I Do. I Do. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Not minutes after the erstwhile Ms Meghan Markle walked alone up the aisle of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, do we have carping about the absolutely gorgeous wedding gown Givenchy’s Claire Waight Keller designed for marrying Harry.

Channel 9 fashion pundit Alison Langdon saw similarities between the Givenchy gown and one designed by Uffe Frack for Princess Mary of Denmark in 2004. There’s only on thing wrong with that sentence: everything. What precisely is Channel 9, who pulled Ms Langdon’s chain, has anyone but his mother heard of Uffe Frack and were over a billion people glued to the wedding of Princess Mary of Denmark in 2004?

True the dresses bore a similarity with the three-quarter sleeves and the bateau neckline. Both ladies wore a tiara and a long veil. But that’s like comparing a donkey cart and a Lamborghini because they both have wheels. Actually, Princess Mary’s ivory duchess satin wedding dress was a beauty. Like the rest of us, I’m only sorry I missed it.

I have only one thing to say to Ms Langdon: orf with her head. The dress Waight Keller made for Ms Markle – now the Duchess of Sussex – was a pure white symphony of double-bonded silk with an underskirt of triple silk organza. The veil was five metres long and embroidered with the symbols of all the fifty-three countries of the Commonwealth which should have pleased HM The Queen immensely.

I was not aware of the existence of Queen Mary’s Bandeau tiara which confirms suspicions that HM’s personal jewel collection appears to be a bottomless well. The piece in question comprises a brooch given to The Queen’s grandmother on her wedding day in 1893 re-set as the focal point in a filigree tiara set in 1932. I have not seen a picture of HM wearing Queen Mary’s Bandeau but it was a smart choice for the Duchess.

Cartier had a good day with the Duchess of Sussex wearing a bracelet and earrings set by the royal family’s favourite Parisian jewel house. Ms Landon also had a pop at the Duchess of Cambridge’s cream Alexander McQueen suit if you please saying she’d seen it twice before and why did she not splash out on a new outfit for her brother-in-law’s wedding.

The answer is, of course, that the Duchess of Cambridge has class. She was drawing attention away from herself and allowing the Duchess of Sussex to shine. That’s the mark of a royal duchess. Speaking of royal duchesses, the Duchess of Cornwall is looking increasingly Romanov with that coat-dress and Philip Treacy cartwheel hat silhouette she has now perfected.

Wasn’t it a touch sad that the Duchess of York arrived at St George’s Chapel alone and sat with a companion at a distance from her husband and daughters. Then again, the Duchess of York looked infinitely younger and more perky than the two poor ugly sisters the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

If there was ever a mission for new Vogue editor Edward Enninful it would be to take Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie in hand and save them from themselves style wise. Beatrice looked like the Singing Nun with a wimple effect flat hat and Eugenie’s pillbox was more Jackie Oh No She Better Don’t (salve RuPaul).

I wish we had seen more of the minor royals for fashion commentary of the day. I always like to see Lady Sarah Chatto dressed in her best 1947 Dior couture silhouette perfected by Jasper Conran with a flying saucer hat. She and the Countess of Wessex always win the style stakes for me.

All-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed the formal day dress on show at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The men in their morning coats looked particularly splendid which begs the question why George Clooney wore a lounge suit while his wife Amal stole the show in Coleman’s Mustard yellow Stella McCartney with a mother-of-the-bride hat. And Victoria Beckham stood out never cracking a smile for the entire service silly old cow.

We’d all love to know who from the 600 has been invited to the 200-capacity reception dinner and ball at Frogmore House hosted by Prince Charles. I presume all the Royal Family bar the Duchess of York poor dear. She’s increasingly like her doppelgänger in The Windsors.

So here’s to the new Duchess of Sussex. I think she executed her duties today beautifully and modestly. Thanks to her for showing us yet another dazzling tiara in HM’s private collection and for choosing such a modest, pure line designed by the first female creative director of Givenchy. Waight Keller has big shoes to fill in John Galliano and Alexander McQueen who preceded her.

I did call it incorrectly when I said Prince Harry would wear morning tails but didn’t he and Prince William look handsome in the frock coat uniforms of the Blues & Royals tailored by Dege & Skinner on Savile Row?

