Protect the Work. March 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I am still on tenterhooks waiting for the Profiles in History auction catalogue for what is in all but name the Estate of Liza Minnelli. There’s an exhibition preview in April that I’d sell a kidney to see but cannot under present circumstances. I think I know why Liza is off-loading her personal archive of gowns by her late gay best friend plus memorabilia of her career and that of her mother Judy Garland and her father Vincente Minnelli.

There are watershed periods in every career. In Liza’s as in mine, sometimes they are enforced by breakdowns in health followed by comebacks. I’m on a sabbatical after ‘the troubles’ recently and want to take stock. This is what Liza is doing having sold-up in New York and moved to LA. It is touch or go where her career will go aged seventy and after health issues have beaten seven bells out of her voice.

But one thing is clear. I’ve seen Liza perform countless times. When she came back at the Coliseum in the Kay Thompson show Liza’s at the Palace,. I had given up hope of ever seeing Liza sing and dance at full gallop. But that she did and gave the performance of her life. By selling-off the past, Liza is tacitly reminding the public of what a phenomenal career she has had and where she’s been …the inference being just wait and see what she’s going to do next.

Lest we forget,  Liza had the blessing and the curse of winning a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in her early twenties. The film career could only go one way after that though New York New York directed by Martin Scorsese and co-starring Robert de Niro wasn’t too shabby and Stepping Out was a delight. She won a Tony the same year for the Bob Fosse-directed Liza With A Zee concert and did it again for Liza’s at the Palace almost fifty years later.

I had lunch with the Godfather of Savile Row, Angus Cundey, today and the wise owl Richard Craig the MD of Margaret Howell. I told Richard I was thinking about launching a new website entitled James Sherwood Fashion Archive with all of my journalistic work. Richard nailed it saying, ‘good for the ego and good for fashion students’. He was spot on. I need an ego massage at the moment and a reminder that all the other men’s style writers were still in nappies when I had a weekly column on the Independent on Sunday. I can only say I hope they packed their Canada Goose fleeces for their trip to the moral high ground.

It is rather Norma Desmond to spend an evening with one’s cuttings but they do mean zip unless catalogued and put out there to the public. It is an ego trip but also a tacit reminder of all the solid graft I’ve done flaws and all. I’ve tended to come back stronger despite troubles apart from in recent years when I could not get on for going. Jewellery for Gentlemen has given me a new lease of life but until I come back as a style writer for newspapers, magazines and online I can’t really leverage the archive of work.

My mentor at Central Saint Martins Bobby Hillson gave me some very good advice a few years ago. Do what you like to yourself personally but always, always protect the work. People can say what they like about personal conduct but the work stands as evidence that even flat on one’s ass one is still better half dead than some are firing on all cylinders. The work I hope has always been on a high level whatever personal circumstances.

Another mentor of mine Louisa Saunders from the Independent on Sunday also imparted very good advice when I was going through one. She said that after a decade as a professional writer paying the bills through the pen you can’t really write a bad feature. You can be slightly off par but you won’t let yourself write bad prose. Style builds like the layers of a pearl over the years and it is the one aspect of writing that sets you apart from the competition.

I am very aware of style. It is as important to me that the words fit – they flow – and read beautifully regardless of the sense of the sentence. This is something I have picked up along the way after thirty-five years earning a living with my flying digits. This is not arrogance. It is the same as a master goldsmith accepting that after decades on the bench he knows how many beans make five.

At the moment I know I am serious about my career because I have lost interest in the Sturm und Drang of relationships and sex. Couldn’t be less interested at the moment. I am much more focused on refurbishing Bloomsbury Towers and digitising my archive. Painting a small space is a bugger because there is nowhere to move the junk. I treat Bloomsbury Towers like the Fourth Bridge and just launch into painting bit-by-bit until I get to the other side by which time one needs to start again.

Seeing as you asked, I have painted my writing room Willow Creek green. This is more apple green than Elpheba in Wicked green and is very flattering against ageing skin … a trick I picked up from Faye Dunaway. While painting I have gone back to the box sets of Smash and The Good Wife from Season 1 respectively. I love good telly. It is a super way to keep the brain ticking while relaxing.

On that note Rowley, I’ll leave you with ‘protect the work’ and, yes, protect yourself while you are at it. Until next time.