CAVES COLLECT CONVERSATION PART TWO – WITH LONDON BASED AUTHOR NAVAZ BATLIWALLA

We are so excited to share this conversation with Navaz Batliwalla, author of ‘The New Garconne – How To Be A Modern Gentlewoman. A book in which Batliwalla interviews 14 women from around the world with a shared approach to dressing and curating their wardrobes. 

CC. One day in the very early days of Caves Collect I (Jo) stumbled across your book The New Garconne whilst browsing in a bookstore. As I leafed through the pages I was amazed at how in sync your thoughts were with the conversations Sarah and I were having at the time.

We had been trying to define what we wanted Caves Collect to be and we kept coming back to this idea of a curated minimalist wardrobe of reliable and timeless classics. We loved the idea of developing an offering of simple, high quality, well tailored clothing that make women feel good and won’t go out of style. You use the term ‘New Garconne’ or ‘Gentlewoman Style’, what would you say are 5 traits of a modern gentlewoman?

NB. A modern gentlewoman is cultured, curious, imperfect, unselfconscious and sometimes contradictory! And in fashion terms, considered, craft-conscious, quality-obsessed, a bit frugal, and inspired by unexpected details.

CC. We once heard that when a french woman wants to buy a new handbag, she’ll ask herself if she’ll still like it in 10 years time. What are 3 questions that a modern gentlewoman might ask herself when purchasing a new handbag or piece of clothing?

NB. Will it work as hard as I do? Do I have something that does this job already? (And if I do, does this do it better)? Do I want to wear it immediately? I think the last one is the real test, especially if you’re trying out something new. If you don’t wear it ASAP, you probably won’t get round to it.

CC. We are pretty obsessed with creating the perfect versions of classic items such as the perfect button down shirt or the perfect tailored trouser. In your book you look at this idea of, “Exactly what is it that makes something an enduring classic?”. What are your thoughts on this. Can you tell us 3 points that define an enduring classic, whether it be a piece of clothing, a pair of shoes or a bag?

NB. For me, ultimately it has to be used. Like, there is no point buying a classic pair of 100cm heels if you can’t balance in them. Or you’re the kind of person who walks everywhere at speed. So depending on the individual, an enduring classic is something you will get a lot of wear from, that will transcend seasons and even decades, that’s adaptable to different trends. Then silhouette. For an expensive blazer or coat, err on the most simple silhouette because even features like a shoulder line, exaggerated sleeve shape, or a fitted waist can date. That’s not to say you can’t experiment. Even classics evolve! But for those big-ticket items I’d keep the silhouette simple and experiment with surface details or fabrics. Or do so with more affordable pieces until you’re sure that cut is right for you.

Finally, the design of a piece, by which I don’t mean surface decoration but the nuts and bolts construction. In The New Garconne I talk about the masculine-feminine dualities of clothes derived from military menswear and utilitarian uniforms. Trench coats, blazers, top coats; they’re designed for specific purposes and the fit-for-purposeness is what makes them enduring. Obviously you dress those pieces up according to your style but for me, functionality is the key.

” The second decade of this millenium has witnessed a turning point for women. Male and female roles are converging at work and in the home, the digital revolution has irrevocable accelerated our daily lives. These factors, teamed with globalisation and, arguably, a greater appreciation of spiritual matters, have led to a tipping point. Enough multi-tasking! We’d like a slower pace, a moment to think, a less consumerist lifestyle and a more mindful existence.”


– Batliwalla, ‘The New Garconne – How To Be A Modern Gentlewoman’

CC. In your book you talk about how the 14 women you interviewed balance a harmonious blend between masculine and feminine in their wardrobes. Can you tell us about how this balance plays a role in the new gentlewoman style? 

NB. It feels a bit weird assigning gender to clothing now we’re in a more gender-fluid society, but it’s really about the traditional ‘masculine’ pieces. Gentlewoman style is saying just because you’re wearing what we consider classic menswear, you don’t have to dress like a guy. Softness and tactility come into play a lot and an overall informality. So your starched white shirt can be work untucked with delicate jewellery. You can wear brogues with a ballgown, or oversized workwear pants with heels. Avedon used to say, ‘what’s the surprise’ when he was working with a stylist, so I always like the idea of the surprising contrast element.

The way we live now is edging towards a more sustainable pace in which we aim to buy less, but better.” 


– Batliwalla, ‘The New Garconne – How To Be A Modern Gentlewoman’

 

CC. Enduring wardrobe pieces which are ethically and sustainably manufactured are certainly more expensive than high street equivalents, which makes the task of investing in a wardrobe of timeless classics a rather costly endeavor. This is something that we’ve often thought about and we feel this is where vintage and the second hand market comes in. Having a portion of vintage in a wardrobe balances out the cost of new investment pieces and we love that it also gives a new lease of life to things that already exist. In your book you talk about how the modern gentlewoman embraces a harmonious mix of old and new, can you tell us a bit about that?

