Well, as the saying goes ‘nostalgia ‘aint what it used to be’. I had a conversation last night with Better Half who is rather a wise owl when all said and done. ‘Why’, I asked him ‘does it get harder to do what you’re doing when you’ve been doing it for years?’ ‘Well’, says he, ‘the thrill of the new isn’t there any more. You see the bear traps before they’ve even been laid. The conclusion won’t surprise or thrill any more and you know full well the limitations of the rewards’. ‘Oh’, he added, ‘and if the sequel isn’t the equal then you feel like you’re going backwards rather than making progress’.
I put the phone down and thought ‘you’ve got three options: a date with Dame Chablis, the Dignitas Clinic or retreat to bed to ponder the indigenous profundities of life. Well darling, I plumped for the latter. When I signed-up to curate The London Cut exhibition at Palazzo Pitti in Florence in 2006 I could have had no inkling of the three act opera it would take to present the work of over twenty historic Savile Row tailors in a mannequin show in a palace in under 12-months. Thankfully, the BBC filmed much of the process so I don’t have to rely on the mad flashbacks still in my memory. It was in retrospect a magical time even though the inauguration by Prince Michael of Kent was something of a blur as was the black and white ball at Palazzo Corsini for 800 guests.
We then took The London Cut on the road to the British Ambassador’s Residences in Paris and Tokyo. These I remember with much more clarity and fondness because it forged the Savile Row family for me. We were like a travelling band of actors pitching up in a city to put on a show. Perhaps my favourite was Tokyo. This was special not least because of a cast change that included our art director Steve Lidbury, my oldest friend Anthony Keegan who flew in specially to help dress the show, Karl Matthews, James Hamilton and of course And a Rowland and Guy Hills. I likened us to a Carry On film with a core cast and many very entertaining cameos.
I’m feeling particularly nostalgic about The London Cut Tokyo because we were in such an alien, exotic environment and yet presenting a display of Savile Row tailoring in an Ambassadorial house inspired by Lutyens bang opposite the Imperial Palace. We worked like stink as my Grandmother used to say but had endless surreal Tokyo nights that I will never, ever forget. One evening I picked up the American Ambassador’s niece in the bar at the Okura and we went on a tour of the fleshpots of Tokyo that ended in a strip Karaoke bar on the 99th floor of a glass skyscraper at five in the morning. We dined at the aptly named Sparkle – a restaurant with crystal balls spinning in the orbit above our heads – and dined on creatures I’m sure Dr Spock wouldn’t have been familiar with let alone Mr Darwin.
Why this sudden trip down memory lane? Well, I’m struggling darling if truth be told. So far I’ve had two hits with Thames & Hudson: Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke and Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style. Both are books of which I am proud. I worked with two superlative art directors. On the first book we had time to refine and it was a serious business. On the latter it was a lot of laughs despite being at full gallop and a good time was had by all. But Opus No 3 – The Perfect Gentleman - is proving to be a challenge to be the equal sequel. The story is sound even though I’ve not even finished all the text and we’re well into the layouts. The layouts are promising but they are not yet enchanting.
You think back, don’t you Rowley, and wonder if former projects were as much of a physical and mental test. Do you forget the graft when you’re holding the first edition in your hot little paw? I know I had those moments of ‘why put yourself through it?’ with the second two London Cut exhibitions but they are now banked in my memory as some of my happiest times. Perhaps memory is kind. When you’re proud of the conclusion, you simply forget what it took to get there.
Greater minds than mine have pondered such things. All I know this evening is that we might have got to the beginning of the end of The Perfect Gentleman but it still feels like a mountain that has to be climbed and one suspects that on the summit there won’t be so much of a piece of chocolate buried by the last sucker who made it. Perhaps come publication date in Autumn this year the thrill will justify the many nights when I’ve resembled nothing so much as the ship’s mate on the Raft of the Medusas. Until next time…