Gina Davidson: A touch of glamour can beat the blues

SO HERE we stand: on the threshold of the age of austerity, about to step into the foyer of fiscal doom, begging bowls out on the console table in case things get really bad.

We might not actually be in a proper recession any more, but all talk is of how – not when or if – the axe will fall on public services, what wage packets will look like after tax rises and whether the little money we may have left is likely to be squeezed by increased VAT. It's not very Frank Capra is it?

However, while life might not be wonderful at the moment, it is what you make it. Edinburgh-based chartered psychologist Ben Williams certainly believes that one major thing which could help people through the doom and gloom is communication.

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"If you speak to the older generation who talk about how tough their lives were the one thing they always end on is that they had community spirit and that's what got them through. It's always good to talk if you're going through a hard time, so we should open our hearts to our neighbours and get to know each other again.

"Also, people could try and do something they haven't done for ages, such as swimming or a walk around the Pentlands. That can help lift the mood."

Of course there are other forms of escapism to take our minds off our troubles – and they're not all in South Africa, no matter how attractive the football(ers).

This week, glitz and glamour arrived in Edinburgh thanks to the International Film Festival. Red carpets are being rolled out, tuxedos and show-stopping dresses prepared, and while there may not be as many Hollywood A-listers as in previous years, you can't ask for a bigger star name than Sir Sean Connery. It will be up to America Ferrera of Ugly Betty fame and Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan to add some real sparkle to proceedings.

At the same time, over in the west, preparations are under way to celebrate all that's good about fashion, with this weekend's Scottish Fashion Awards, and Edinburgh designers, students and retailers are all being commended for their creativity and productivity. Sunday's guests are set to include style luminaries such as Jonathan Saunders, Amanda Wakeley, and pop stars Diana Vickers and Gabriella Cilmi.

Admittedly, fashion and film might be regarded by many as mere fripperies. Little amusements which don't amount to a hill of beans in a world where there are environmental disasters thanks to our reliance on oil, and financial crises thanks to bankers' reliance on dodgy mortgages.

But to treat them as disposable as Greece's credit rating is to misunderstand their relevance to our lives, both psychologically and emotionally.

Hannah McGill, artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, certainly believes that both offer us something more than surface enjoyment. "For one thing, the festival brings in hundreds of people to Edinburgh all spending money, be it in hotels, restaurants, on taxis or in sandwich bars and that's not including the money that it brings to the cinemas. From our point of view the business benefit from the festival is enormously positive," she says.

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"The impact is not just on the audience which comes, but on the city and by extension the country, so that's something to be very happy about.

"Also our programme is very broad, we're not just about Hollywood blockbusters and comedy romances, but our films also deal with serious issues that are designed to make you think about what's going on in the world."

She adds: "Another huge part of what we do is stimulating the Scottish film industry, it's about skills development and job creation.

"But of course film – and fashion – is all about escapism and it's a fact that film ticket sales do well during a recession as it's still a relatively cheap night out for people. It is about escaping from the worries of your own real life."

You might think that nothing could be further from most people's real lives than the fifth annual Scottish Fashion Awards, but chair and founder Tessa Hartmann believes differently.

"What we do is provide a platform for the creative talent in Scotland and also allow them to network with each other – designers with manufacturers and retailers.

"There's been an explosion in Scottish talent and we like to think we've been a big part of that," she says.

"People always talk about fashion as some kind of throwaway subject but it's the fourth largest employer in the UK. In Scotland there are 20,000 people working in the textile industry so fashion is hugely important in terms of the economy."

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She adds: "And what's the first thing people look at when they test the state of the economy? It's retail – and fashion is a huge part of that.

"Yes the awards are one night, but it's about more than just that red carpet moment. It's about celebrating a fashionable Scotland and saying 'look what we can do'."

As well as, one of the event's major sponsors is the jeweller Swarovski, which has added the SFAs to its Red Carpet Calendar alongside Cannes, the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Hartmann is thrilled by that, but adds that Swarovski is all about "affordable glamour", so that high fashion can be more attainable – even in economically straitened times.

"The perception is high glamour but the reality is that the goalposts have changed for everyone. So fashion escapism can be reality."


Searching for a little escapism? You don't have to look far . . .

• Edinburgh Film Festival: There are too many red carpet premieres and star appearances to mention them all, but highlights include the first chance to see Toy Story 3 outside the US. And do star names get any bigger than Sean Connery who makes a guest appearance on Sunday? Runs until June 27.

• Leith Festival: Art, music, comedy and . . . a crematorium open day. Discover why there is always sunshine on Leith. Events run until Sunday.

• Relive the 1970s: It may not be quite the Return of the Thin White Duke himself, but tribute act Absolute Bowie lets you revel in all the camp nonsense for one more time at The Caves, in Niddry Street, on Friday night.