Long Stories Short
- The Writers Guild of America proposed letting AI write Hollywood scripts.
- Playwright Sir David Hare likened musicals to invasive plants, calling them “the leylandii of theatre, strangling everything in their path”.
- New York Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a new We❤️NYC logo, “in homage” to Milton Glaser’s iconic I❤️NY.
by Liz Moseley
Anna Wintour, formidable Global Editorial Director of Vogue and first lady of fashion, has reportedly struck the Kardashians off the guest list for the Met Gala, aka “the fashion superbowl”.
So what? A disapproving gesture from Wintour blows icy cold. Disinvitation, if it happens, would mark the beginning of the end of luxury fashion’s love/hate affair with the first family of reality TV and a direction shift for an industry that has struggled to find its purpose post-Covid.
The Met Gala matters. No really, it does.
- Launched in 1948, the Met Gala is an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Last year it raised $17.4 million.
- Tickets were $1,000 when Wintour took the helm in 1995. Now, brands fork out upwards of $35,000 for just one seat.
- This year’s dress code is “In honour of Karl.” Not Marx but Lagerfeld, the Creative Director of Chanel who died in 2019. Hosts are Penélope Cruz, Michaela Coel, Roger Federer, Dua Lipa and, as ever, Wintour.
- Wintour invited Kim for the first time in 2013. In 2022 the whole Kardashian Krew, still basking in the warm glow of Wintour approval, went en masse.
We need to talk about Demna. The fashion fate of KK is linked to that of the mononymous creative director of Balenciaga. Demna (full name Demna Gvasalia) is behind the label’s huge growth since 2015 and redrew the silhouette that dominates the high street: oversized blazers, voluminous puffa coats, chunky footwear. All those too-long sleeves are a relic from Demna’s childhood in Tbilisi, Georgia wearing hand-me-downs that didn’t fit.
Demna heart Kim 4 EVA? Like Wintour, Demna embraced the power of the Kardashian attention-grabbing juggernaut to flog clothes, engaging Kim as his principle muse and “spokesmodel”. They went to the Met Gala in 2021 sporting fetching all-black, full face-obscuring Balenciaga ensembles. Kim’s ex-husband, the disgraced rapper, antisemite and presidential hopeful Ye, opened Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2023 catwalk show last autumn, which took place in 275 cubic metres of stinking peat bog mud. Charming.
Mud sticks. It all went south when Demna was forced to make a series of public apologies late last year for presiding over not one but two advertising campaigns featuring or referencing inappropriate images of children. Kim dithered, but eventually “re-evaluated” her relationship with her favourite brand. Wintour, said to have been one of the few to have called Demna in the immediate aftermath of the controversy, ran the designer’s extensive mea culpa in Vogue. Wintour was there at Demna’s first collection post-scandal in Paris last month, which renowned fashion critic Sarah Mower called “a personal bid for reputational integrity”. In the relatively humble Carrousel du Louvre, a purpose-built catwalk show space, models wore oversized tailoring, luxe coats and beautiful gowns in muted tones, including Balenciaga’s famous shade of blackest black. “Fashion to me can no longer be seen as an entertainment, but rather as the art of making clothes,” he said.
Also, the money. A chastened Demna is one thing but the brand urgently needs to woo back its buying public. After two long years of lockdown loungewear, the fashion industry has struggled to redefine what it’s for. Lauren Sherman, fashion correspondent at Puck, said: “There’s definitely a backlash to extreme behaviour in fashion. And since Covid, people just aren’t buying complete looks anymore.” François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of Kering, which owns Balenciaga, did not mince his words, saying the scandal “impacted Balenciaga a lot in December, especially in the US, the Middle East and the UK.” He went on, “We are not allowed to make the same mistake twice…” Yikes. Or as Sherman put it: “The question for Balenciaga is whether they can have a hit beyond that [speed sock] trainer.”
Krisis? What Krisis? Even before Balenciaga-gate, some say Planet Kim was already starting to look a bit… over. A “geriatric Millennial” at 42, she badly misjudged the Gen Z vibe when she advised young aspiring business women to “get your fucking ass up and work” in an interview with Variety magazine. Other wince-worthy moments include her all-cashmere private jet interior reveal and being outed by the LA Times for excessive water usage.
