Interview + Review: Maggie Alderson, Shall We Dance

| 1 March , 2011 | Reply

Naomi Cotterill

Meeting one of your favourite writers – you know the ones, they make you pray for a rainy weekend just so you can spend time curled up on the couch with a book – is exciting. Interviewing one of your idols is likely to induce a state of complete hysteria, matched only by the knowledge that Lancome Juicy Tubes are now sold through Big W online for a bargain basement price.

It was in this heightened state on a late spring morning, I toddled off to meet Maggie Alderson. I was nervous, but she was effortless. I spilt coffee on my vintage Fleur Wood dress, and she advised me on stain removal.

We discussed her new book, Shall we Dance. A very fashionable novel, which follows vintage queen LouLou Landers as she stylishly, careens towards her 49th birthday.

Over sparkling water, we had a chat about loveable LouLou, her IKEA bookcases and all things vintage.

LouLou is quite different to your previous protagonists. Can you tell me about your inspiration for a vintage clothes loving fashion queen main character?
Maggie: There was no one specific. When I was younger I used to love going to jumble sales. I probably bought my first [vintage clothing item] when I was 11. I think that\’s when I got my taste for it. I\’ve always appreciated older clothes and the story behind them. I\’ve always loved vintage, before there was even a name for it.

What do you think about the shift from ‘second hand clothes\’ to the uber trendy ‘vintage fashion\’ we see these days?
Maggie: I like the fact that it\’s become a status symbol. I\’ve got stuff I\’ve had for years and can now proudly display. It is going to run out though.

Do you think vintage is less accessible now?
Maggie: If you\’ve got a good eye and you enjoy the hunt then you can still buy great things. But most 80s stuff is rubbish and won\’t stand the test of time. When I was young, all I wanted were things from the 1930s and now my niece wants to find things from 1960s and 1970s.

I especially love the little details you use when describing the fashion in the book. Is this knowledge something you had stored away or did you consult with other fashionistas?
Maggie: Vintage is a very specific world. I went to one of the vintage fashion fairs in London and spoke to a stallholder there. I definitely did more research for this book than I\’ve done before.


LouLou has a highly distinctive (and much applauded) signature look. Would you say this is something you also have?
Maggie: I\’ve never aspired to that. I admire people who do it. I\’ve never wanted to be that contrived. I like to duck and dive.

Describe your personal style in one word?
Maggie: Eclectic!

Do you still enjoy trawling op shops?
Maggie: I love it. In Britain, we have boot sales and they are fantastic. My house is full so I\’m not allowed to go as much anymore.

Does your love of vintage extend to furnishings?
Maggie: Everything in my house is vintage. The only new things are some Ikea bookshelves. I bought my first vintage tea pot when I was 11 or 12. I grew up in a house full of old things and that\’s my comfort zone.

Do you have one favourite vintage find?
Maggie: I\’ve got a dress coat that I absolutely love. A dressmaker has made it but it\’s just a level under couture and it could have been made to measure for me.

For us girls, who are keen to dip our toes into the world of vintage but don’t know where to start, can you give us your commandments of vintage fashion?

Maggie: Don\’t worry about celebrities or if it\’s in fashion. The great thing about vintage is that it\’s outside fashion. Wear what you like. Never wear vintage from head to toe. Make sure you cut it with something contemporary. You have to take care of it. I don\’t believe in dry cleaning. Just leave it airing out for as long as you can.

Shall We Dance, Available Now: Penguin RRP $32.95


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