Dispatches from Paris from the Perfect Gentleman book signing at Ralph Lauren on the Boulevard Saint Germain. Have you been? Imagine an 18th century hotel particulier with parquet floors worthy of Versailles, paintings worthy of the Musee d’Orsay and staterooms exquisitely dressed with objects d’art, bespoke furniture and every conceivable Ralph collection. The British contingent arrived first and were firmly ensconced in one of the staterooms Champagne in hand feeling not dissimilar to extras in A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.
I adore book signings in Paris. Thanks in no small part to Hugo ‘Parisian Gentleman’ Jacomet, Alexander ‘Sotheby’s Realty’ Kraft and our host Guillaume Desjardins, the event was oversubscribed with an unimpeachably elegant crowd of bespoke big beasts such as Lorenzo Cifonelli and fledgeling dandies who are leading the charge in the revival of peacock male attire. The French audiences are informed, inquisitive and incredibly respectful towards writers.
In the spirit of Queen Elizabeth I, I remained standing for nearly three hours signing books meeting, greeting and signing. At dinner my editor Jennie commented that she’d never been to a more sedate publishing party. She was struck by the lowered voices in the grand salon and the way the Parisians come to a book signing for a book rather than a gallon of Champagne and a tray-full of canapé’s.
The beautiful Suzi Perry – my partner in crime at Royal Ascot for the BBC – came with a glamorous friend who had headlined at the Moulin Rouge. She had a hoot with parents and better half while I was on parade; repeating ‘thank you SO much for coming’ and ‘are you in the business?’ without specifying which particular business I was talking about. Jennie said from a distance it looked like a well-dressed speed dating party.
We decamped to dinner with the London contingent: editors Jennie and Adélia, art director Pete, parents and better half. After a dozen oysters and a glass of Chablis I was out for the count and should have gone to bunk. Instead we hit a salsa club in the 6th hosted by a Hungarian diva who looked like Marilyn Monroe had she lived. Now you know me Rowley. Ordinarily, I’d be shaking my maraccas like one of Tina Turner’s backing singers. But I just wasn’t up for the bump and grind after such a serene evening at Ralph Lauren.
Paris is a something of a double-edged sword of a city for me. I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times there. When you’re in tune with the city there’s nowhere on earth one would rather be. You twitter away in pigeon French to handsome waiters who look like extras in Gigi and sing ‘bonjour Paris’ to elegant bejewelled ladies smoking enigmatically outside cafes. Nights are a whirlwind of intimate dinners in elegant Art Nouveau brasseries on the Left Bank before diving into a succession of louche late night bars.
When not in synch with the city, Paris seems populated by waiters who will dismiss your attempts to speak French with a dismissive ‘bon courage’ and proffer English menus as if they’re handing back a failed exam paper marked D. At the risk of sounding like Bette Davis in All About Eve, being on parade at Ralph left me rather distingué after the main event. There’s something to be said for a quick in out don’t you find?
Still, if I’d made it an overnight stop, we’d have missed the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. As a veteran of the Biennale at the Grand Palais, I’m quite well acquainted with masterpieces from the golden age of jewellery design. But hand on heart I have to say Van Cleef & Arpels was the most dramatically displayed collection of historic jewels I have seen since Geoffrey Munn’s tiara exhibition at the V&A. I’ll tell you all about it in my next letter.
On my return to London I had letters from Alexander Kraft, Hugo and Guillaume who reported that The Perfect Gentleman signing was the most successful book launch hosted by Ralph Lauren on the Boulevard Saint Germain. This is a compliment to Thames & Hudson for producing sumptuously illustrated editions and to Hugo whose bespoke faithful will follow wherever he leads.
Writing books is on occasion a rather solitary profession. You put the work out there and if you’re lucky the reviews come back positively. We’ve had good reviews in the Mail-on-Sunday, The World of Interiors, The Telegraph and The Independent. With the sole exception of the occasional green-eyed blogger, it’s all been good. Reviews do count but signings such as Paris are invaluable for an author’s ego and his equilibrium. You get to hear from the people who count where you’re going right, where wrong and what one should be doing next.
Thrilled to say the punters all think a Thames & Hudson monograph about Henry Poole & Co would be a worthy successor to The Perfect Gentleman. What I appreciate most is that the readers share my fascination with history: the stories of the ladies and gentlemen who patronised the great luxury goods houses and the scandals and successes that surround them. They understand that I’m hoping to write books that will be read decades hence not glorified shopping guides that tell them ‘how to get the look’.
As the guests at Ralph Lauren admirably demonstrated, these chaps are making classic English tailoring their own. They are taking it into the 21st century in their own particular fashion. If my books feed the imagination and inspire a new generation of peacock males then they are a job well done.