Heavy Metal. March 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I was having a conversation with my friend the delectable Shaun Leane for my Jewellery for Gentlemen book and we both admitted that the older we get the greater the desire grows for heavy metal. Shaun wears  a substantial amount of his own work with a contemporary effortlessness that I think is the key to the book.

While researching images of the style icons past on Getty Images I was struck by how many of Hollywood’s testosterone kings wore serious jewellery both on screen and off. There are occasions when what I do really doesn’t feel like work for example spending an hour ogling Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire rocking a thick yellow gold ID bracelet with his skin-tight jeans and sweaty T-shirt. Be still my beating heart.

Clark Gable rarely took his gold ID bracelet off and wore a figured gold pinkie ring that looks masculine and refined. Paul Newman was photographed wearing a thick yellow gold band on his little finger and a plaid lumberjack shirt: the roughness of his civvies and the polish of the gold complimenting each other perfectly.

I am with Solange Azagury-Partridge when she says that a white diamond cufflink worn with black tie is unimpeachably elegant but the real test of  cool guy is how he wears jewellery with jeans. I’ve never been one for pendants having lost a yellow gold Sherwood family dog tag that my dad made for us all in the 1970s. What I wouldn’t give to have it now.

However, visiting the workshops of Solange, Shaun, Theo Fennell and Stephen Webster has got me rather excited about opportunities to wear pendants and bracelets in a dress-down fashion. Solange’s black diamond disco ball pendant is a beaut and Stephen’s yellow gold and mother-of-pearl switchblade necklace the kind of piece that says ‘don’t f*** with me fellas’.

You know I almost invariably wear my Nan Sherwood’s yellow gold, ruby and diamond three-in-one ring with the square shank. It stops traffic. But I’ve been rather tempted by gem set right hand rings by US jeweller David Yurman that have the gravitas and scale of those worn by King Henry VIII in the Holbein Whitehall portrait. There does come a time in every man’s life when garnets the size of gull’s eggs become a matter of urgency.

I had a rather nice call the other day from the editor of the Royal Ascot magazine for whom I wrote over the years when I was BBC fashion critic. It was a request to do an interview about the evolution of the dress code for the Royal Enclosure. It was heaven to talk about the Royal Meeting again and got me thinking how much I’ve missed it. We’ll leave that right there.

You were always so much better than me on the party circuit, darling. I loathe walking into a room alone and the thought of networking makes me shudder. But social occasions oil the wheels of London life so I accepted an invitation to celebrate the opening of the new Game Bird restaurant at the Stafford hotel in St James’s. Well, I have been a bit of a game bird in my time…

The Stafford was the first party that H and I attended together and it has to be said I had an absolutely magic evening. I was introduced to the Stafford by my Canadian friend Mary Symons and loved it ever since. Rather than a seated dinner, the Stafford did what London loves. Champagne corks popped all night like a royal salute and the rarest roast beef was carved from a trolley and served in brioche with lashings of horseradish sauce.

Within the hour we’d bumped into Anne-Marie McGrath, Ros Milani who always looks younger than springtime, Hugo Campbell-Davys, Trevor Pickett and Lady Zambuni making mischief and the lovely ladies and gentlemen from James Lock & Co the hatters. The nicest surprise was seeing Jo Foley on magnificent form who’d just seen La Farmer for lunch in Delhi.

If I hadn’t been with H, I would have done a couple of laps round the rooms and been off like a robber’s dog. As is we stayed until the end then decamped to the American Bar for a bottle of Pouilly Fume and a cigarette. I do love St James’s, don’t you? Of course you do. It’s where we met at Turnbull & Asser. Speaking of Turnbulls, I bumped into the ever-elegant Shaun sitting in the courtyard behind the Stafford smoking a cigar that would have defeated Churchill. St James’s is a village and so much more us than Mayfair.

The weekend is going to be spent cracking on with Jewellery for Gentlemen and if I am still in the mood will revisit my racy novel Tomster, KitPlay, Starboi & Me. I still love the premise but I’ve got a brand new idea for the plot that makes it more of a caper novel than Fifty Shades of Gay.

Off to a party on the South Bank this evening to break me into the working weekend. It is hard to believe that even a month ago I felt like leaping into the Thames rather than taking a taxi over it to a soiree. Life does twist like an anaconda doesn’t it? Until next time…

 

 

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Hollywood Black Tie. March 2017.

