Bilkish Vahed


Tailored Self-Possession


Is the magic in the specifics of a polished camel coat, a crisp trench, sheer polka dot blouse, two-toned shoes – these certainly have their appeal – or is it in some mysterious, total effect?

Chancing upon Dior’s Pre-Fall 2018 advertising photographs, I’m seduced by the elegance of clean-lines and refined silhouettes. Ensembles that scream: soignée. Luxurious fabrics and sleek tailoring that drape the body. An air of confidence and self-possession oozing from every frame.

Jennifer Lawrence photographed by Brigitte Lacombe for Dior Pre-Fall 2018

The words rolling around fashion magazines to describe this collection are – tailoring, menswear staples, gender fluidity, androgyny and identity – suggested of course by the idea that the muse for this collection was none other than French photographer Claude Cahun whose self portraits were an on-going, layered de-construction and re-construction of self, gender and identity.

Though some of the fashion commentary strikes me as a stretch, what I am nonetheless clear about is this:

Clothes, or better said style is intimately woven into the narrative of the self.

Jennifer Lawrence photographed by Brigitte Lacombe for Dior Pre-Fall 2018

Jennifer Lawrence photographed by Brigitte Lacombe for Dior Pre-Fall 2018

Françoise Sagan, 1954


In  Sagan, Paris 1954  Anne Berest delicately weaves multiple narrative threads. The events of early 1954  that led up to the publication of Bonjour Tristesse, and the reflections of a woman who is going through “one of the most painful periods of her life” since being separated from the father of her daughter – Berest herself.

Anne Berest ©SIPA

What emerges is an exposition that criss- crosses genres: the novel, biography, fictionalised autobiography. Events are imagined – Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is placed on the night table of the young Sagan, only to be tossed in the air later after a conversation with Sagan’s best friend, Florence Malraux. “Do you think that in 1954 Françoise might have had A Room of One’s Own on her bedside table?” Berest asks Florence. “I don’t think people read Virginia Woolf until quite a bit later. In 1954 we were reading Proust, Dostoyevsky… but Woolf, I don’t think so.”

Françoise Sagan

Anne Berest had been immersed in the writing of her third novel when Denis Westhoff, the only son of Françoise Sagan, approached her. In his “soft, staccato tone,” he asked her to write a book about his mother. “We will soon be marking the tenth anniversary of her death… and I would like people to remember just what the publication of Bonjour Tristesse represented for society back in 1954.”

Chapitre Premier  – Bonjour Tristesse

“Sur ce sentiment inconnu don’t l’ennui, la douceur m’obsèdent, j’hésite à apposer le nom, le beau nom grave de tristesse. C’est un sentiment si complet, si égoiste que j’en ai presque honte alors que la tristesse m’a toujours paru honourable. Je ne la connaissais pas, elle, mais l’ennui, le regret, plus rarement le remords. Aujourd’hui, quelque chose se replie sur moi comme une soie, énervante et douce, et me sépare des autres.

Cet été-là, j’avais dix-sept ans…”

Bonjour Tristesse written in six weeks and published almost immediately was a literary triumph. It is a refined story told by a young sophisticate about boredom and love. What is arresting is the tone, the voice.  The cool, clear eyed, sure footedness of the young woman narrator. Her steady nonchalance.

It is probably Sagan’s abiding fearlessness, intimately wound up with her recklessness and voraciousness that pulses through her text and her life, catching her public’s attention. Hers is the glamour of both a Paris Match style combined with a real love of books. “My mother was never afraid,” Denis Westhof tells Berest. “No, she wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone… It was one of the things she taught me. Not to be afraid.”

In the end, this is not a book primarily about a debut novel. It is an encounter between two women, both French writers. Berest creates a kind of mystical space for this when she makes an appointment to see a clairvoyant, overlaying Sagan’s own visit to a fortune teller.

“Yes, I can see that you’re writing a book on someone’s life,” the clairvoyant says. “It’s the life of a woman who lived as a man would…. She was a woman who had experienced everything. She did whatever she wanted to do.”

Then with certainty she says, “I am seeing Françoise Sagan – that’s correct, isn’t it?”

