No Dough, No Show! April 2012.

Dear Rowley,

Only in England could Thames Water issue a drought warning during our April rainy season. I just stepped out to the post office and Bloomsbury Square was like a monsoon in Rangoon. I have to venture forth tonight to Hatchards’ annual Authors of the Year drinks reception. It’s a terrific event with no literary agents or publishers allowed on pain of excommunication so I’m taking my friend Timothy Morgan-Owen and his pug Gwendolyn to the party. There’s nothing quite like a friend with four paws to winnow out the wheat from the chaff.

The Hatchards party is terrific fun. Last year there was everyone from Hugo Vickers – author of the definitive Cecil Beaton book – and Philippa  Gregory to Dr Starkey, Antonia Fraser and Nicholas Parsons. Lord only knows who will brave the elements this evening but I am sure it will be a marvellous party. Last night La Farmer hosted a very glamorous event to launch a book and photographic exhibition entitled Dreams of Diamonds. Went Theo Fennell, Peter York, Carol Woolton, Vicki Sarge, Shaun Leane, Maurice Mullen (on whose dimples I rather dote), Harry Fane, Trevor Pickett and Tamara Moussaieff.

As you know, I worked briefly on the Dreams of Diamonds project in its early stages but had to exit for entirely personal reasons. Put me in mind of La Farmer’s friend Janet who in a former life was road manager to John Waters’ muse the drag diva Divine. Do you remember Divine darling? My favourite of his films was Lust in the Dust: a pastiche spaghetti western starring Lainie Kazan and Tab Hunter with Divine playing saloon ‘chantoos’ Rosy Velez in which Miss Kazan sings that immortal number ‘let me take you south of my border (that’s north of my garter)’.

But I digress. When Janet was touring the nigh clubs of sinful cities like Paris, Berlin and Huddersfield, Divine would ask her to pick-up his fee in cash before the show with the words ‘no dough, no show!’ I am thinking about having this motto embroidered on a  sampler and have in recent weeks been putting Divine’s life lesson into practise. I’ve always been terribly grateful to anyone who wants me to write, curate, design or present for them and as a consequence have all the negotiating skills of a new-born kitten. Not any more buster. No dough, no show.

Though I’m longing to tell you about a cabaret project I am working on for Brasserie Zedel, my lips are zipped for now until I get the green light to dust off the bowler hat and darn the fishnets. Suffice to say it isn’t I who will be performing. But the project has allowed me to revisit some wonderful performers who I grew up absolutely adoring such as Mari Wilson and Issy van Randwyck who used to tear it up at Madame JoJo’s at the midnight show. She later starred with Fascinating Aida, performed at the National Theatre in the definitive production of A Little Night Music and released one of my favourite albums of all time.

While we’re ambling down memory lane, I have to tell you how much I’m thrilling to re-read Michael Gross’s fabulous book Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. It is quite simply one of the sharpest, wittiest looking glasses held up to the fashion and beauty industry. It is a history of modelling and every last supermodel from Dorian Leigh to Linda Evangelista (possibly the two greatest models of all time) agreed to give interviews. Dorian Leigh was Avedon’s muse, Revlon’s Fire & Ice girl and the true inspiration for Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany heroine Holly Golightly.

Dorian was also one of the last grand horizontals. Her friend Carmen dell Orefice said of her, ‘if she wasn’t drinking, she’d probably be with a man’. Her epic battles with Eileen Ford ‘after she’d had a few sips’ are a joy to read. They don’t make ‘em like that any more. When I wrote the Models Close-Up book for David Bailey, I got to script an interview with Dorian but never met the great lady. She died relatively recently and, I’ll bet, she died with her heels on. When Dorian started modelling in the 1940s, the business was still a cottage industry. Nice girls didn’t go into modelling leaving the field clear for Dorian, her sister Suzy Parker, Carmen and Dovima to make fashion history with Avedon, Beaton, Steichen and Penn.

I’m having so much fun at the moment it is positively indecent. I bumped into super duper fashion journalist Francesca Fearon at the Dreams of Diamonds party who made much of not seeing me since the animals went in two-by-two to the Ark. Where had I been? It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when you step out of a relatively closed world such as fashion journalism it is assumed one has somehow been cast down from Paradise. Quite the reverse as it happens.

The Suzy Menkes, Hilary Alexander, Francesca Fearon and Avril Groom generation are the last of the great fashion journalists. Like I, they came up BB (before blog) in an era when reports from Milan or Paris were telephoned in to copy takers and mobile phones were science fiction. Technology has not been our friend. Information is spewed out like an anorexic’s dinner in vast quantities on t’Internet and quality writing is a casualty of this brave new world. I also blame the advertising dollar that makes even broadsheet newspapers dance to their tune. I find it sad that the global fashion brands use financial leverage to force good coverage out of what should be impartial expert witnesses. Nostalgia ‘aint what it used to be.