There truly is no place like home and London has been my home for part or all of the year since I was 16 doing work experience for Country Living’s fashion editor Robert Burgess. Funnily enough I had an email from the then art director James Dunlinson who went on to great things art directing Martha Stewart Living and is now based in New York and San Francisco. Apparently he’d seen me on a royal documentary and decided to look me up again. I hope we’ll meet after all these years when I go to New York in July.
I shared James’s apartment in Clerkenwell one summer in my late teens: the era of Michael and Gerlinda’s legendary Kinky Gerlinky parties. That was a very fun, very decadent period to be on London’s nightscape. So what’s new on the Rialto? Today was my first official day back at work after the recent ‘troubles’ and the vacation to Sunny Spain. I couldn’t have liked it more. The morning started after my swim penning a Henry Poole & Co Hall of Fame entry from the founder of Savile Row’s historic ledgers.
My subject today was Henry Petty Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne. Lord Lansdowne was one the pillars of the British Empire serving as Governor General of Canada and Viceroy of India. He was the definitive aristocratic sportsman, scholar and statesman whose properties included the magnificent Bowood estate in Wiltshire – still owned by his descendants – and the Adam-designed Lansdowne House in Berkeley Square where Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister the 5th Earl of Rosebery and Gordon Selfridge lived. Now much diminished and minus its formal gardens, Lansdowne House is now the Lansdowne private members’ club and home to Britain’s Olympic fencing team.
After Lord Lansdowne – whose daughter Evelyn married the 9th Duke of Devonshire and saved Chatsworth House for the Cavendish family and the nation – I turned to a new and detailed proposal for the London Cut exhibition pencilled in for the British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington in 2015. You’ll recall I curated the original London Cut at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence in 2007 and it subsequently travelled to the Ambassadors’ Residences in Paris and Tokyo.
The last London Cut was 2008. Who would have thought that seven years later I would be asked to curate a whole new show for the American audience? America’s relationship with Savile Row began in 1854 when Junius Morgan – father of J. P. Morgan – first visited Henry Poole & Co. Four successive generations of Morgans have since patronised the house. We have Hollywood gold in the Anderson & Sheppard ledgers – with customers including Valentino, Astaire and Cooper to name a very few sartorial pioneers in LA. Huntsman also has a full house of Hollywood greats including Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Tyrone Power and Stewart Grainger on the books.
Add all those Vanderbilts, Lorillards, Whitneys, Hearsts and Gettys on Poole’s books and we have great inspiration for the Washington show…not to mention three Presidents Truman, Bush Sr and Reagan as well as Ambassador Joe Kennedy JFK’s father. I’m pleased with the proposal though it is for Savile Row Bespoke’s Su Thomas’s eyes only for the present. After the Row, it was time to turn to the flat plan for my next Thames & Hudson book and a celebratory dash of Twitter.
I tell you Rowley, I’ve taken to Twitter like a neglected Victorian housewife takes to Laudanum. Everyone is on the social media sight from Chatsworth House, Historic Royal Palaces, The British Museum and English Heritage to fashion designers, auction houses and a gaggle of invaluable historians. A major part of my Twitter activities are my walks around London with an iPhone snapping architectural and horticultural gems that I had yet to discover. This life of a London flaneur has rather a cult following now and is invaluable for my research about my favourite subject: London.
Apropos the London Flaneur Tweets, it defies financial logic to give these walking tours so much time. But this has always been the way. I have always worked more for love than money…sometimes to my cost. Of course this has got better year by year – it being my firm belief that the better you get at what you do the higher the fee that reflects your worth – but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that occasionally I am chasing BACS payments and slightly concerned about rent payments on Bloomsbury Towers.
That said, I would no sooner leave Bloomsbury Square than I would admit defeat and retire to the Cotswolds to run a tea shop. Needless to say, this will not happen any time soon. London is becoming excruciatingly expensive to buy and rent. I believe the average house price is north of £400,000. The super rich are pricing the colourful people who make London what it is out of town. I’m fortunate to be a tenant of the Bedford Estates who do support writers in Bloomsbury. With this in mind, my Bank Holiday weekend will be spent in the company of my MacBook Air and I’ve got to tell you there’s no one else I would rather be with. My first love will always be work. Until next time…