Kim is more than a celebrity clothes horse. Skims, her shapewear brand, was valued by Forbes at over $3 billion following a $240 million capital injection backed by hedge fund Lone Pine Capital last year. “She won’t suddenly become an outcast. She’ll manoeuvre,” said Sherman. So, of course, will Wintour. The Met Gala is a huge advertising platform which depends on ratings for its fundraising revenue. With 349 million followers on Instagram, 8 million on TikTok and 75 million on Twitter, Wintour may not be ready to give KK the cold-shoulder. Yet.
(News in brief)
Not out of the Woods yet…
Tiger Woods likes privacy in the way fish like water. He called his $20 million superyacht “Privacy” then sued its builder for using his name in promotional material. So, when his ex-girlfriend Erica Herman asked a judge this week to lift the NDA she signed at the start of their relationship because she is unsure what information about her own life she can discuss and with whom, it was literally par for the course. Herman is suing Woods for $30 million, claiming “severe emotional damage”. She alleges she was forced to sign the NDA. When the couple broke up last autumn, Herman continued living in the golfer’s home based on an alleged oral agreement. Woods’ agents apparently told her “to pack a suitcase for a short vacation” and when she arrived at the airport she was told she’d been locked out of the house. Herman is bringing her legal challenge under the Speak Out Act, passed in December 2022, that forbids NDAs in cases of sexual assault and harassment. It’s an escalation with huge implications. Woods’ lawyers said this week that Herman “is a not a victim of sexual assault or abuse.” Another former partner, Rachel Uchitel, says she was pressured into signing an NDA after her affair with Woods became public. At the tender age of 19, Woods allegedly invited his first girlfriend Dina to join him at a tournament, had a shoulder injury and, while in hospital, couriered her suitcase over to her parents’ hotel with a farewell note. Stay classy, Tiger.
The long-awaited final season of Succession, the drama (sitcom?) largely inspired by the Murdoch family, finally airs on Monday. But the real-life Shiv Roy, Elisabeth Murdoch – who’s said to have worn “Team Shiv” T-shirts to meetings – is a legit power player. Elisabeth’s production company SISTER is behind The Power, adapted from Naomi Alderman’s feminist bestseller in which women discover they can shock men to death, which launches this week on Prime. It also produced the smash hit miniseries Chernobyl. Elisabeth sold Shine, her previous production company, to her dad for $673 million in 2011. She pocketed $214 million from the deal, and left afterwards. With Lachlan Murdoch rumoured to be the fall guy for the Dominion/Fox News lawsuit, and Elisabeth spotted with Elon Musk in the family box at the Super Bowl in February, it could be the long game is paying off. Not that she’s playing the long game. She told the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2012: “I really harbour absolutely no ambition for that top job.”
Claire McColgan knows how to stop traffic. For Liverpool’s Capital of Culture programme, the city’s Director of Culture brought Nantes’ mechanical giant puppets up the Mersey: cue a million head-craning spectators lining the streets. For her next trick, McColgan’s reimagining the Eurovision Song Contest. If anyone can, McColgan – awarded a CBE earlier this month – can. The city beat off 19 other UK cities to host the glittery jamboree on behalf of last year’s winners Ukraine this May. Despite getting the green light just five months ago (most host cities have a full year) McColgan’s all-female team have commissioned a two-week festival of street art, opera, raves, queer cabaret and never-seen-before Ukrainian culture. “We keep our promises in Liverpool,” McColgan said. She unveiled the festival’s programme at the Ukrainian embassy in London last month. “The most important thing,” Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko said, “is that you must have fun.”
It tickled us
I will always lobby you
In 1973 Dolly Parton recorded ‘I Will Always Love You’ as a farewell to her business partner Porter Wagoner. Fifty years later, the song has received some attention in an unexpected place: the House of Commons. This week DUP MP Jim Shannon submitted an early day motion to celebrate the anniversary, as well as “the sentiment behind the song and what it means to so many”. The motion has been signed by 28 MPs so far from all major parties, and asks that parliament “wishes Dolly continued success as she entertains and encourages so many through her music and inspirational character highlights the contribution this song and her music in general [has made] to the industry.” Hear, hear.
