Keep Calm & Carry On. September 2011.

Dear Rowley,

So Germany’s voted to bail out the Euro Zone one more time. William Hague is quite right. The Euro is like being trapped inside a burning building with no exits: perhaps an unfortunate analogy on a morning when German ministers besieged Radio 4 this morning declaring in comedy Allo Allo voices ‘ve vill not be defeated’. I wasn’t aware we were at war with Europe, let alone the Germans. The poor Greeks! All they want to do is default, go back to the Drachma, pour another Retsina and vamos a la palya. Me too.

Well, the dummy for the newly titled The Perfect Gentleman book for Thames & Hudson has finally gone to print. I swear this book has had more names than an illegal immigrant. We would not have met the deadline with the quality of pictures necessary without the help of Guy and Poppy’s gorgeous pictures of the Huntsman-acquired Piccadilly Arcade shirt makers Budd and the an answered SOS to Martin Wise in the Turnbull & Asser archive. The new subtitle for the book is In Pursuit of Timeless Elegance & Style in London. I think we should drop the & Style don’t you? Can we have a show of hands?

Just practising for the Windsor Literary Festival talk tomorrow. My delectable agent Geraldine hooked me up with two chaps who specialise in public speaking who were quite frankly invaluable. They both encouraged me to give the talk without notes and rely on chutzpah and my knowledge of fashion at Royal Ascot. It could go one of two ways: a lively, eloquent, interactive love-in or armageddon in which nerves get the better, butterflies turn into bats and I end up alone on stage screaming like Carrie at her Prom. And, in the words of Lady Bracknell, we all know what happened in that unfortunate episode.

While mucking out at Bloomsbury Towers yesterday, I chanced upon a stack of unopened envelopes. Instead of bills, I discovered a review copy of a new movie documentary about the life of Halston: America’s first fashion superstar and an idol of mine since youth. How to describe Halston? He invented minimalism, he was the master of sports couture – easy shapes in luxe fabrics – and he was the darling of international fashion in the 70s. Halston believed ‘you’re only as good as the people you dress’; well, he would wouldn’t he with a client list including Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Bianca Jagger, Carrie Donovan, Betty Ford, Barbra Streisand and Jackie Kennedy.

The doc – titled Ultrasuede after the luxe synthetic cloth invented by Miyake and popularised by H – was quite simply electrifying. Liza said it all when, from her Manhattan apartment, she declared that Halston’s creed was ‘you’ve got to f**** ‘em up’. She urged the interviewer to go beyond the dirt – cocaine, champagne, sex and Studio 54 – and look to the talent. This the documentary did.

It was gorgeous to see America’s first black supermodel Pat Cleveland go back to Halston’s Olympic Tower office and remember how she’d use the Twin Towers as her focus when walking the runway for Halston. She recalled he used to call her the moth because she would always head for the lights wafting her chiffon clad arms like a latter day Isadora Duncan. I love Pat. I met her in Milan a thousand years ago and – like Grace Jones – she is ageless.

Halston’s fall was a modern morality play. As illustrator and member of Halston’s inner circle Joe Eula told me twenty years ago, ‘he sold his soul to the devil, baby’. Well, not quite. He got into bed with dime store company J C Penny then sold his name to faceless corporations who clipped his wings, licensed his name and ultimately changed the locks and left the designer flailing in a morass of drugs and insecurities. Sounds familiar? John Galliano wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to be thrown out of Paradise.

Halston was  I believe an inspiration to Tom Ford who was a babe in cut off denims during the Studio 54 years and was privileged to attend one of Halston’s house parties. The mind boggles and nobody on the documentary would be drawn about quite what happened when First Ladies, Drag Queen, Movie Stars and Fashion Divas met in Halston’s minimalist grey apartment with its forest of orchids and banks of Andy Warhol screen print portraits of he and Liza.

The comment I most enjoyed about Halston came courtesy of the New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn. It was never made clear whether Cathy had met Halston but she did point out that there had to be some artistry if you’re going to be a tortured artist. You have to reach a certain height if your fall is going to be spectacular. This is not, I think, comforting when contemplating tomorrow’s talk at Coworth Park. Well darling, I’d better go and practise my speech. If all else fails I could always stare into the ether and say ‘do we have a Doris in the room?’ Psychic Sally’s got nothing on me. Until next time…