All-in-all, if the marriage is as much of a success as the wedding then Meghan and Harry will do the country proud. God bless them and all who sail with them. Until next time…

 

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Ma’am Darling. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

While researching the Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, for an upcoming documentary that seeks to re-present the princess in a sympathetic light I read Craig Brown’s 2018 tome Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. 

Brown is a renown satirist and columnist whose stock-in-trade is imaginary conversations between the good, the bad and the ugly in the public eye and much of the Margaret book is written as a ‘what if?’ that uses Princess Margaret as sport for the acid drops in his pen.

Brown imagines how it might have been had Margaret Rose been born before Queen Elizabeth II which seems rather a pointless exercise as are much of the fantasy sequences in the book. Suffice to say, most of the glimpses of Princess Margaret are detrimental to her character: portraying a spoilt, entitled woman of whom her father King George VI said, ‘Lilibet is my pride and Margaret my joy’.

As Princess Margaret ages and moves further down the line of succession, Brown’s princess becomes embittered, louche and eclipsed as the Windsor glamour puss by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Having just finished Ma’am Darling, I rather warmed to the lady who was born third in line to the throne and whose mischievous side was positively encouraged by doting parents, grandparents and talkative nanny Marion ‘Crawfie’ Crawford.

We learn Princess Margaret believed in the divine right of kings and queens. She was a religious woman whose veneration for monarchy was often misconstrued as arrogance. Brown is gracious enough to say that Princess Margaret’s friends were fiercely loyal to her. I met one of Princess Margaret’s ladies-in-waiting who said they had been instructed from the late Queen Mother down to never complain or explain no matter how much maligned their princess was by gossip and innuendo.

The facts as they stand are simple to me. Princess Margaret’s romance with her father’s equerry Peter Townsend was the love of a father figure; King George VI having died when the princess was a teenager. Townsend was twice Princess Margaret’s age and a divorcee. Any idea of marriage was crushed by the Palace.

I found it unbearably cruel of the Crown to separate the two for two years and expect their love to endure until Princess Margaret’s 25th birthday when she no longer needed HM The Queen’s permission to marry. For me, the villain of the piece is Anthony Armstrong-Jones who Princess Margaret married on the rebound. Townsend had broken his promise to remain single and married another woman half his age.

As Ma’am Darling tells it, the Snowdon marriage was a disaster. If it had a pulse, Tony slept with it be that a man or a woman. He used to leave notes in books Princess Margaret was reading simply saying ‘I hate you’ or – most damaging – saying she looked like a Jewish manicurist. So we find a princess who smokes and drinks rather too much on account of a bum deal at the altar making the best of things.

There are countless tales of Princess Margaret insisting on protocol while at the same time indulging in the haute Bohemia of Swinging 60s London. Her role cutting ribbons and planting trees evidently bored Princess Margaret whose only pleasure lay in the ballet, cigarettes and Old Famous Grouse.

I recall Princess Margaret morphing from a regal sister to the monarch into a rather blowsy character running around with pretty young boys such as Roddy Llewellyn making Ma’am Darling a prototype cougar. Who could blame her when Tony Snowdon’s party piece was to flick lighted matches at his wife?

A bad romance the ended in divorce was more than Princess Margaret’s character could bear, I suspect, hence the toy boys and the vacations on Mustique. The public – and Private Eye – depicted Princess Margaret as a Tennesee Williams frowsy old trout drinking and smoking to pass the time surrounded by sycophants. This was not true as Princess Margaret’s many friends would have said had they permission to be interviewed by Brown to give a more balanced picture.

At the end of Ma’am Darling I felt desperately sorry for Princess Margaret. Even the fun must have been a whole lot less amusing than it looked. Imagine the bitterness of a woman denied the right to marry the man she loved due to divorce who then lives to see two nephews and a niece divorce.

Interesting, isn’t it, that there’s little mention that Princess Margaret’s children forged happy, stable marriages compared to the omnishambles of HM The Queens offspring. Princess Margaret obviously made a rather marvellous mother. But Brown chooses not to point this out.

My question at the end of the book was what precisely Brown and his ilk would have liked Princess Margaret to do? She was born into the age of deference that passed before her eyes. Princess Margaret did swing with the 60s and who could begrudge her some pleasures on the island of Musitque in an otherwise untenable position trapped in the gilded cage?