Thank you and farewell
Curl up and tie
“The end of days is upon us,” neckwear-wise. So says City worker William Wright in a very sad tweet featuring the “entire tie department” at Selfridges in London. Once a necessity of the working world, neck ties have been relegated mostly to funerals, weddings and the schoolyard after the gradual move towards “comfort” and “business casual” was accelerated by the pandemic – ties were even absent at last year’s gathering of G7 leaders. It has been a long time coming: Kantar data showed tie sales were down by 6 per cent year-on-year in 2019, the same year that Goldman Sachs adopted a “firmwide flexible dress code”. Stephen Fry did publish Fry’s Ties in 2021, charting the life and times of his tie collection, but that might be best filed under History. See also: sky-high heels and underwired bras.
Definitely not a bored game
by Stephen Armstrong
There is only one fantasy story – a wicked magician with an army of horrors plans to take over the world unless a small brave band can stop them with a special ring/wand/misc. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (in cinemas from 31 March) is just such a fantasy story, mashing together a hijinks heist with a faithful adaptation of a dice-based role-playing game invented in 1974.
The plot is straightforward. Chris Pine and his sarcastic band have to prevent an evil magician from creating a zombie army and taking over the world (see?). What lifts this from Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings is the screwball dialogue created by Spider-Man: Homecoming writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and the deft comedic skills of Pine and Hugh Grant 2.0 – the Character Actor. “The difference between D&D and Tolkien is the jokes and banter between players,” Daley, a D&D player himself, explains. “We wanted to capture that.”
So what? It’s all about Intellectual Property. Online gaming likes to monetise enthusiasm but, with an emptier than expected Metaverse, board games and role-playing games are booming, with the tabletop games market worth over $24 billion in 2022 and growing at 12 per cent a year.
Once you’ve bought two rule books and a set of dice, you can play D&D for the rest of your life without paying its owner – the toy giant Hasbro – another penny. The company tried to change the licence rules in January triggering a player rebellion, a stock price fall and humiliating climbdown. Having watched Game of Thrones – which was written and directed by D&D players – clean up in cash and kudos, Hasbro is entering the franchise world to exploit their own damn IP. Note the colon in the film’s title.
Whatever happened to D&D? The original game was spawned by wargamer Gary Gygax. Players took on the roles of warriors, priests, magicians or thieves and rolled dice to run battles or solve problems. It was very white, very male, very niche and very nerdy and it struggled along until it was sold, ultimately, to Hasbro in 1999. By 2021, D&D accounted for 72 per cent of Hasbro’s profits.
But… how? New rules in 2000, a new version in 2014 but most of all Stranger Things and Covid, with online play booming. The fan base has diversified across race, sex, gender and sexuality, with 40 per cent of players female and over 40 per cent under 25. Post-BLM the idea of “races” like orcs being automatic baddies was phased out.
D&D therapy. The blend of role playing, conversation and well-defined rules systems make RPGs popular with child psychologists, who are using them to help kids on the autism spectrum play with others.
Hollywood and Silicon Valley loves D&D. Stars like Matt Damon, Stephen Colbert, Aubrey Plaza, Mike Meyers, Deborah Ann Woll, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jon Favreau and Vin Diesel have regular games while Elon Musk, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Reddit’s Steve Huffman are keen players. UK authors (David Mitchell and China Miéville), actors (Sam West), comedians (Ed Byrne), economist Tim Harford and even Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, play – or used to. Interestingly, levelling up is a D&D term for giving your character more power. Political players might also note TPK is D&D slang for “total party kill” (see playlist below).
(Reviews in brief)
Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond (Allen Lane, out now)
Matthew Desmond’s new magnum opus (it really is) sets out to answer America’s biggest question: how “the richest country on earth” still has “more poverty than any other advanced democracy”. Readers of his last book, the Pulitzer-winning Evicted, won’t be surprised at the startling brilliance of this one. Desmond is a Princeton professor who has lived among America’s poorest. This is personal – not only for the writer, but the reader too. Because this book isn’t really about the poor. Or the super rich. It’s about us. Those of us who: “know if our vegetables are local and organic, but… don’t ask what the farmworkers made picking them.” With forensic precision it dissects how we profit from poverty, and how misguidedly we judge those who don’t. Compulsory reading.
