Making History. August 2016.

Dear Rowley,

Enjoying the Olympics? What about the diving! The synchronised final had me reaching for the sal volatile, Maud. Point of order though. Can Old Mother Balding not use the word ‘Medal’ as a verb? All this talk about Tom Daley meddling is like an open goal for all the Twitter gays and we never tire. But Tom dear. The melodrama. You run Joan Crawford a close second.

But on to the burning issue of the day apropos research for my Henry Poole biography that took the most incredible turn today. Managing Director Simon Cundey surprised me with a family photograph album that I never knew existed. We have single photographs and cartes de visites of the leading characters: Henry Poole, his cousin Sam and wife Eliza Cundey, their son the original Godfather of Savile Row Howard Cundey and his beautiful wife Mabel.

Despite our having such a rich archive of letters and legal documents, without photographs of your leading ladies and gentlemen in a biography your work is much diminished. I have a theory that we do have a photograph of Henry Poole as a young lad modelling the New Style Court Dress that his father James created for Queen Victoria in 1839. If I can prove it, we have found him hiding under our noses.

I knew Howard Cundey was a handsome man from contemporary descriptions in newspapers and private correspondence. But it is a thrill to find photographs of he and Mabel as well as a treasure trove of photographs of their four children including the present chairman Angus Cundey’s father Sam and uncle Hugh who he most closely resembles.

There are photographs of Mr Cundey from birth in the family album including he as choir boy. But my favourites are the photographs of Angus modelling the quintessential London Cut suit in the shadow of the Queen Elizabeth Tower as it is so named now. I also love the photograph of Mr Cundey noting down measurements presumably in the Cork Street shop before Poole’s came home to Savile Row in the 1980s.

You have no idea what it meant for me to come face-to-face with the formidable Mrs Eliza Cundey today in two photographs taken later in the lady’s life. She makes Queen Victoria look like a pussy cat, no? It was only last month that I opened Mrs Cundey’s tin document chest in the Henry Poole archive and unlocked her personal account book for the first time since her death in 1906. So I am party to Eliza Cundey’s secrets and feel as if I am speaking with her across the century or more since she died.

Mrs Cundey was a very strong woman making her one of the leading characters in my biography of Henry Poole and the thirty years’ war following his death and disastrous will that nearly cost the Cundeys their family business. Henry did not give his cousin Sam and his wife Eliza the sole trusteeship of the firm and that cost the family tens of thousands of pounds as they fought for sole ownership through the Royal Courts of Justice for three decades.

Mrs Cundey was particularly hard on Henry Poole’s niece by marriage Fanny Cutler and her feckless husband Edwin who were constantly flirting with bankruptcy. We have letters in the archive from Edwin accusing Mrs Cundey of selling the debts they owed to her to merciless parties wishing only to bleed the Cutlers dry. Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t but Eliza has her reasons.

Speaking of the Henry Poole biography, we have the most extraordinary walk-on parts in the years from Henry’s reign (1846-76) and Howard’s death in the 1920s. I see on the news that Emperor Akihito of Japan is hinting that he will abdicate. Poole’s dressed the then Crown Prince Akhito for HM Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Poole also dressed Emperor Hirohito in 1921. We have strong ties with Japan then as now.

Simon Cundey and I came up with a nice idea this morning. I had just photographed the statue of Sir Henry Irving – the Laurence Olivier of the late Victorian era – that stands outside the National Portrait Gallery. I had previously found the order bang on the date of the portrait for the frock coat he is wearing. We are the only house on Savile Row who have the ledger proof to nail it. For example, we can look-up the 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s orders and know that the 18oz three piece tweed he was wearing when he and Carter opened Tutankhamun’s tomb was tailored by Henry Poole. How about a Poole London Walk?

Bloody hell! BBC 1 is showing the gymnastics. The support garments for the male gymnasts must be made of industrial strength Lycra.

In other news, I had an email from Condé Nast today, probably a response to my ‘Whither the Business We Call Fashion?’ letter. Felt like Anne Frank behind that wall. I don’t read unsolicited mail so have no idea whether it was threatening legal action or offering me a job on Brides. If I had a dollar for the times I was told ‘you’ll never work in this town again’…

Suffice to say, if ever I hurt a reader’s feelings I am the first to press the delete button and save the original draft for the posthumously published Collected Letters from Bloomsbury Square. But live by the sword die by the sword. Fashion opened the floodgates to bloggers and kicked journalists to the curb. The Pandora’s Box is open. I am no troll, dear, but do tell it like it is when mendacity floats in the air like stale Shalimar.

Couldn’t help but think of my favourite Bette Midler catchphrase though. You know the one. Until next time…