Sunday, July 1, 2007

Men going coastal: Swim shorts - retro sartorial fun or object of ridicule?

John Hind
The Observer

Within weeks, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of British males will discover the personal and aesthetic pros and cons of purchasing swim shorts, or having a pair bought for them. Many will be wearing trunks, swim tangas or boardshorts printed with such outrageous retro floral and tropical designs as to suggest they have been sealed in a cargo container for 33 years, having been deemed too cheesy for the Seventies.

Only on the sands in August will most men learn whether this has been a hoax - a conspiracy between their girlfriends and the fashion industry to get them parading palely in pink- and turquoise-flowered Haiti briefs or gingham-check fashion water shorts in order to chuckle or even cackle at them - or whether wearing, with a 'hot tropicality' and a confidence just shy of cockiness, some lime-green palm tree-print boardshorts, rainforest surf shorts or hibiscus and psychedelic anchor-design Bermuda wide legs (from Topman, H&M, M&S or some cheaper or groovier emporium) will prove to be entry tickets to raves and babes abroad.

Many dull beaches and suburban balcony barbecues will be made more colourful by men sporting 'Atoll-wear' (beachwear decorated with images of lagoons enclosed by coral reefs). This tsunami of retro and post-postmodern Tahiti-esque designs may even come to be regarded as British males' first great angst-suppressing yet rather cheery dress rehearsal for global warming.

But the fear - and delight - remains that it's merely a ruse at the expense of dudes wearing fast-drying crinkle-cloth bathing garments decorated with seashells, bananas and bamboo huts and looking like they've been retro-designed on to a very old colour Xerox found in a skip on the King's Road.

Hilary Duff - the hardest-working teen star in Hollywood
She looks every inch the contented singer/actress. But, as her raw new album proves, Hilary Duff has a fraught relationship with success - not to mention certain it-girls. Strawberry Saroyan talks to the hardest-working teen star in Hollywood

Hilary Duff lies across a green and white striped chaise in an empire-line bubble dress and sky-high, strappy heels vamping it up: smiling, seductive and sweet looks are offered to the camera. 'That's great,' says the photographer. 'Wonderful. Now turn to the side.'

'I know people think I'm just so mainstream - "She's just a blonde, young girl." But I want to be really artistic.

But the real show is going on around her. A team of seven - make-up artist, hair stylist, various managers - are discussing the 19-year-old starlet as if she wasn't in the room.

'I want to take her to the couture shows. Wouldn't that be awesome?' says her petite fashion stylist. 'Honey, she has a tour to rehearse for,' counters Duff's lanky, hair-falling-in-his-eyes music manager. 'She can rehearse in Paris!' retorts the stylist, and the team laughs.

'Why can't she go to St Barth's the next morning?' someone else shouts. Finally Duff, hitherto doll-like and silent, breaks in. 'I'm not changing my vacation.'

After witnessing this scene, one can understand why she'd need one. But her team has helped turn Duff into one of the most prolific young stars in Hollywood. Since making her breakthrough in the coming-of-age sitcom Lizzie McGuire (2001), Duff has appeared in films including Agent Cody Banks, Cheaper by the Dozen, A Cinderella Story and Material Girls.

She has a fashion line, Stuff by Duff, which will be stocked in more than 7,500 shops this year (teeny, tiny sequin-adorned miniskirts, anyone?), and her own perfume, With Love, created in partnership with Elizabeth Arden; there is even a Hilary and Haylie Duff Shopping Barbie (Haylie is Hilary's older sister and an actress and singer).

Then there's Duff's music career. Her first album was a Christmas compilation called 'Santa Claus Lane', which was released in 2002; since then she has sold 13 million albums. Her fifth - 'Dignity' - went on sale in March. The single Stranger is released next month.

Duff says Stranger is about her parents' separation in 2006 after 22 years of marriage. So why does it sound as if it's about the break-up of her own relationship last November with Joel Madden, the frontman of the punk-pop band Good Charlotte, whom she had dated for two and a half years?

'I didn't want people to know about my parents' problems. We were keeping it very quiet,' she says, explaining that she wrote it as though she were in her mother's shoes.

'But then I was like, "Wait, why am I being so guarded? Why do I care? I'm not perfect. Everybody deals with things and has problems." So I got over it and the rest of my album is really honest.'

It certainly is. The track Gypsy Woman is about her father's infidelity, and Dreamer seems to be about the stalker who threatened to kill her.

Several end-of-relationship songs offer up the sort of dismissiveness only a pop princess could muster ('I don't have time for this/I'm off to play in Houston') and do little to dispel speculation that she's angry with Nicole Richie, who started dating Madden just a month after Duff and he parted.

Is she? Duff says she's never met Richie, gets up to go to the bathroom, then on returning says, 'How would it be for anyone? That's all I can say. No one would be happy about it.'

But it is with the album's title - and title track - that Duff seems to be courting controversy. It's a pointed indictment of the antics of young Hollywood.

'It's not news when you got a new bag/It's not news when somebody slaps you/It's not news when you're looking your best... Where's your dignity?' screams Duff.