It’s that time of year again when you can be 99% sure that all the most obnoxious, offensive and smug people residing in London have buggered off to the Davos Summit. Davos always makes me hoot with laughter at the random names that you find living it up with half the BBC and most of the House of Commons on what is essentially a post-Christmas jolly: Lily Allen, Keith Vaz and ex-Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is a particular favourite. You want to slap the self-congratulatory lot around the chops as they network wearing what can only be described as Apres-Ski clothing.
Meanwhile over in Paris you get a much more pukka crowd for the bi-annual Paris couture shows. Did you see that hideous picture of Donatella Versace, Anna Wintour and Lady Gaga relaxing in a hotel room after the show? A more gruesome trio I have yet to see. All three of them would frighten small children and panic the cat. You used to always rely on the couture to show exquisite frocks that were ordered by an elite band of elegant social x-rays, royals, aristocrats and dictators’ wives. Now it is little more than a celebrity circus.
Looking at shots on the wires from the couture I was disappointed by the ugly madness at the newly revived house of Schiaparelli, the Emperor’s new clothes at Chanel and the odd proportions almost everywhere (Valentino, Dior, Givenchy, Vionnet). It was with some relief to see Armani Privé on such sterling form: deceptively simple, muted, lovely, lovely clothes for ladies. I am also in awe of the Lebanese miracle of a couturier that is Elie Saab. He makes gowns for modern Princesses, Sheikahs and women of influence. The show was a masterclass in skilled, assured couture dressmaking and I use those words advisedly.
One has to ask what fashion shows are really for these days over and above kerching sales of slap and smells. My much beloved Saint Martins tutor Bobby Hillson – she who invited McQueen to join her MA fashion design class when he came to her as a potential tutor – agrees with me that the rules of proportion that make a garment flattering on the female body are wilfully broken in the name of ‘edge’. I wonder if anybody has anything new to say in the language of clothes.
It struck me over the past decade that designers are merely recycling fashion history: clashing eras and silhouettes like dodgy mechanics soldering a cut and shut motor. Lagerfeld is most culpable of this at Chanel. Was it piquant or amusing to send out every model at the couture wearing trainers and skater girl knee pads? I think not. However, having seen that marvellous documentary about a single couture collection a couple of years back I wonder whether the tricks are for the catwalk and once the clients order they will be erased. I admire Chanel immensely for supporting artisans: the feather makers, braid weavers, embroiderers and lacemakers.
If I happened to be at the head of a couture house bearing an illustrious name I would remind myself every morning that I am standing on the shoulder of giants. Would Elsa have approved of what was shown this season as the house of Schiaparelli? I think she would castigate the inability of the designer to marry wit and style. Hubert de Givenchy is such an elegant gentleman that I would imagine his dignified silence hides anger that his name has been passed around like a prostitute in Macau. As for Pierre Balmain and his formidable directrice Ginette Spanier, I can only imagine they would haunt the atelier that sent out such odd garments under their names.
Of course in the world of t’Internet, everyone is a critic and I do appreciate that unless you can examine the couture inside and out at very close quarters you really shouldn’t be too swift to judge. In a way the houses would perhaps produce more consistent, client-friendly couture collections if the designers were removed and the work was left to the atelier. I always enjoy watching the couture shows considering Paris couture is the twin sister of Savile Row bespoke tailoring for gentlemen. Given sufficient funds, it is really the only way for an informed, intelligent older woman to engage with clothing and personal style.
So what else is new darling? I’ve just barrelled on home to Bloomsbury Towers at 5pm after a rather epic lunch at J. Sheekey’s Oyster Bar. Came Mrs T and Su Thomas. The business in hand was the new London Cut exhibition at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington. We are set for 2015 and are looking rather healthy as far as sponsors are concerned. It is truly gratifying to dish about Savile Row’s bespoke tailors with Su. I agreed with every last word she said and know her motivation is a genuine love and admiration for the trade. Neither of these are in short supply on the Row but they do sometimes become submerged in ego and hubris.
I’ve always bagged an old line and said ‘ask not what Savile Row can do for you but what you can do for Savile Row. I like to think I’ve done my bit even though I don’t consider myself ‘the guardian of Savile Row’ as The Rake was kind enough to christen me five years ago. These days I am more of an observer. I am still involved and will be more so when plans for curating the Washington London Cut start to come together. But back in the day when I first fell in love with bespoke tailoring there weren’t the volume of hangers-on and wannabes who now want a piece of the action.
The lines are now being drawn between genuine bespoke tailors and those who use Savile Row as a means to self-aggrandisement and lolly. I know who’s side I am on.