Bring me my magic brush

A lick of classy nail polish can help gloss over a bad day.

As I write this, I have navy-blue nails. This will interest you either greatly, or not at all. I've long harboured a deep love for navy-blue nail polish, and it is only very recently that my desire has been fulfilled. But more on this in a minute.

Painting one's nails is slightly fetishistic. It requires patience and concentration, it is deeply selfish and therefore comforting, and in a few brushstrokes, it transforms. After I gave birth, it seemed as if every part of my body had changed - even my feet had. But then I looked at my toenails, the only bit of me that hadn't changed, lovingly coated in Chanel's Rouge Noir by a friend, and I knew everything would eventually be OK.

Before Rouge Noir, which launched to frenzied waiting lists in 1994, pale pink nails were the norm. Flamme Rose, still made by Chanel, was and is the definitive colour for a French manicure (pale pink nails, white tips). Rouge Noir was created by Chanel's make-up artist backstage at the ready-to-wear shows, literally by mixing red with black, hence the name. It is a dark, wonderfully glamorous black-red that makes pillar-box red look hopelessly passé, as if it belonged to another time, which indeed it does. Whereas Rouge Noir is all 1930s gentle glamour, bright red was brittle showiness. No one can beat Chanel for getting colours just the right shade. (NB: this season's Rouge Noir is Tulipe Noir. Fabulous.)

The new nail colours for Christmas nearly all involve glitter, which is fabulous but a bugger to get off, and also they are nearly all slightly disappointing (to recreate the concentration of glitter that the bottle promises, you need to apply about 24 coats). If you fancy pink glitter, however, it doesn't get pinkier or more glittery than Dior's Pink Sapphire. (While you're at the counter, pick up Dior's Crème Abricot for cuticles.)

But back to my search for navy. OPI has a large, chunky bottle of something called Russian Navy. It is glorious and - if you care about these things as a barometer of desirability - has sold out twice already in as many weeks. It looks slightly purplish in the bottle, but on the nail it's a wonderful, solid navy. You need only one coat, although to deepen it still further you can apply a coat a day if you're so inclined. And the quality is great because the shine doesn't fade once dried, as so many polishes tend to do. Navy blue is also a fantastically easy colour to wear.

Now, rather gloriously, my spy satellite trained on the Chanel HQ in Paris has fed back some important intelligence that is A1 in its reliability. The next shade to come out of there will be Blue Satin - a navy blue that is so good, it will, I predict, rival Rouge Noir. It launches here in the cold, grey, boring, what's-the-point-of-living month of January.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq uncovered

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.