Dear Rowley,

Department of no surprises that Paul ‘Diana’s Rock’ Burrell has divorced his wife and is marrying a husband. ‘Royal Butler is Gay’ shocker is up there as a headline with ‘Madonna Adopts African Baby’ and ‘Kardashians Speak Out’.

I don’t know about fake news but there is rather too much news at the moment. Radio 4 dedicated about eight minutes to pollution in LA this morning which has about as much to do with the British public as a cat being stuck up a tree in Nova Scotia.

That said, the news does draw one’s attention where it might not naturally fall. My Jewellery for Gentlemen book with Thames & Hudson has had me looking at  new generation of actors and musicians who are flying the flag for men’s sartorial treasures. The boys came out in force at the 2017 Academy Awards giving me a very good feeling that the book is well-timed.

My favourite pieces bar none at the Oscars were a yellow gold and enamel rose worn by Once Upon A Time hottie Josh Dallas, a majestic lapel chain draped from top pocket to shawl collar rocked out by Hidden Figures actor Aldis Hodge and a white diamond Chanel firework brooch that Pharrell Williams wore with strands of black pearl chains.

For someone who was a disciplinarian about classic black tie, I have to admit a liking for Hollywood Black Tie whereby cocktail suits are the rule rather than old school DJs. I enjoyed seeing Josh Dallas in a claret velvet dinner jacket and all those boys at the Oscars wearing sapphire blue rather than ink black.

I think actors have finally cottoned-on that classic black tie will not get them noticed hence the experiment with coloured cocktail suits and jewellery for gentlemen. As Dallas proved, it doesn’t take much more than a precious metal pin on the lapel to get the attention of the style press. It is not a big commitment and reaps huge rewards on social media.

Best Actor Oscar winner Casey Affleck wore a ruby AIDS ribbon last seen at the Academy Awards as worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1990s. Lest we forget, Elizabeth Taylor was as fearless as a pioneer woman in the early days of AIDS having lost countless friends including Rock Hudson.

I remember ET standing-up at Freddie Mercury’s memorial concert at Wembley and making a rip-roaring speech while blinding the first eight rows with her rhinestone Versace bolero. When some dummy catcalled, she shot back ‘I’ll get off in a minute. I’ve got something to say’. And so she did reminding the audience to take care of themselves and each other.

No idea why Affleck wore Dame Elizabeth’s ruby pin but it was nice to see it again at the Oscars. I did wonder why so many actors were wearing a blue ribbon this year until I looked it up and discovered a blue ribbon signifies the ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union). Good to know.

How’s your head, your heart and your wallet Rowley? Mine are clear, full and running on empty until the end of March. I suppose such is the nature of working for oneself that one month it is champagne and the next month kippers. I’ll never forget my old friend Mandi Lennard giving it her best Les Dawson and saying ‘It’s always champagne or kippers with you’. Never a truer word spoken…

Still, I get the feeling that everyone in London is hustling at the moment. The sands are shifting beneath our feet on a daily basis as only those of us who were born before the online revolution appreciate. I am no techno denier and appreciate the benefits it has brought.

That said, isn’t it incredible that the age of connectivity has isolated so many people? I used to spend a good half hour on the telephone to my editors mulling over stories when I was earning my crust as a journalist. In the professional arena, email killed talk. I’m making a conscious effort to pick up the damned phone again.

So what else is new on the Rialto? I might have a new project in the works: one I call a three-dimensional gig whereby it doesn’t rely on my being chained to a MacBook Air for weeks on end. You know one of my favourite assignments of all time was styling and dressing the Savile Row London Cut exhibitions in Florence, Paris and Tokyo. This is on similar lines. Perhaps in a past life I was a window dresser…

 

 

 

 

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. February 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I have never seen a spontaneous, unanimous, prolonged standing ovation quite like that for the penultimate performance of Everybody’s Talking about Jamie at the Crucible theatre, Sheffield on Saturday. The story of sixteen-year old Sheffield boy Jamie New, who pursues his dream to be a drag queen, does what the great musicals do: reads the signs of the times and touches hearts.

Jamie is inspired by a documentary about a teenager from County Durham who had the uniqueness, nerve and talent to become a drag queen. Director Jonathan Butterell, composer Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling and lyricist Tom MacRae wisely shifted the accent to South Yorkshire thus making inevitable comparisons with Billy Elliot less obvious.