Ma’am Darling was beloved by her friends, a very good mother, a doting grandmother and a very loyal sister to HM The Queen. Yes, she stood on ceremony but can you blame her for withdrawing into herself after hideously burning her feet in an incident on Mustique? Princess Margaret’s end was undignified and bitterly sad. Would it not be kind to remember her glamorous years – as depicted in The Crown by Vanessa Kirby – and draw a veil over the sad old lady Princess Margaret became?

 

 

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Markle Debacle. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Families, eh? Don’t say I didn’t warn you about Meghan Markle’s engagement and wedding to Prince Harry. Now it appears that Thomas Marlke, father of the bride, has been colluding with the paparazzi to provide images of his ostensibly lonely life. He was photographed being fitted for a suit and Googling the Royal Family in a bid to prepare for meeting them this month.

But isn’t there something fishy about this eleventh hour crisis which has seen Mr Markle decide not to attend the wedding and even going in for heart surgery three days before he was due to walk his daughter down the aisle? What were palace officials thinking allowing Mr Markle to remain out in the cold until the very last moment? He could have been managed.

Why had Mr Markle not being invited to London weeks ago where a palace flunkey could have escorted him to a decent tailor to have his correct morning tails schmutter cut for the wedding? Even Ms Markle’s mother isn’t due to fly in until today. If she does walk her daughter down the aisle – a precedent set by Queen Victoria and two of her daughters – she’ll be awfully jet lagged.

The main problem we have here, Houston, is the memory of Prince Harry demanding privacy for he and his bride-to-be then organising a wedding as fairytale as any Hollywood studio could muster. The guest list is rich with ‘slebrity’ guest actors and musicians who are friends of the couple at the cost of Ms Markle’s entire extended family and many minor royals.

We have a bitter half-sister who could have been de-fanged by being kept inside the tent and a half-brother who has been writing to Prince Harry warning what a little gold digger Ms Markle is behind the sparkly mask. Then we have Prince Harry not inviting the minor royals with whom he grew-up. Why are they excluded when the capacity for St George’s chapel Windsor is 800 and it is rumoured only 600 people have been invited?

One has to be suspicious of anyone who has alienated their entire family as Ms Markle appears to have done. There is also the jettisoned husband who was dropped like a hot brick while Ms Markle’s star rose in Toronto filming Suits. 

Did anyone actually believe Ms Markle in her engagement interview when she said she didn’t know much about the British Royal Family? Apparently, she was obsessed with the late Diana, Princess of Wales in her youth having been enchanted by the 1981 Royal Wedding. What better connection to the late Princess than marrying her second and admittedly more fun sun?

It is clear that Prince Harry is gaga about Meghan Markle. From what I have seen of them, her star power dominates the relationship. Never let us forget, Ms Markle is an actress and being a Royal Duchess is ostensibly the greatest role she could ever play.

I was particularly beady when it was announced Ms Markle would give up her acting career to marry Harry. Why? Princess Grace of Monaco was formerly the Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly. The marriage with Prince Rainier was arranged to add lustre to the sunny place for shady people. Sadly, Princess Grace missed her career. I would imagine the ribbon-cutting and tree-planting would bore the pants off Ms Markle within a year or so.

It would have been so much more admirable for a modern Royal Duchess to continue her acting career with palace protocol in mind when considering parts. A Royal Duchess could not, after all, appear in a reboot of Pulp Fiction but could she add some sparkle to a Disney movie? I think so.

The wedding itself is all rather Disney. Though Prince Harry is no longer serving the armed forces, the odds are on that he will wear a uniform and that Ms Markle – though a divorcee – will wear white. It’s all terribly soap opera as is the guest list that is rumoured to include the Spice Girls (?!?!?!?!?), David Beckham and Elton John.

One has to question if the Prince and Ms Markle wanted privacy from the press and public so much then why have such an extravagant and divisive nuptials? On top of the ceremony and finger food back at Windsor Castle, there is an evening soiree at Frogmore House hosted by Prince Charles that does not include many members of the congregation.

Imagine being asked to the wedding and not to the after-party. You’d feel royally excluded. It is all beginning to look uncannily like the Channel 4 skit on the Royal Family, The Windsors, with Camilla plotting her path to power, Pippa Middleton chasing Prince Harry down the aisle and froideur between the Duchess of Cambridge and her new sister-in-law.

