Forgive the radio silence, I migrated to my parents’ in Derbyshire for the weekend and have since been beavering away over the launch of Jewelry for Gentlemen in September. The highlight of the trip was a walk in the grounds of Chatsworth with Mum having dodged a million Chinese tourists as they ruthlessly took selfies in front of every important work of art or dazzling interior in the house. I always think ‘remember you are mortal’ when tourists in London or Derbyshire pose themselves in front of works of art that will still be there when they are so much dust. And on that cheery note…
I enjoy spending time with my parents – plus two friends with four paws – and find the clean air, quiet and lack of stress rather a relief after a prolonged period in London. London in the summertime is swarming with tourists and, my dear, in the recent heat it is difficult not to barrel through them like a well-flung bowling ball as you try to get through Leicester Square to Piccadilly Circus.
Of course sensible people with deep pockets spend the entirety of August out of town Instagramming themselves in tavernas and on beaches. I actually rather like August because you can get so much work done relatively uninterrupted and only the die hards – who can’t abide ankle-biters in airports – stick it out in London. Speaking of Instagram, I have gone back to the app after a few months off and must admit I’ve missed it. Of course you have the occasional ‘my beautiful life’ account that has you hoping that Fate and Nemesis are waiting in the wings. But, by and large, I find Instagram is a way of letting friends and colleagues know that you’re still trucking and like Dolly ‘glowing, crowing and doing swell’.
I wouldn’t say I am doing swell quite yet but have heard on the jungle drums that Jewelry for Gentlemen has had a good response in the Thames & Hudson press office and that we can expect decent reviews. This is so important to me having spent a year pretty much putting words and pictures together with a team of two: photographer Andy Barnham and art director Pete Dawson at Grade Design. Though one shouldn’t pat oneself on the back, I think between us we’ve made a beautiful and relevant book that explores a subject that hasn’t had such in-depth attention before.
As well as planning the launch party for Jewelry for Gentlemen, Pete and I are starting work on gathering the pictures for the Henry Poole & Co house biography. I’m in the archive tomorrow doing a sweep of vintage photographs, letters and books to be scanned at T&H. We already have a decent amount of in-house photography completed and I have been moving mountains to find images of our great and good customers within the time frame of their being customers of Henry Poole. I think the trick with this book will be to balance the contemporary and the vintage photography. Our readers are going to want to see Poole’s craftsmanship today as well as images of the icons such as Emperor Napoleon III, Winston Churchill, Tsar Alexander II of Russia and Lillie Langtry.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching the ladies in the Henry Poole archive. The lion’s share are royal and aristocratic such as Louise the Double Duchess of Manchester and Devonshire, Queen Alexandra, the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia and Baroness Burdett Coutts. We also have the scandals such as the last Victorian courtesan Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walters who was a customer from her teenage years to her dotage long after she had hung up her suspender belt.
The Henry Poole book is the conclusion of what has been going on for a ten-year project. If I hadn’t catalogued all the ledgers there would have been no way I could navigate the pages so quickly now and work out, for example, how much each famous customer paid and the tenure of their account. My personal favourite chapters of the book tell the story of the Poole and the Cundey families and their ongoing battles to keep the company solvent. We have letters, court reports, affidavits, statements and witness declarations about Poole’s many periods of litigation … one that lasted for thirty years after Henry died.
The real hero of the Poole’s book is the present chairman Angus Cundey’s grandfather Howard. It was he who stabilised the debts after Henry died in 1876 and eventually fought-off the other partners named in Henry’s will who were essentially leaching money from the company while Howard was trying to build it into the most famous tailoring concern in the world. Howard’s story is worthy of a novel but I think I have caught the essence of the urgency behind the scenes at Poole’s to fight-off the parasites and see the firm through World War I.
The story of Poole’s is one of survival against odds that closed so many bespoke tailors in the 20th century. It was a privilege to tell the story and I am keen now to get together with Pete and start bringing the story to life with pictures. Until next time…