What I loved from the get-go was that we’ve moved on from the tortured growing-up gay storyline. John McRea’s Jamie is a camp, happy, peroxided baby gay who has a burning desire to wear wigs and hot pants. He has the unconditional love of mother Margaret (Josie Walker) and her raucous best mate Lee (Mina Anwar) who buy him his first pair of red patent leather stilettos.

Setting Jamie in Sheffield is inspired because the accent gives the gags punch. John McRea is electrifying from the first number but the audience could have power the national grid when he said in a broad Yorkshire accent ‘sometimes you’ve got to grab life by the balls, tuck ‘em behind you and put your best fookin’ frock on’. The cheer for that zinger was like the Superbowl.

I happen to think the Crucible is one of Britain’s best auditoria for musicals and drama.  Anna Fleischle’s sets placed the orchestra above the action and with great economy described Jamie’s world. You’ll hear echoes of Kinky Boots, Mathilda, La Cage Aux Folles and Spring Awakening in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie but the musical is none the worse for that.

Jamie is as much about family as drag although there’s a lovely acknowledgement to ‘Our Lady RuPaul’ who has done more than most to create an international family of drag queens. The relationships between Jamie, Margaret and Lee underpins the idea of modern families realigning as does the friendship between Jamie and Muslim classmate Pritti (Lucie Shorthouse).

I was most touched by Charles Dale’s Hugo – the artist formerly known as Loco Chanel – who runs the drag boutique that Jamie goes to for his first frock. The frock happens to be a dead ringer for Marilyn’s opener in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The old world meeting the future of drag was beautifully described.

Hugo has some fabulous lines not least encouraging Jamie to go on as the opening act at the local gay club ‘for all your fallen comrades’. Far from being a filler, I think his ballad of Loco Chanel was an apposite reminder of the time when drag queens had to be the fiercest of divas because they were a triple threat to masculinity.

When we were taken backstage at the gay club and the three drag queens were introduce by Loco, I fully expected a Gotta Getta Gimmick number like Sondheim’s Gypsy teaching Jamie the ropes. I’m sorry as I am sure were the actors that we didn’t get one.  Still, Jamie’s drag name (MeMe Me) was inspired considering the supreme self-confidence of teenagers today.

It was terribly clever never to show Jamie in full drag. We cut away to the end of act one before he is about to make his stage debut and in the second half we never see Jamie in full wig and make-up. It made the ‘reveal’ at the school prom all the more touching.

Jamie has been criticised for giving the title character a relatively easy rite-of-passage story but for a thick school bully, a disapproving teacher and a father who disowns him. I would’t call that a stroll in the park, would you? True, the interaction with his father could have given Jamie a more powerful and poignant storyline. But then again, Jamie’s resilience was as strong a message as the musical has to teach.

There was rather more audience participation than one would expect at a musical and genuine appreciation when Gillespie Sells knocks it out of the park with ballads such as He’s My Boy sung by Margaret with more key changes than a Queen anthem. For the encore not one of the audience sat on their hands and shuffled uncomfortably in their seats. It was a unanimous clap and shimmy.

Though it is curious that the big ballads are given to Margaret and Pritti, the show belongs entirely to John McRea who absolutely nails the combination of knowing sarcasm and breathtaking innocence that is Jamie. He can deliver a zinger like Bianca del Rio and his dancing in six inch heels would make Beyonce look like she’d got two left feet and no rhythm.

I will toss in my wig and throw my falsies into the tit box (to quote Loco Chanel) if Everybody’s Talking About Jamie does not transfer to the West End and possibly Broadway. Unlike most modern musicals, the book, lyrics and numbers hold-up individually as well as telling the story.

In short, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has filth, sass, musicality, heart and more talent than I’ve seen in the West End in a long time. I couldn’t have liked it more. Until next time…

 

 

 

 

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Stepping Out. February 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I haven’t been in one of those ‘sky is blue, moon is new’ moods for such a long time. For both of us, winter in London is like salt on a slug, darling. Seasonal affective disorder isn’t even in it when you know you’ve got shades of grey stretching in front of you for months. But with blue skies over Bloomsbury Towers today, it appears that all is well with the world.

