lamented Yves Saint Laurent – now alas passed on to the great cutting room in the sky – or by the wonderfully-named young Lala Berlin, based, you guessed it, in the Mitte quarter of Berlin, whose alluring knitwear is a favourite of stars such as frequent Mallorca resident, Claudia Schiffer.

After all, the most unlikely people are impossibly cool: Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise with his bald pate and penchant for Earl Grey tea; Indiana Jones, dashing even at 65; Angela Merkel, with that non-nonsense “Reichschancellor attitude”, and – for those bulldog-spirited British gardeners among you – the incomparable Alan Titchmarsh, who pioneered garden decking in the Nineties and is now blamed for encouraging “the decking-over of half of south-east England,”

So here are our Top Ten Tips for Staying Cool, no matter how unconscionably rich and set-in-your-ways you’re in danger of becoming:

Don´t try
Trying to be cool is an oxymoron. If you’re trying at all, you’re trying too hard. It’s one of life’s clichés, but be yourself. Wear what’s comfortable, what you enjoy, what you feel best expresses the more extrovert side of your personality. There, you sound cool already!

Act your age
I’m sorry, I know it’s a tasteless phrase – pun fully intended – but “mutton dressed as lamb” inevitably comes to mind. It’s the greatest single faux pas when it comes to chasing the unattainable, “les neiges d’antan”, the snows of yesterday. I mean, Amy Winehouse is 24, but is she cool? I don’t think so!

Don´t be predictable
I really shouldn’t have to say this, but think Vivienne Westwood rather than Laura Ashley! Who’d have thought that a rock ‘n’ roll designer, synonymous with The Sex Pistols through their manager, Malcolm McLaren, would become a Dame of the British Empire. She didn’t get it by being staid!

Stay ahead of the curve
And she – Dame Vivienne, that is – didn’t get it by designing more of the same either. Her designs were fresh, new and challenging, and those who bought them did so because they were daring, different and unlike anything else available.

Avoid hearding
In reality, most of what passes for “cool” in the world of fashion and style is nothing more than pastiche and caricature. “Herding” is when you do what everyone else is doing, because they’re doing it. Think lemmings. It’s like buying a Porsche Boxster because your best friend has one.

Be a pioneer
As we established in last month’s Designer issue, there’s no point whatsoever in saving the world from global warming only to have it filled with Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli. That’s as true today as it was last month. Instead, support talented young designers – Wendy Van de Sluis in Rotterdam is my tip …

Fashion is fun
After all, like art, fashion should be fun. It’s about texture and colour and shape. It’s about matching garments to suitable occasions. It’s about creating a series of different looks – from laid-back to sophisticated to downright chic. And making every one of them look natural. As Ralph Lauren said: “I don’t design clothes. I design dreams.” .

Taste is personal
If “Fashion is Fun” should emblazon the front of the t-shirt of cool, “Taste is Personal” belongs on the back. If you’re not built for Betsey Johnson or Donatella Versace, wear a black judge’s robe instead. Do you realise how cool Judge Judy is?

Be irreverant
The best fashion, like the best art, is all about being irreverent. It’s not about saying: let’s all have more of the same. Don’t forget that while Yves Saint Laurent, for example, may have been an icon of the fashion world when he died last month at the ripe old age of 71, he was outrageously cutting-edge in his day. It’s hard to think of his trouser suits now as radical, but …

It´s not all about money
When it comes right down to it, being cool is about having style, and having style, while it can be about money, is not at all necessarily about money. After all, look at Elton John! But that’s the difference between cool and camp … don’t get me started!