Where The Windsors is brilliant lies in keeping HM The Queen and Prince Philip off-stage bar foul-mouthed ranting letters from the grumpy Duke of Edinburgh threatening to assassinate Fergie if she comes within a mile radius of royal occasions. The programme is a hoot as was the Royal Wedding special.

I do wish Prince Harry and Ms Markle the very best but do feel the wedding has been much more controversial in the lead-up than it ever needed to be. If this is an example of the Kensington Palace young royals’ press office running the show then ‘must do better’ is the only response. The Royal Soap Opera continues. Until next time…

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Bette Davis Eyes. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

As you know, I am gaga for Marilyn Monroe and a huge Judy Garland fan. For me, Judy had the voice of the 20th century. But it is to another diva I increasingly turn to as I race through my forties: Bette Davis. I am re-watching the fabulous, flirty interview with Dick Cavett where Bette really is in the prime of her life. It is worth a watch if only for Bette’s filthy cackle of a laugh.

Bette was not considered a beauty when she left the stage for Warner Brothers in the 1930s. Jack Warner even wanted to rename her Anita Doors. Bette said no because she’s be known as ‘between the drawers’. So Bette Davis she stayed. Bette’s Now Voyager, Dark Victory, All About Eve and The Little Foxes are in my top ten movies of all time.

Bette was the first choice to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind but was on suspension for taking Jack Warner to court in the cause of better parts. When he offered her  Gone with the Wind, Bette replied ‘I’ll be it’s a dillie!’ and flounced out. It was one of the very few mistakes in an otherwise stellar career. Even a stroke didn’t stop Bette Davis from acting.

One of my favourite Bette Davis stories concerns her mother Ruthie who sounded as wise as RuPaul instilling in Bette the time-honoured opinion ‘if them bitches aint paying your bills, don’t you pay them no mind’ though Ruthie put it more delicately. I’d put Bette above Katharine Hepburn as the greatest of Hollywood actresses though it is like comparing apples and oranges.

On the subject of paying those bills, I have been given a Royal Literary Fund grant which was a huge honour not to mention a very timely cheque. The Fund was founded in 1790 and has helped writers in need of financial assistance to continue their work. I am over the moon because it is judged by authors on literary merit.

Are we all geared up for the Royal Wedding? It is a great shame that Meghan Markle’s father has been caught setting up paparazzi shots of him being fitted for a morning coat and basically living like a beatnik. It is now understood that he might not even give the girl away. That I think would be a great shame.

Then again, Prince Philip gave Princess Margaret away so there is a precedent for a royal to step-in. Why not invite the mother to walk her down the aisle? That would set an interesting precedent wouldn’t it? I like the idea of giving the mother of the bride a higher profile in the ceremony.

I think all sorts of precedents might be set by the Prince Harry, Meghan Mark wedding. Will the bride – a divorcee – walk down the aisle in white? I think she will and I also have the feeling the dress will be pared down and simple. Perhaps there will be diamonds in the hair rather than a full-on tiara.

As for Harry, I presume there are any number of uniforms he could wear to wed Ms Markle but I don’t think the service will be overtly military even though his regiments may be the honour guard. It would be rather nice to see everyone in full Four Weddings and a Funeral morning tails and formal day dress. Harry will look dashing whatever he wears.

I wonder whether The Queen will wear her Dimond Maple leaf brooches in honour of Ms Markle’s second home town Toronto. We shall see what we shall see. I do like the decision to not have a formal wedding breakfast and instead have small bowls served while people stand though I hope a chair is found for Prince Philip who is still recovering from knee surgery.

Well that’s all for now folks. I am off up to Derbyshire for a couple of days to detox and play with dogs. Mariah Carey’s got nothing on me…

 

 

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Category Is. May 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Last night New York hosted fashion’s Oscars: the annual Metropolitan Museum Gala ball chaired by Condé Nast creative director Anna Wintour in aid of the Met’s Costume Institute. Mortals would have to sell a kidney for the ticket price for a ball whose guests Ms Wintour vets like Steve Rubell at the pearly gates of Studio 54.

There is only one problem here. Us Vogue editor Ms Wintor is so of the now, of the new and of the moment that if you didn’t have a degree in media studies and endless hours dedicated to music and movies you’d be hard-pressed to guess who half of the guests were. Ruby Rose? Zendaya? Irina Shayk? Doutzen Kroes anyone? No, me neither. It is terribly hard to invest much interest in the label a lady is wearing if you’ve never heard of her.