Do you know, when I first signed to produce Sartorial Treasures: Jewellery for Gentlemen with Thames & Hudson I questioned the appetite for such a book. Having completed three shoots with the breathtaking Andy Barnham, my enthusiasm for the project is as high as an elephant’s eye. We photographed at Henry Poole, Turnbull & Asser and Sir Tom Baker – keeping it well in the family – and have I think found new ways for men to wear jewellery.

It seems to me that the desire is there but the look has been limited to rock star, Hip-Hop, Boho and Bling hence the title Jewellery for Gentlemen. That’s not to say the pieces I have chosen are polite or modest. There will be a lot of diamonds in this book but not necessarily all white. I have been taught a lesson by styling pieces designed by Solange Azagury-Partridge, Shaun Leane, Theo Fennell and Stephen Webster (the London Leopards) about what their gentlemen prefer.

You know that antique jewellery is one of my passions as is bringing the lapel pin firmly into the man’s world. It’s all about language. I borrowed a sensational sapphire and diamond Art Deo Boucheron line brooch from Harry Fane that sat beautifully at the top of a Tom Baker suit breast pocket. Sold as a brooch perhaps not but as a cocktail suit pin? I learned from the antique jewellers Wartski, Lucas Rarities, Bentley & Skinner and Hancocks that white diamond brooches and hair ornaments from the Belle Epoque period translate well to black tie.

Specific motifs such as the star burst, the crescent moon, insects, reptiles and birds belong on a black or midnight blue grosgrain lapel. One of my favourite shots so far is of a relatively modest pin from Bentley & Skinner: two green glass grapes suspended from a yellow gold and diamond vine. Pinned to a Poole emerald green satin shawl collar, that little piece of heaven brings the smoking jacket to life.

I have thus far avoided shooting the super classics: the horn button cufflink, the crucifix pendant, the plain band of yellow gold and the pearl tie stud. The idea is to surprise and inspire not linger in the safe zone and be apologetic about the subject. The cufflinks and stick pins I have chosen are miniature masterpieces that presuppose the tie, buttonhole or French cuff is a blank canvas to show them off. Three of my favourites thus far are Stephen Webster’s black diamond gargoyle links, Francesca Grima’s chalcedony and diamond humbug links and a knockout early 20th century platinum and diamond Chaumet link from Hancocks in the Burlington Arcade.

It was fascinating to see how the jewels reacted to classic tailoring at Poole’s, Turnbull & Asser’s jazzy autumn/winter 2017 collection and Sir Tom’s dark materials. For the latter shoot, I brought-in a number of my ‘Northern Line’ (DJ and waistcoat) suits that Tom has cut for me over the years. My ribbed green and black silk Northern Line made for the Savoy launch party of Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke was a knockout canvas for Solange’s cabochon emerald and black gold ‘Villain’ pendant.

As Cupid Stunt would say, ‘I’m telling you the plot’ so no more sneak previews for now. By the end of next week I should have finished the Louis Vuitton Guide to London 2018 and will be attacking Jewellery for Gentlemen with a vengeance. I honestly have not felt as energised by a project in years: gratifying considering last year I had one foot on a banana peel and the other on the edge of the white cliffs of Dover.

I liken last year to one of those nightmare sets of tennis when you just can’t string the points together. You can ace, you can nail a passing shot and you can finesse with a lob but whatever you do you can’t win a game. The solution is to hang tough and wait for your opponent to start getting careless or losing power. As in life, I believe tennis is a game won or lost  by the mind. You can defeat yourself without a positive mental attitude.

Also as in life, a tennis player’s success depends on who you have in the box supporting you. The Sherwood Massive have cheered me on so many times when I wasn’t even in the game. Of course you also need someone to give you a pep talk and a rub down after the match. Speaking of which, I am stepping out again and he might well be the reason one of my editors asked if I’d had Botox the other day because I was looking so free of care.

Well, I’d better rest my quill for now and get back to Vuitton. Off to Derbyshire tomorrow for a week without distraction to finish my knitting and wake-up every morning with two wet tongues in my ears. Don’t get excited Rowley, I am talking about Bertie and Wooster my parents’ Cavapoodles. Until next time…

 

 

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The Boys in the Band. February 2017.

Dear Rowley,

If you can get to town in the next couple of weeks do sneak a couple of tickets for The Boys in the Band at the Vaudeville theatre. Though headlined by Mark Gatiss and his real-life husband Ian Hallard, Mart Crowley’s 1968 play is a viciously crafted ensemble piece about a gay birthday party in New York written pre-Stonewall Riots. The occasional critic has called The Boys in the Band a stereotypical period piece but we could say that about Shakespeare couldn’t we?

