Pomp & Circumstance December 2010

Dear Rowley,

Aren’t pine needles a bugger to hoover-up? Come the 27th of December, I’m already over Christmas and ready to get cracking. Is there anything more mournful than Christmas decs after the event? They always call to mind Donatella Versace at the end of an after party at the Via Gesu. I always quite liked Donatella Versace. She had attitude not dissimilar to Ivana Trump who is quite simply a miracle of modern science. She bagged the best line in the film The First Wives’ Club: ‘Remember ladies, don’t get mad, get EVERYTHING’.

You’ll be pleased to hear I’m on the mend. It only took twelve months. It is so nice to put a suit on again and drift around London reacquainting myself with the ladies at Capri, the waiters at Sheekey’s, the lovely Indian family in the corner shop who keep a box of St Moritz under the counter for me and the charming if scruffy boys at Oddbins who, when I say I am having guests ask ‘Who? Guns ‘n Roses?’

Better half is back from Surrey today so hopefully we’ll have dinner after I’ve done a day’s work on Fashion at Royal Ascot. I must say I always get that tingle of anticipation when I have to dive into the first chapter – in this case From Queen Anne to Queen Victoria: The Birth, Fall & Rise of Royal Ascot. The late Stuart and early Georgian monarchs – and the fashions of their day – are not a strong point so it is very interesting to learn an awful lot in my research.

The most interesting point raised in the mid-1700s was the propensity for European royal ladies to adopt masculine riding attire and, in the case of Marie Antoinette, to ride astride. No wonder she left herself open to whispers that she was slightly Sapphic with ladies in waiting like the Princess de Lamballe and Madame de Polignac: rumours that rumbled until the Revolution when the pretty Princess de Lamballe was torn limb-from-limb by the mob and her head waved on a spike underneath Marie Antoinette’s prison window in the Temple.

I am also enjoying learning more about the history of the turf. How fascinating to read that King George IV was embroiled in a race-fixing scandal at Newmarket when even the newspapers and politicians openly questioned whether the King’s jockey had fixed a race. If the monarchy today think they are under scrutiny then they should take a look at the newspaper reports and caricatures by Gilray and Cruikshank of the Prince Regent.

I had a duvet evening last night with a prologue to Miss Marple being an hour on YouTube looking at old Bette Midler television appearances and concerts. It was heaven to hear my favourite Bette Midler-Sophie Tucker joke told almost 20-years ago with as much relish and freshness as she tells it today. Anyone of a squeamish disposition skip the next paragraph.

‘I will never forget it you know’, says Soph, ‘I was having tea with my girlfriend Clementine the other day when the doorbell rang. It was a delivery boy with two dozen roses. I opened the card and it read Love from your boyfriend Ernie. You know what this means I said to Clementine. For the next two weeks I’m going to be flat on my back with my legs wide open. What’s the matter with you said Clementine. ‘Aint you got a vase?’

Just been listening to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 and there was a debate about whether men and women needed guidelines about how to dress for work. Of course this was on the back of a directive sent out by the Parisians. Who else? It prescribed skirt suits, neat hair and lipstick for women. As the Guardian fashion journalist Hadley Freeman – an eminently sensible woman – said, are we in the 21st century or on the set of Mad Men? I’m all for progress but have to say I wish more men and women would dress as if they WERE on the set of Mad Men. Fashion didn’t get much better than the 1950s and that, my darling, is why I don’t really write about contemporary fashion any more.

Actually, I think there was a lot to be said for the 1970s too if you consider the greats of American fashion such as Halston, Zoran, Arnold Scaasi, DVF, Bob Mackie, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Geoffrey Beene. Equally, I was enamoured of the trinity: Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. Nor can we discount Vivienne Westwood’s work in the 1980s along with Gianni Versace. Same could be said of Galliano and McQueen in the 1990s. There is still very good fashion being sent down the runways only it is now considered classic rather than high fashion.

Better half was asking me over Christmas about my recollections of fashion designers I had interviewed. I had to say that, by and large, I tried not to think about those years even though it was a privilege to have known, interviewed and worked with Yohji Yamamoto, Paolo Roversi, Suzy Menkes, Gianfranco Ferre, Christopher Bailey and Matthew Williamson.

Anyway, I rather like the title of Take That’s comeback documentary: ‘Look back, don’t stare’. Very healthy advice as it happens. Lest I forget, the picture of the US version of Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke is on a table in Bergdorf Goodman New York no less. High praise that it is next to a book by Pierre Yves Rochon who did the interiors of the Savoy. Until next time…