The Gloss Menagerie. September 2011.

Dear Rowley,

Only back in London for a smattering of days and the jungle drums are beating like a Bantu woman on a bongo that we are all swiftly careering towards the mother of all recessions. The Euro Zone economies are going down like a sailor and it seems there is little you or I can do about it. So I thought a taste of contemporary art would leaven the mood this week.

Shizaru is a relatively new contemporary art gallery on Mount Street directed by Simon Sakhai who is, admittedly, as appealing a draw as the exhibits. The new show was entitled Plumage & Paradise showcasing taxidermy art pieces by Kelly McCallum. Taxidermy has enjoyed something of a revival of late thanks to Dover Street Market and the Zetter Townhouse who display a boxing kangaroo in their private dining room. Getting stuffed is not particularly a revolutionary concept in contemporary art.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the wit and wisdom of McCallum’s work and particularly enjoyed a pair of polar bear paws with gilded claws sticking out of a mountain of rubble in one of Shizaru’s basement vaults. In the current climate, art that raises a smile rather than an existential conundrum hits the spot. Art, of course, takes second place to street theatre come London Fashion Week. I knew something was amiss when, en route to Waterloo, I observed Minnie Mouse, Morticia and Barbara Hutton walking the streets in broad daylight.

As I write, London is once again besieged by the international fashion pack who if nothing else make Londoners smirk with what can only be described as a ‘who can wear the most risible get-up’ competition. I swear, Lady Gaga could walk London’s streets undisturbed during fashion week because she would quite frankly be a model of understated elegance in comparison to the load of old bloggers who descend like a Cher tribute band biannually.

The present fashion cycle of fancy dress masquerading as style is, I think, nearing its end. The evidence? Select New York fashion journalists criticising the Duchess of Cambridge as distinctly average and not worthy of the title style leader. I’ve been asked to appear on ITV next Tuesday to defend the Duchess’s honour.

The Duchess is leading fashion but not in the direction fashion designers and editors may wish her to. She is the leading light of a neo-conservative movement: the poster girl for the backlash against dressing like D-list Hollywood trash and favouring instead all that is pure, demure and correct. Fashion journalism has become so enslaved to the big brands that their opinions have become twisted and self-serving.

Catherine only wears British brands, she has a distinctive style that doesn’t change every season and – quel horreur – she wears the same dress twice. Of course the fashion industry wants to perpetuate the fast fashion spin cycle as modelled by actresses and musicians rather than support ladylike, timeless dressing appropriate for age and occasion. The Duchess has to be practical, frugal and formal in addition to being fashionable. She would be set-up by the tabloids as a Marie Antoinette were she to sport new season international designers rather than her staple few good pieces bolstered by high street finds.

Here ends the lesson. I was hoping to catch Jasper’s show at 1pm this weekend before taking flight to darkest Surrey for my better half’s mother’s 80th birthday lunch. What I really should be doing is chaining myself to my MacBook Air and cracking on with the dummy of my new Thames & Hudson book provisionally titled Gentlemen’s Requisites: The Pursuit of Luxury in London 1800 to Today. Do you think it sounds like a winner?

Instead of Handmade in England we now have a romp from the Regency to 2012 chronicling the well-dressed Mayfair male’s desire for quality, craft and excellence as provided by the greatest heritage houses; many of who still trade today. We will take detours to the gentlemen’s clubs, historic restaurants, louche casinos, book dealers, art galleries, vintners and supper clubs in addition to the usual hatters, boot makers, shirt makers, jewellers and perfumers.

The title will probably be tweaked but at least we’ll have a dummy to send to Frankfurt and a clear run towards the December deadline to deliver words, pictures and layouts. Fortunately, I’ve got my genius art director Pete Dawson and my saucy editor Juicy Jennie Condell on the team. So though I swore I’d not do another book at full gallop like Fashion at Royal Ascot – kamikaze publishing if ever I saw it – I’m secretly thrilled to be back in the saddle.

Friday saw a day trip to Windsor Castle with Keith, the head of ceremonial tailoring at Henry Poole & Co. I do love my excursions with Keith. We always seem blessed with sunny days and cute tour guides. As we walked up the hill towards the castle, the streets were lined with banners for the Windsor Literary Festival. I’m speaking there on the 30th and it was rather nerve-making that it is evidently such a high profile event.

I will have to get my script written and memorised because it simply won’t do to wing it and risk an dry-up. As I’ve said before, I find public speaking rather a fright but not half so much as the ascent to the top of the tower in Windsor Castle with Keith. Vertigo wasn’t even in it. It¬†took all my strength to strike a pose under the flagpole looking not dissimilar to Kate Winslett moments before¬†Titanic went down. Until next time…