900 Degrees (What’s the Story Sounds, out now)
On Saturday 11 May 1985, I watched the fire that consumed the stand at Valley Parade, in which 54 Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln supporters died, live on television. The master copy of that 45 seconds of footage is kept in a safe at Yorkshire TV studios; it’s only ever shown in firefighter training. Mobeen Azhar’s thoughtful and involving investigative podcast 900 Degrees does include Tony Delahunty’s panicked radio commentary: “Take the time, don’t rush, don’t push, watch for the kiddies.” The terror is visceral. Azhar raises legitimate questions about the speed and brevity of the official inquiry and reiterates suspicions about the involvement of Stafford Heginbotham, then chairman of the club, in the fire. But it’s the social history, gentle Yorkshire stoicism and unbearable heartbreak in the personal testimonies that make this podcast so moving. Liz Moseley
Marjorie Prime (Menier Chocolate Factory until 6 May)
Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated Marjorie Prime premiered almost a decade ago, but its return alongside the everyday reality of AI feels much more immediate in the time of ChatGPT. Anne Reid’s Marjorie is the ageing matriarch grappling with a failing memory and frail body, assisted by a “Prime” – an AI companion modelled on a younger, dashing version of her husband (Richard Fleeshman). Over the course of a single act, other members of the family turn to Primes for help and support, and the audience is confronted with big questions about identity, ageing and our relationship with technology. Ultimately, this is a meditation on our connection with AI, pondering whether digital phantoms are a salve for the soul or a mirror reflecting our own humanity. A haunting rumination on memory, love, and artificial companionship.
Kite (Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire, 9-11 June)
More names have been added to the line up for Tortoise’s big weekend at Kite festival including former British prime minister Sir John Major. In conversation with Tortoise’s editor in chief James Harding, and accompanied by a selection of meaningful music that has soundtracked his long and distinguished career, Sir John will share reflections on his political life, and his views on the key issues of 21st-century politics. Other names just added include economist Martin Wolf and bestselling author Stella Rimington, who join a bill of speakers starring Dame Joan Collins and David Baddiel. Headline music is from Suede, The Pretenders, Candi Staton and Hot Chip. Tickets are selling like proverbial hot cakes here.
This week: The Partygate top ten
Just who’s funding Boris Johnson? Tortoise’s political editor Cat Neilan investigates the former prime minister’s finances in Tortoise’s new podcast.
At a Tortoise pace
Not by yourself but with yourself
Last month, Sebastian Hervas-Jones, 24, jacked in his job as a Tortoise reporter, binned his smart phone and set off on a renovated barge to spend 365 days discovering Britain. This is his fourth postcard “home”.
A tap on the window startled me – who was knocking on my window at 9pm, in a forest, in the middle of nowhere? I turned the music and lights off in my boat, and silently tip-toed over to peer out. There sat a large, unflinching swan, impatiently demanding its evening meal. We locked eyes – the bird knew full well I was unable to refuse it; as a new boater I was keen to avoid angering the spirits of the canal… so I chucked some bread out and thought little of it. Then, like clockwork, every morning and evening for the next few days, the swan tapped my window and was rewarded. He must have passed word to fellow members of the animal kingdom as, each day, more and more expectant floating feathery fellas joined in the tapping and feasting. My only solution? To move to a new mooring… then, tap tap tap…
You can read more of Seb’s letters “home” here.
for your diary
25 / 03 – Pearly Cow, the first of three planned restaurants from the people behind boutique hotel chain GuestHouse, opens in York. Margate and Brighton coming soon.
30/03 – Tortoise Lates: Modern Love, featuring guests including Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, takes place in the Tortoise newsroom, central London.
15/04 – TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] opens at Leicester Square Theatre.
19/04 – No I.D. begins its run at the Royal Court Theatre (runs until 6 May).
28/04 – Breakin’ Convention 2023, the hip hop dance festival opens at Sadlers Wells, London with dates across the UK to 14 June.
19/05 – Glyndebourne Festival begins in Lewes, East Sussex.
30/06 – Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons opens at Manchester’s new cultural hub Factory International
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Editor: Jane Bruton
Contributors: James Wilson, Phoebe Davis, Hattie Garlick, David Lloyd