The other day, I had the privilege to view pieces tailored by Henry Poole & Co in the Museum of London archive. We saw the black velvet tunic Sir Henry Irving wore to play King Charles I and identified a pair of peacock blue breeches as belonging to the entourage of the Khedive of Egypt. What I didn’t know was how vast the collection of garments with royal provenance that is kept in the Museum of London.
Our guide curator Timothy Long brought-up the anachronistic slash-sleeved tunic King George IV wore to his coronation. the purple and gold coat King Edward VII wore to his and a complete ivory silk costume worn by King Charles X of France; the last of the Bourbon monarchs. Tim also showed us a blue double-breasted Regency tailcoat with the most extravagant round stand collars.
For costume historians, a garment contemporary to George ‘Beau’ Brummell is something of a Holy Grail. Like that other great fashion leader Marie Antoinette, only scraps of the Beau’s wardrobe survive. Unlike the French queen, no full-length oil painting exists of Brummell in his pomp so we have to make do with amateur sketches and word-of-mouth to judge how influential the definitive dandy was on men’s tailoring.
No author can touch Brummell after Ian Kelly’s masterful biography and Nick Foulkes made a marvellous job of bringing fellow dandy the Count D’Orsay back to life. I haven’t read the latest tome on the subject, The Dandy at Dusk, but do know that dandies past rarely if ever come to a good end. Perhaps it is something to do with paying so much attention to appearance to fend off further inquiry. I surmise it is much the same with obsessive gym-goers and drag queens.
I rather bridle at being called a dandy though that’s rather hypocritical considering I agreed to be photographed for Rose and Natty’s first tome I Am Dandy. I’m not, as it happens, though have lived a vaguely Brummelesque life that has taught me all style and no substance does not a happy fellow make. Maybe this is why I redirected my attention towards history and finding precedents for the sometimes bewildering mores of modern fashion.
Forgive the pensive mood. It always comes over me, as t’were, when approaching a birthday. Don’t know about you, Rowley, but I am increasingly less interested in what people do – including myself – and more in what they are for. It’s a big question to ask. I think one has to be more than decorative, don’t you?
A talent to amuse is not only admirable but vital. Being able to please yourself and others is evidently the goal. I’m proud of my books but must admit looking at an author such as Alan Hollinghurst who produces a book every couple of years with green eyes. I also suspect that if I’d put a grain of the effort into relationships that I did with my books I’d be husband of the year.
I suppose what keeps writers going is the pursuit of the book that they’re going to be remembered for. In a way not achieving that yet is a blessing. There are few professions where you wake-up each morning and are faced with a blank page. You have to write the story and you’re damned lucky if someone wants to buy it.
As it happens I think writers always make much better friends than lovers. It’s probably time to accept that fact, buy a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and a loyalty card for Men at Play. I find it inadvisable to try to live up to other people’s expectations and fatal to try and live up to one’s own if they aren’t realistic.
When you don’t like the things that life is showing you, some people lift the elbow. Others take to Class A. Yet more pop happy pills which is much the same thing. Then avoiding the issue becomes the issue. I can recall the Wicked Witch of the West End saying to me many years ago in Florence ‘I don’t know which Devil you’ve done a deal with’ in response to my being fresh-faced after an epic night on the sauce at Pitti Uomo.
Well, taking a leaf from Kate Bush’s book I’m making a deal with the Gods this coming week. If Jewellery for Gentlemen gets the funding to launch in style I’m going to mend a few ways and give it what my dear friend Scott calls ‘a red hot steaming go’.
Vanity alone means that I can no longer carouse all night and wake-up with no visible effects. To paraphrase RuPaul, ‘if you can’t take care of yourself, how the hell you gonna take care of anybody else?’
Doing the birthday MOT, I’ve spent decade in Bloomsbury Towers writing my socks off and I must say life away from Bloomsbury Square would be unthinkable. I have much more to be grateful for than to complain not least friends and family who have been with me through all the highs and lows.
I am still young enough to turn a few heads at the Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club of a Friday night and do believe the project I was born to write is not yet written. Anyway, enough navel gazing. We’re 99% there on the layouts for Jewellery for Gentlemen and it promises to be a cracker. The Wedding Gallery opens its doors to the press on the 30th of October. Tomorrow is another day and a Merry Christmas to all our readers.
As Sondheim’s saying goes of the three ages of man, ‘First you are young, then you are middle-aged, then you’re fabulous’. Until next time…