A Bevy of Savoy Beauties August 2010

Dear Rowley,

You know those days when you’re longing to get home and devour the new issue of Love magazine and your last meeting drags like a patent leather pump treading on a court dress train? I always find it helps to say as one turns the key in the door – and preferably in a world-weary Brummie accent –  ’Get the chops on!’ Well, last night was one of those ‘Get the chops on!’ days.

Have you seen the Autumn/Winter Love? You know I love to love and everyone is talking about the Stella Tennant shoot by Bruce Weber featuring her grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. It is vintage Weber; all black and white shot in the picture perfect village of Edensor on the Chatsworth estate. Her Grace told a very funny story in one of her memoirs about a previous fashion shoot at Chatsworth with Stella in towering heels and the Dowager perched meekly on a wall next to her Amazonian granddaughter. She likened the picture to the story of the giraffe and the monkey with she as the monkey.

Love wipes the floor with British Vogue at present. It is inclusive, irreverent, eccentric and cool without trying too hard. But there’s nothing that ages one as much as flicking through the new season’s fashion advertising campaigns. There is one for Tom Ford’s eyewear that is a case for Dr Freud. Picture this. Imagine Eva Herzigova attending a costume party dressed as Olive from On The Busses. Now imagine her dress slips to reveal a boob. At this boob is a live raven having a nibble at a nipple. I swear, Rowley, I had to reach for the Sal Volatile.

I have not been more traumatized since having to sit through the 60s Noel Coward noir thriller Bunny Lake is Missing. Rent the DVD  if you don’t want to sleep for a week and do want to see a child actress who looks uncannily like my niece Sophia. Another advertisement in Love features Madonna and a strapping young Latino probably called Juan Night in a farmyard setting wrestling with two absolutely enormous cocks. Poultry? I never repeat gossip! Perhaps my favourite is an ad for Bvlgari featuring a naked Julianne Moore with her modesty covered only by a status handbag, about $3 million worth of jewels and a sulky lion cub that bears an uncanny resemblance to Susan Boyle.

There truly is nothing new in the zoo. In that golden Edwardian era leading up to the end of civilization (1914), a character called Lady Meux was wont to drive her own phaeton around Mayfair pulled by two zebras. There are wonderful tales of the cabaret singer Josephine Baker dragging her pet cheetah on a leash along the streets of Paris and buying them both tickets to the cinema or theatre. Rather reminds me of the Bruce Weber portraits in Love of Elizabeth Taylor on a date with Bonkers the Bear (I kid you not). I thought it was Larry Fortensky.

The Savoy has some super zoological glamour moments in its history. C.B. Cochran leading lady Alice Delysia returned from Egypt with a whicker basket containing two poisonous asps who escaped and slithered down the Savoy corridor. I wonder if they were ever found? In the 30s, just for a stunt, the Savoy tied a leopard called Chiefy to a post in Savoy Court and pretended it belonged to one of the guests. These days I think there are certain people who should be chained-up in Savoy Court rather than allowed entrance. Got to admire the glamour though of big cats stalking the Strand.

What am I trying to say? The references contemporary fashion magazines like Love borrow from are a pale imitations of what really happened back in the days before PC and Health & Safety. You’d be hard pressed to book into a hotel these days with a pack of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels let alone a bloody big python in a picnic basket. I mean, darling, you can’t even smoke these days. What would Tallulah Bankhead have made of that?

Oh Rowley, nostalgia ‘aint what it used to be. I told you in my last letter about my research in the National Portrait Gallery’s Bassano archive. Imagine the great, good and scandalous between 1880 and 1940 captured in amber by the genius of the Bassano studio. I have enclosed three pictures with my letter that demonstrate that glamour reached an apex in the naughty Edwardian era when adultery was a gentlemen’s agreement and underwear was optional.

These girls are immortal thanks to Bassano. Will Love’s cover girls this season stand the test of time? Kelly Brook posing naked again (what else is new?) is a pretty, pretty picture but where’s the back story to give that portrait some knowledge and spice for future generations? The girl is a courtesan; a pretty one I grant you but a courtesan nonetheless and I mean that as a compliment.

I am similarly ambivalent about the model Agyness Deyn. She is a relevant model this season after her suede head new look. But does Agyness have the personality to make future generations want to know more about her? Dorian Leigh she ‘aint.  Giselle is simply gorgeous. But that’s where the story ends. My favourite cover is Lauren Hutton. Hutton has a remarkable history that touches Studio 54, modelling, movies and so much more. The fact that she remains divine in her 50s without the knife or the Botox syringe is all the more reason for us loving Lauren.