With the prospect of a very late summer holiday disappearing into the distance like Roadrunner fleeing the Wily Coyote, I thought it best to take stock of how to endure another winter in London with sanity vaguely intact. Resolution number one is to keep moving rather than bunkering down in Bloomsbury Towers and yielding to the dark nights. A moving target is always harder to hit, don’t you find?
Resolution number two is to get off the 2-5 diet: whereby one pours five fingers of gin to two parts tonic. As I write, chicken soup is simmering on the Aga like Lauren Bacall in To Have And Not To Have and a new book proposal is positively boiling over waiting to be sent to agent and publisher. Can’t say too much at this stage having been stung in the past re-enacting the old Aesop’s fable about the rooster and the fox.
Well, what’s new on the Rialto? You recall my telling you the Bowes Museum in County Durham approached Henry Poole & Co to mount an exhibition about the Founding Father of Savile Row. Apart from an early exploratory visit to the Bowes, I had very little to do with the exhibition; the lion’s share of the graft being shared between curator Joanna Hashagen (a name worthy of Hardy’s pen if ever there was one) and Poole’s Head of Ceremonial Tailoring Keith Levett.
The Bowes is a building imbued with great romance: a French chateau constructed on the fringes of Barnard Castle in the achingly beautiful North Pennines. It is a monument to a great Victorian love affair between John Bowes (illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore) and his Parisian actress/mistress Josephine Coffin-Chevallier who he married in 1852.
The Bowes was constructed to display over 15,000 objects collected by the exotic couple including magnificent Sèvres dinner services, artworks, objects such as the life-size silver automated swan first shown at the Paris International Exhibition in 1867 and pieces from the Empress Eugenie’s wardrobe abandoned when the lady fled the Tuilleries palace after the fall of Emperor Napoleon III in 1870.
Napoleon III gave Henry Poole & Co the firm’s first Royal Warrant in 1858 and the Bowes’ copy of the Winterhalter coronation portrait of the Emperor stands guard in the Costume Gallery over the Poole’s exhibition. I was invited to the opening earlier this month to give a brief speech about Poole’s famous customers. A veil will be drawn over the train journey from London. Suffice to say the glamour of rail travel is now all but extinguished. Suffice to say a stag party en route to Newcastle-upon-Tyne provided the entertainment. I believe they started the drinking games at noon.
But I digress. Poole at the Bowes Museum is a triumph. There was a lovely balance between contemporary tailoring framed by cascades of corresponding cloth and showcases displaying the crown jewels from the Poole’s archive floating on custom-made perspex bodies. A line of the firm’s Royal Warrants stood sentry beneath a rather charming film shot in the Poole’s workshops interviewing young apprentices and showing the engine room of bespoke tailoring.
I thought the most successful showcases brought together pieces from the Bowes’s collection of men’s tailoring with corresponding objects from the Poole’s archive such as the house portrait of Napoleon III casting a beady eye over the Empress Eugenie’s corseted printed silk bodices and satin slippers embellished with floral motifs. Though not Poole’s related, I couldn’t take my eyes off a 30s ivory bias cut evening dress with ingenious twists of roped silk that screams of Schiaparelli.
I miss writing about womenswear and haven’t really had the chance since Fashion at Royal Ascot for Thames & Hudson. Perhaps it is time to cross the floor once more. Not that I’d want to be covering the runway shows again any time soon. To see the demented Twittering from the front rows in New York, London, Paris and Milan I’m frankly amazed any of the fashion editors have time to appreciate the clothing: so desperate are they to snap and Tweet. This rapid response unit is killing fashion.
I think the fundamental difference between fashion shows a decade ago and now is volume. Whereas then there were twenty essential presentations per fashion capital, now the schedules seem overcrowded. There isn’t a ‘message’ per se because of the sheer volume of schmutter being thrown down the runway as cannon fodder for the snappers. Then photographers shot pictures and editors wrote reports. Now everyone has a camera welded to their paws and are feeding the mass media monster. The editors have abdicated their power to the bloggers and everyone can express an opinion regardless of whether they have dedicated their lives to reporting fashion or haven’t yet reached puberty.
I suspect that the fashion industry has walked into a bear trap by opening the floodgates to mass communication. It is becoming harder and harder to remember an outstanding collection from one season to the next. Marc Jacobs has the talent to make magic as he did with the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2013 checkerboard collection. Raf Simons’s Autumn/Winter 2012 Dior Couture collection was a fashion moment that endures despite the avalanche of catwalk shots spewed out over the Internet since. The museum curators of the future will have a hell of a job separating the what from the chaff.