Is There Such A Thing As A Perfect Bathrobe?
Smiling out from the cover of his 2014 album Girl and surrounded by a bevy of models, all of them clad in white towelling robes, Pharrell Williams has the contented demeanour of a man who could quite easily, should the fancy take him, cancel all appointments and spend the day wearing nothing but his bathrobe. Enviable, one might think. But, for me, the notion is problematic. The perfect bathrobe (or, indeed, dressing gown) evades me, and has done my entire life. I envy those such as Vogue’s fashion features editor, Ellie Pithers, whose red Arsenal dressing gown has been a loyal friend since the age of 16. For me, a bathrobe is always too… something. Too hot, too cold, too bulky, too scratchy, too long, too short, too fleecy, too fancy. And for a beauty editor, for whom the art of bathing is a matter of professional pride, it’s a problem. It really is.
Around 15 years ago, I went to the Kenzo spa in Paris. It is one of those high-concept, futuristic places of which the French are inordinately fond. Called La Bulle (the bubble), its treatments take place in round pods within which you can have intriguing and slightly otherworldly body therapies, using rice scrubs and milk baths. Back then, the robes that they gave you were equally high concept. On the outside they looked like beige linen kimonos, but the inside was lined with the sort of plush faux fur of which teddy bears are made, and seemed to hug you with similar devotion. So reluctant was I to take mine off, I think I may even have bought the one I was wearing. Back in London, however, it soon transpired that it weighed as much as a small child. Another dis-robe.
I was shocked to discover, in the course of researching this piece, how many people don their bathrobe while still soaking wet, skipping the towel-drying stage completely. This has never been my MO.
Because as well as cocooning, a robe needs to be practical. Sumptuous yet serviceable, pampering yet practical. For me, there’s a difference between a bathrobe and a dressing gown. The former, unsurprisingly, is the one you put on after the bath (or, yes, shower). It needs to be thick, warm and somewhat absorbent. How absorbent, though, is open
to debate: I was shocked to discover, in the course of researching this piece, how many people don their bathrobe while still soaking wet, skipping the towel-drying stage completely. This has never been my MO.
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For me, a bathrobe is post-towel but pre-hair drying. Once hair is dry, I think we enter “dressing gown” territory. These are thinner, and to my mind should have more personality. Colour, print, an interesting back story pertaining to its procurement on some amazing trip – that’s what I want from a dressing gown. The bathrobe du jour is the one found at Oxfordshire’s Soho Farmhouse. It is made for them by the fabled linen company Frette, and is a soft sea-green colour in a sort of spun fleece that feels like velvet. Its trick is that it is both exceptionally light yet incredibly warm. Practically everyone I know who’s been there has bought one (including me). It was designed with the spas in mind, so doesn’t have pockets (people often remove jewellery before treatments, put it in their dressing-gown pocket and then forget to take it out again) and the belt is sewn on so that it > doesn’t get lost in the washing machine (a detail of which I approve), but I mark it down for its hood, something I always find bulky and unnecessary. And if I’m honest, I like my bathrobes white, which adds to the “home spa” vibe – although there are exceptions, such as the classic Missoni printed towelling robes. But don’t even mention waffle, which is an aberration introduced from America and still sends my estimation of very good New York hotels plummeting when I find one in the bathroom.
For five happy winters I had a long grey cashmere wrap from M&S, which became a sort of dressing gown with benefits. It saw me through two maternity leaves, during both of which it was removed so infrequently that I’d probably have to calculate its cost per wear using Monopoly money. It was cosseting enough to make night feeds almost bearable, yet chic enough to answer the door in. But even that wasn’t perfect. It had bell-shaped sleeves, which you couldn’t roll up and which got wet every time you washed your face, and the belt wasn’t stitched on so it was forever going missing. It was also, if I’m honest, a bit… grey. Because there’s something about this garment that, if it’s doing its job right, should herald the advent of a great day or evening ahead. It should radiate positivity. In outfit terms, it’s the one before the one. It should not, therefore, limp apologetically towards the main event like a sort of bad support act. I like the idea of a cashmere robe because I’m always cold. Brora’s silvery cashmere robe is a joy, as is the one by Harrods, which comes in a variety of lengths. Now M&S’s offerings come under its Rosie Huntington-Whiteley collection, but weirdly hers comes with a satin belt, as if it can’t make up its mind whether it’s trying to be girl-next-door or glamourpuss.
Perhaps, like Rosie, you can be both. Because a good dressing gown should definitely allow you to assume a different role. My fantasy dressing-gown life is the one offered up by the Toast catalogue, in which a girl in an interesting robe will have found herself in a disused Welsh barn at daybreak on a Sunday morning, possibly throwing some clay pots. They could conceivably be described as “boyfriend” dressing gowns. Merci also sits under this category, with a beautiful washed-linen robe that comes in everything from the softest eau de nil to the brightest acid yellow. Recently I bought Toast’s delft flannel gown, made from warm brushed cotton, long enough to graze the ankles and floral on one side, stripy on the other. Still, no one gets the sleeves right, and even if you turn the cuffs back, they are still too draughty.
Others prefer those ankle-length silk dressing gowns that call to mind Greta Garbo. Gillian Anderson gave good dressing gown in the recent series of The Fall, the silk robe having replaced the silk shirt as her sartorial expression of latent sexuality. The queen of these is French designer Carine Gilson, whose exquisite silk gowns have such a couture sensibility that she shows them on the runway. Olivia von Halle is a nightwear designer attempting to bridge the gap between retro glamour and modern practicality. She calls herself a “dressing-gown obsessive”, and has forged a new niche for silk robes inspired by “those worn by debonair gentlemen in the Roaring Twenties”. But best of all, her conviction is that dressing gowns should never be confined to the bedroom. “Ours look just as good the morning after, heading out to brunch over jeans and a white tank for a restorative bloody Mary,” she says. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years. After all, when in robe…
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