This year’s exhibition – Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination - was an open goal for the creme de la creme of pop, politics, fashion and music to make complete arses of themselves in costumes that would make a nun kick a hole in a stained glass window and the ladies – and some gentlemen mentioning no names Jared Leto – did not disappoint.

I think Ms Wintour has got to face it that she’s become a victim of her own success here. The Met Gala Ball has nothing to do with fashion any more. It is similar to a Drag Pageant Ball and, if judged with the same severity,  is infinitely less creative. I doubt the event gets half the audience rating of an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But in the spirit of RuPaul’s runway critiques here goes.

Adamant that nobody would think she didn’t get the dress code memo, Katy Perry went for the full Angel Gabriel with a wingspan reminiscent of Barbarella. But that Versace gold chain mail mini with the over-long sleeves wasn’t nearly cinched at the waist enough to give a killer silhouette. The thigh-length boots were far from celestial: more Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman than Angel of America.

Sarah Jessica Parker proves that you can be too rich and too thin allowing her Dolce & Gabbana Festival of the All Saints dress to swamp her. It simply isn’t good fashion. This is a 1970s London Palladium pantomime costume for a demon queen. The head piece is horribly underwhelming what with the sprig of flowers to one side and the exposed Alice band on the other. If it actually had been the actual size of the shrine at Santiago di Compostela we could have been cooking with gas. I’m going to boot it.

If Sarah Jessica Parker had walked RuPaul’s runway when the category is the Catholic Imagination in that get-up she’d have been eviscerated and I know Michelle Visage would have said, ‘darling, the line looks schlumpy’. And as for Rihanna! She’s basically the anti-christ of Pop. The lady showed-up in a Maison Margiela embroidered cardinal’s outfit complete with mitre and cope probably making Pope Francis think twice about pieces from the Vatican Museum loaned to the exhibition.

Houston, we have a problem here too. The mini-skirted boustier totally loses impact with the ankle-length overskirt and the opera cloak. The Mitre jammed down over the lady’s forehead is an unfortunate shape making Rihanna look like she’s wearing a dunce’s cap on her head. The beading may be elaborate but it doesn’t read for the cameras. I am sorry my dear but you are up for elimination.

You know an event is a busted flush when Kim Kardashian in all-over gold chainmail sequin Versace is the best-dressed woman at the event. Frances McDormant summed-up the bathos. She looked intentionally as messy as a bag of knitting when she won the Best Actress Oscar earlier in the year. For the Met Gala, Ms McDormand pitched-up in a great lady gown by Valentino wearing a ludicrous hat that obscured her make-up free face and vamped for the cameras in a cod-glamorous fashion. The outfit was a send-up which says it all.

As an ego trip for Anna Wintour, the Met Gala Ball was a triumph. She even got the original lapsed Catholic who has been excommunicated at least twice – Madonna – as the after dinner turn. But I found the white Chanel Pope’s outfit worn by the Divine Ms Wintour rather like hubris in Haute Couture. We know she’s the most powerful woman in fashion but to come as the Pope to her own party was labouring the point somewhat, no?

There was an awful lot of supermodel beauties wearing halos on the night congratulating themselves presumably for their God-given genes and the hereditary celebrities were out in force. Stella McCartney is never without a pair at the Met Gala: this year settling for Paris Jackson and Miley Cyrus in a Sapphic Three Graces pose. But it is all a tad self-indulgent and self-congratulatory.

They’ve all won the prize of a golden ticket bestowed by Ms Wintour. They have won the celebrity snakes and ladders board of 2018. Interesting how few are repeat invitees. The golden oldies this year were Brooke Shields and Linda Carter and thank god for their solid gold glamour which put the parvenues to shame. Eleanor Lambert, who founded the event in 1948, would turn in her grave. Mrs Lambert practically invented fashion PR and was the woman behind the Vanity Fair best-dressed list. I lunched with Mrs Lambert before the old king died at Harry’s Bar when researching a project about Halston and she was indeed legendary.

When fashion’s Oscars cease to be about fashion and becomes a drag pageant it is time to reassess. The event produces a flurry of Best and Worst dressed lists for a day and then disappears into the ether. All that effort for relatively little attention might need a rethink. Until next time…

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