NB. Yes, in my opinion there’s nothing nicer to wear than a well-loved piece that has enjoyed a previous life. Especially utilitarian pieces like denim and baggy chinos, where someone else has kindly worn them in for you. French workmen’s jackets are another one, and cowboy boots are another. I love the contrast of something expensive and new with something old and inexpensive, yet indestructible! And you feel like you’ve won the lottery when you find those pieces – whether it’s in a flea market or a hand-me-down family heirloom. On which note, I always love those pieces that have a real story; I have my dad’s rings that I wear on a chain and in the book, the artist Polly Morgan talks about wearing her late dad’s inexpensive watch. It’s like a hidden luxury, those personal pieces that mean something to you and it shows when you wear it.

CC. From our personal experience and talking to our friends and customers, we’ve realised that knowing what suits you is a big part of developing this ‘dream wardrobe’ of classics, but it’s not always easy to know what suits you or to even know what your style is. Do you have any tips for women who might struggle with figuring out their personal style and what suits their particular body shape?

NB. Yes, Pinterest is your friend here! Create boards for different items – coats, work wear, sportswear, whatever, and pin images of people with your body shape. It’s a really good way of training your eye as you start to recognise patterns and can then adapt the information to suit you. It’s also a great way to find style influencers to follow. If you go on their Instagram page using your web browser that you can then pin directly from Instagram. I’m always pinning Ana Gimeno Brugada and Linda V. Wright.

” How do we define a gentlewoman today? The word itself is an interesting one, so quaint in one way, yet so thoroughly contemporary in another.”


– Batliwalla, ‘The New Garconne – How To Be A Modern Gentlewoman’

CC. In your book you say, “In the end it’s all about the commitment to being comfortable in our skin, and subsequently, the clothes we’re in.” We love this sentiment and we feel the same way, can you tell us a little more about your thoughts on this? 

NB. I guess it’s that idea of not trying too hard. So figuring out what your ‘thing’ is, understanding your style and your lifestyle and working with that rather than being seduced by every new trend that comes along. If you look at the ‘style icons’ I feature in the book’s intro – people like Jane Birkin, Katharine Hepburn, Bianca Jagger – and the advocates that I interview, their style is very consistent over their lifetimes. Of course it keeps evolving but but there’s a signature that they are comfortable with. And that confidence in your own skin is so appealing as you can then just get dressed and get on with the important stuff.

CC. Can you tell us what 10 items you consider to be the most important foundation pieces in the dream wardrobe of a modern gentlewoman?

NB. Ok you said ‘dream wardrobe’, so…  Jane Birkin’s raincoat, Fran Lebowitz’s boxy overcoat, Bruce Springsteen’s boyfriend jeans, Katherine Hepburn’s brogues, a signature watch or bangle inherited from your grandmother, James Dean’s cosy sweater; Patti Smith’s silk shirt, Lauren Hutton’s blazer, your little brother’s T-shirt, a thrifted hand-tooled leather tote bag that gets better with age

CC. What are you 5 favourite things in your own wardrobe and the story behind them?

NB. Levi’s Made & Crafted 501 jeans – These are high-waisted, very dark denim and a perfect fit for me. I have 3 or 4 pairs I wear on rotation. The story is that I’m always looking for a no-brainer jean that can become my uniform and I found it in these

Ralph Lauren shirt – This oversized men’s blue Oxford button down was bought secondhand from Topman for about £20. It may even be fake!

Oxblood Church’s Derbys – My staple winter shoe, these are an unusual cherry red that makes them a bit more special than black. I actually have a few versions of this ‘Shannon’ style. They save me making decisions in the morning.

My dad’s rings – When my dad died nearly 20 years ago, we were going through his things and found a cigarette box containing four fabulously blingy gold rings inside. He had left them to me and my mum told me that he’d designed them himself. I always get lots of compliments whenever I wear them.

Vintage Hermes shooting bag – A surprise birthday present one year from my boyfriend. He has a great eye and bought it from a vintage dealer who later became a friend. It seems to be a custom design that someone had made. I can’t imagine why they would sell it but obviously I’m glad they did!

CC. Lastly, can you tell us where we can find your book?

NB. The easiest place to buy my book is from the publisher’s website HERE https://www.laurenceking.com/product/the-new-garconne/, although it’s available in all the usual places. I think it actually came out in Australia first and was very popular with Australians, so a big thank you to you all!