An appointment with the Royalty today as Eliza Doolittle would have it. Came an invitation from Row tailoring house Chester Barrie to tear a pheasant wing at the Banqueting House to attend the UKFT export awards in the presence of HRH Princess Anne. I didn’t take any photographs because it really doesn’t do to pap members of the Royal family even though more than a few hapless lunch guests whipped out their mobile phones as if they were at a Neil Diamond concert.
Claudia Winkleman was doing the honours and terribly well she did too; raising a wry smile from the Princess more than once with her faux naive patter. I rather like Claudia and she clearly has an ocean of goodwill for her contribution to Strictly Come Dancing. But to begin a speech saying one is ‘absolutely rubbish’ as a compere is not I think wholly ingenuous. It would be rather like Raphael Nadal striding out on Centre Court at Wimbledon thighs thundering and biceps pumping only to tell the umpire this isn’t really his bag and he’d rather play underarm.
Princess Anne, however, was magnificent. How many thousands – if not millions – of dinners, speeches and dullards whose flesh she has to press does this woman have to endure with dignity, patience and suppressed sense of the absurd? Protocol has really all but died. Instead of prize winners being presented to HRH, bowing and shaking hands they all to a man bounded up to ‘Claud’ who gave them some love before attention finally turned to Princess Anne. Bravo to the Daily Telegraph‘s Hilary Alexander: the only presenter to begin her address with ‘Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen’.
It is all too easy to parody people’s behaviour around the Royals. I was particularly amused by the Little Britain boys’ Come Fly With Me skit of First Class stewardess Penny being vetted by ‘Princess Anne the Princess Royal’s’ rather grandiose lady-in-waiting. Yes, it is easy to mock but I think terribly important to support the working Royals by behaving rather better than the usual. The female presenters of awards today were from the upper echelons of HSBC and various other corporate monoliths who, to a woman, dressed as if they were attending an office party at All-Bar-One: all lipstick on teeth and shiny cocktail dresses.
Awards such as today’s reminded one that we have regressed. Here we all were beneath Rubens’ magnificent painted ceiling of Banqueting House: the mis-en-scene for Charles the First’s execution. Did we add another chapter to that illustrious building’s history? Computer says no. I accepted the rather belated invitation on the promise that Edward Sexton was at our table. Edward’s, you’ll recall, were the genius hands that brought the late, great Tommy Nutter’s Savile Row revolution to life in 1969. Edward is dapper down to his buffed fingernails and makes the rest of the men in a room look like the third world.
Edward is always an up. Savile Row is circling him because he is one of the last true creative talents in bespoke tailoring who wrote the DNA to the 1970s peacock revolution in men’s style. He’s given Chester Barrie’s ready-to-wear block finesse and there are several houses romancing Edward at present to spread a little creative happiness on creatively parched ground. I name no names for now Rowley. Lunching with Edward took me back to Florence in January 2007 when Prince Michael of Kent inaugurated the London Cut exhibition that I was fortunate enough to curate.
Florence was I think a creative high for me. Almost makes one think I have a glittering future behind me. I’m sending you a snap I took from the smoking gallery of Palazzo Pitti overlooking the Boboli Gardens hours before the opening of the first retrospective of two centuries of Savile Row bespoke tailoring. The show subsequently travelled to the British Ambassadors’ Residences in Paris and Tokyo: both magnificent shows. But Florence was incredibly special to me.
One of the high points was a weekend in the country on the Italian coast overlooking Elba at Sibilla della Gherardesca’s estate at Castagneto. I was wrung out like a dish rag at the time and Sibilla scooped me up and spirited me away to the castle. Imagine the moment being shown to the Yellow Bedroom and feeling like Sally Bowles in Cabaret when she and Brian spend a weekend with Max at his family Schloss. That weekend was quite simply unforgettable: not least for meeting a mad Ruspoli Principessa at dinner and dreaming I was in a Visconti movie.
I think I boarded the good ship nostalgia because Pitti Uomo – the Florentine menswear foundation who commissioned the London Cut – was foremost in my mind over a recent dinner at Wiltons with my Parisian friends Hugo ‘Parisian Gentleman’ Jacomet and Italian-in-Paris bespoke maestro Lorenzo Cifonelli. Hugo was in town to meet the Savile Row family. Lorenzo was in town for fittings. Over a saddle of venison and a jolly good Malbec, we began pondering a showcase for the greatest bespoke houses in Europe: a London Cut for the best of the best European tailors. As Edward said over lunch, it is time Savile Row toured again. Couldn’t have put it better myself.