I was invited by Miss McCarthy and we were both sold the minute we walked into the auditorium to the strains of Dionne Warwick’s theme from The Valley of the Dolls. The open set – a loft-living apartment filled with Scandi furniture and lightbox portraits of Judy, Bette and Barbara Stanwyck – made one breathless for the party to start. Michael (Hallard) owns the apartment. He’s a writer and a drinker (natch) planning a birthday party for Harold (Gatiss) who doesn’t make his bad witch at a christening appearance until the end of the first act.

As the guests arrive, the dialogue and the camp ricochets between the characters; flawlessly paced and crisply enunciated. We meet homeboy Donald who seems content to have retreated from the crossfire of New York gay life. Emory (James Holmes) is what used to be known as the Nelly of the group who attaches women’s names to everything and minces with limbs like wet spaghetti.

Teacher Hank (Nathan Nolan) and fashion photographer Larry (Ben Mansfield) are boyfriends with differing opinions about fidelity. Bernard (Greg Locket) works in a bookstore and indulges Emory by amiably playing Mammie to his Miss Scarlett. The surprise guests are the young, dumb and full of cum hustler (Jack Derges) who is Emory’s gift to Harold and Michael’s debonair, straight college chum Alan (John Hopkins).

Alan’s arrival while the boys are doing an impromptu flaming dance number learned on Fire Island is a charming moment that makes it obvious that any attempt at straight acting would be futile. It also opens the door for the flirtation between Alan and Hank. The Boys in the Band is a game of two halves: a camp, light comedy of manners and errors in the first half that takes a decidedly darker turn when self-styled ‘thirty-two year old ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy’ Harold arrives in a fug of marijuana and Michael hits the bottle.

Glancing at the audience in the interval, it was biased towards gay men of my age and older who grew-up looking for a gay family and found characters all too similar to those in The Boys in the Band. We used camp as a defence mechanism between ‘just us girls’ and lived in a climate of silent hostility and, on numerous occasions, physical and verbal abuse. I’d urge the younger gays to watch The Boys in the Band if only to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in kinder times.

That said, the questions being asked by the play, the insecurities that are revealed and the venom when fangs show are still as pertinent today on what it is no longer PC to call the gay scene. Larry’s defiant belief in his right to an open relationship despite loving Hank is shared by the countless married or partnered men on and off Grindr.

Michael’s fur coat and no knickers existence keeping up appearances while quietly dying inside is also a familiar story. The desire to impress that eats at his soul is good old fashioned fear and self-loathing beautifully played by Hallard. The only character you could call happy with his lot is the hustler dressed as a cowboy; Mart Crowley suggesting ignorance is indeed bliss.

I particularly enjoyed Gatiss and Hallard hurling acid drops at each other: Harold scoring the hollow victory of being inured to any discernible emotion at all. His inability to feel hurt appeared to be the worst case of self-harm at the party. I won’t spoil the subplot about the increasingly drunk Alan’s evening in the homosexual shark tank but it isn’t without incident.

Of the second act, a critic wrote it ‘offers such an unremittingly bleak portrait of gay men -stereotypically bitchy, corroded with anxiety and self-hatred – that at times it is uncomfortable to watch’. If I were director Adam Penford I would take that has a huge compliment. Uncomfortable to watch? Imagine how uncomfortable it was to live as a gay man in the late 1960s. The line that rips your heart out is when Michael breaks down in Donald’s arms and says ‘show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse’.

Actually, Michael didn’t have to look too far for two happy homosexuals. Larry and Hank, having declared their love for each other, are left off-stage presumably making passionate love. So, no, I don’t think The Boys in the Band is an unremittingly bleak picture of gay men. As in life, some find happiness and some don’t. I’d like to think Harold searches for his heart, gets Michael into the Betty Ford Clinic and they decide to turn their fire on the rest of the world as a couple.

Watching The Boys in the Band on the night before Valentine’s Day made me think that we’ve come a long way, baby. We have gay couples on billboards advertising national banks, we have the gay marriage that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime and we have gay couples with kids. Without those Boys in the Band – some of whom I could imagine participating in the Stonewall Riots in 1969 – arguably none of this would have been possible. Go see the play, Rowley.

 

 

 

 

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