The clairvoyant alerts Berest: “You are sometimes going to want to do certain things that you are not used to doing….. go ahead…. You have nothing to fear, she is watching over you.”

Berest encounters Sagan. Sagan moves through Berest, altering her.

Hues of the Landscape


Structure and form with layered softness. Ensembles of earthy browns, strong rusts, hints of black, moss green, petrol blue, natural khaki, golden cream and crisp white. A melange of hues that reflect the landscape as it blends into the sky.

“The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has blue vigour in it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills and the woods a fresh deep blue.”
―  Karen Blixen Out of Africa

In the movies they roam the desert, thunder the earth on the backs of horses, write history, love, live, and die.

Styled in a suede or leather jacket, a white voile or crisp cotton shirt,  khaki jodhpurs; a voluptuous coloured silk pussy-bow blouse here, an elegant printed silk neck scarf there. Theirs is the glamour of the trailblazer that stirs the imagination with romance, and the restlessness to adventure.

Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘The English Patient’ (1996)

Nicole Kidman in ‘Australia(2008)

Meryl Streep & Robert Redford in ‘Out Of Africa’ (1985)

Ralph Fiennes in ‘The English Patient’ (1996)

Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘The English Patient’ (1996)

The Charm of Hanna


During the winter of 2010, when I was a German language student in Berlin, I saw the Tom Tykwer movie Dreia social comedy about a heterosexual couple who have lived together for twenty years and who separately, and unknowingly, embark on an affair with the same man. The next day I couldn’t stop enthusing about the movie and recommended it to everyone in class. My teacher, Doris, promised to see it that weekend, so Monday morning I greeted her with a look of expectation?

Her delicate facial features hesitated, wavered between a smile and something more reflective. Then her nose scrunched up and her mouth pouted, “Es war so körperlich,” she burst out. I laughed heartily remembering the many scenes of naked bodies that graced the screen for a full two hours. The movie wasn’t Doris’s cup of tea. I put it down to a form of conservatism and didn’t think more of it.

But the film played on my mind. It wasn’t the arrangement – one woman and two men in three configurations – that intrigued me, that was of secondary interest. The reportage of life in Berlin which I was then experiencing first hand, did engage me, but something else asked to be grasped. What intrigued me was the appealing quirkiness – or what my foreign eyes saw as quirky – of the lead lady Hanna, played by Sophie Rois.

Sophie Rois as Hanna in “Drei” Foto: © TriArt

Hanna is a forty-something Berliner, attractive but not conventionally beautiful, elegant in dress but not glamorous, a cultured urbanite, a “Frau Doktor” who sits on an Ethics committee for stem cell research and is a television reporter. Her conversations are sharp, she says “quatsch” a lot.

“quatsch” = bollocks;  boloney;  fiddle-faddle;   nonsense

In the opening scene of the movie, Hanna and her partner, Simon, are naked in bed, he on top. Simon looks into her eyes and declares, “You are dogmatic.” Without losing a beat, Hanna spurts back, “You are dogmatic. I am totalitarian.” Simon smiles quietly. “Agreed,” he says.  With a push, Hanna turns him over so that she’s on top. The conversation continues.

Hanna is spirited. Mercurial, argumentative, demanding, and funny.  She engages with the world intellectually but is also tuned into her body, her erotic impulses are alive. She lives with contradictions, is contrarian. Unthinkingly leaves her cell phone at home, arrives at 2am after the theatre and dinner with friends, and is totally surprised that Simon was worried about her. Her life is messy, though full.

Hollywood screen sirens, swathed in fur, flawless skin, crimson lips, glossy hair perfectly coiffed, ooze sophistication and glamour. Hanna, now pouting, there batting her eye pointedly, scurrying out of her lover’s bathroom window to escape what she doesn’t want to escape; Hanna is a different kind of character. Sophie Rois’s sparkling portrayal of a woman who is headstrong, sometimes silly, smart, vulnerable, opinionated, individual, enlarges the oeuvre of the silver screen.

A Fearless Aviatrix


“After midnight, the moon set, and I was alone with the stars. I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince me that the reason flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the aesthetic appeal of flying.”          — Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

« Older posts

© 2019 Bilkish Vahed

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