Monday, 1 May 2017

From Race Track to Cat Walk

This posting sets a new Bedlam record - it's more than a year since the last blog. The little'n'often style of blogging never suited my War And Peace-scale literary leanings. Also, in the modish world of Social Media, there's so many mouths to feed. Instagram and Twitter tend to mewl the loudest these days. The Bedlam blog is all feast or famine, but here the table groans with good stuff. Engorge yourselves, please, on this banquet of a bumper instalment, rich with epic Tuscan flavour - one of the oldest #horse races in the world... the #Palio di #Siena.

As you may know, we have both a fuzzy emotional and a crisp, corporate connection with #NileRodgers #musician #producer #writer but first and foremost, friend and all-round-good-guy. His his consort and shining light, Nancy Hunt, visiting London, came to hang with us at the studio. It occurred to her that we might be the right people to help out their friend John Hunt (no relation) who was producing a movie about the Palio. During the global financial crash, Monte die Paschi, the Sienese bank that had historically sponsored the race was tottering. This is a readable piece from the pink paper on how integral MdP, the oldest surviving bank in the world, was to the life of the city:

This rumbling in the boardroom meant that just as John was ready to set up tripods, the event was in peril. Now people have made films about the Palio before but here John had an opportunity to be not the nuisance who had to be accommodated but the Deus ex Machina who was pulling the strings. John got together the hay to feed the horses, so to speak, and whereas before directors had to make do with shots from balconies around the Piazza del Campo, obscured by heads and hysterical hands, his cameras were positioned at the starting rope with a clear shot up the flaring nostril of the pawing beast. The lens almost mists with the warmth of their breath.

Not only did John have that unprecedented access but he and director Cosima Spender got to tell a story of particular competitors that could compete with any classical myth - a battle between the old warrior clinging to his laurel wreath by any means necessary and the young pretender, his protege, fresh out of ethics school, all shiny with principles. To describe it as Ben Hur meets the Godfather doesn't do justice to the thrilling result. We have seen it multiple times now, yet every time is like the first - I leap out of my seat with excitement as if the outcome is unknown. In other circumstances I would ascribe that to early onset dementia, but it really is so gripping and beautifully made that you discover fresh delights with each viewing.

So why were we required? John wanted to present "Palio" at film festivals and thought some bits and pieces tied into the film would help curry favour with those whose favour helps projects fly. We were invited to a screening in Soho, London and at the end I was mightily surprised and delighted to be presented with one of the #Pucci silk scarves from their Palio collection of 1957 that won them an international fashion award.

The bareback jockeys wear loose pyjama-style suits, that draw on the colours of each competing "contrada" - neighbourhood's - fabulous flag, the obvious first stop for inspiration.

We played with the Leocorno (Unicorn) graphic, and screen printed up and down Mark's favourite old pair of ripped jeans, years in the perfecting of rips' n'fit. It rather looked as if they had been run over by the famous Pirelli tyre track. Nancy was back in town and her eagle eye for style alighted  - "Nile would LOVE these!" she exclaimed, and I saw conflicting forces at battle in Mark's eyes. 
"Take them!" he blurted, and I was proud of him for not hesitating to make the sacrifice.
Nile has worn them so much that there's no doubt Nancy knows her man.
On stage with Duran Duran at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles on October 1st 2015
In the studio with London
And here sound checking at the New Orleans Superdome before his show with the late, lamented Prince:

If proof were need of their approving endorsement, when it came to the highly special business of picking an 18th birthday present for their adored godson Jasper - scion of the film's producer - Nile 'n' Nancy asked us to make him a pair, too. We hope Jasper is enjoying adding this own rips and patina, the scars of honour on his jeans. Here they are being made and here's young handsome chops in our studio at a fitting for his coming-of-age celebration denims (we might add his Mom & Pop deserve a present for bringing up such a splendid fella):

Another young gun and Bedlam's joint fave guitarist with Mr Rodgers is Noah, rocking the print on a t-shirt:

Meanwhile, fashionisto about town, Donny Slack went for it on the INSIDE of his Bedlam bespoke jeans - or "The Donny Slacks" as we like to call them:

Then we rolled it out as a lining, giving clients the option to choose their colour way. It's a fair bet to say it's been an odds on favourite . Simon le Bon went for a bright orange and pink sherbet fizz inside his suit, a strobe-tastic "Birdseye" from Hardy Minnis / Huddersfield Fine Worsteds. If that strikes you as a synthetic combination, stick your head outside our door at Bedlam Mews to behold nature already at it:
Nasturtiums and geraniums outside our studio

Orange & pink sherbet fizz on silk printed for us by our friends Hatley Print in Sussex:

Simon in his suit with his daughter Amber at the Frieze Art fair in London, 2016
Another Ka-pow! combination was chosen by another Simon, our client since the dawn of Bedlam.  He went for danger-danger red & black, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the red bellied black snake from his native Australia.

Mr Wesley used a black / orange combo in his own black flannel suit which he wore when, having kitted out the groom, we were privileged to attend the wedding of polo player Adriano di Gianvittorio to lovely Kirsten.  It made a joyful counterpart to the groom's silver and red as the celebrations rolled late down the corridors of Luton Hoo, a glorious country pile. It was a particularly apt design for Adriano, seeing as he is both Italian and an equestrian and this was inspired by the silks of that particularly horny horse, the Unicorn.

Clearly anyone with Italian blood was going to be predisposed to like the idea. When music mogul and festival promoter Ciro Romano came to see us for suits, he went for it too, in what I reckon is my fave colour way to date. Tickets for his Love Supreme Festival in Sussex are on sale now, if you'd like to help him pay for his next round of Bedlam?! It takes place in Lewes which as fate would have it is the home of our wonderful husband and wife printers the Hatleys, who roll our linings from their presses:
This year's Love Supreme line up includes The Jacksons no less, George Benson, and another client of ours, Gregory Porter:

Ciro & Marco with their backing singer

Thinking it was time to give another of the Palio contrada a sporting chance, we next took inspiration from the Onda (Wave) team flag. Our printers Dan & Louise Hatley, based in the Castle Keep at Lewes, rolled out a bolt of silk for us with the graphic that looks, again, so modern, like pharmaceutical capsules - maybe we should unfurl it in the direction of Damian Hirst, who has revived his Pharmacy Restaurant above his splendid gallery in Newport Street behind our studio? It won "Best New Building in Britain" for 2016 and Pharmacy2 is done up like a chemist's cabinet:
Here's our intern pretty Britte rising like Aphrodite from the waves of Onda silk:

When Mr Willis and his Missus wanted to show their son Louis that they were extremely proud of him , they asked us to make him a suit, which in turn made us very proud. We loved that Willis Jnr. went for the Onda print, thereby being of the same Palio category as his dad's (the red bellied snake above) but different in detail, two offshoots of the same seed. Louis, sophisticated beyond his years, went for mossy green against dark purple.
The feather in the hat of the Palio film experience for us was to be featured in their gloriously extravagant book celebrating all aspects of the race. To be placed in the same stable as the princely fashion house Pucci in the fashion pages of the book was an enormous thrill, but that is only in keeping with the spirit of this movie from first frame to last. 

Treat yourself:
For the film:
For the book go to:

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Roaring into the Sunset - Farewell to the Honorary Chief in Perpetuity of the Bedlam Motorcycle Club

This blog from a few months back is being reposted today as Robert's nearest and dearest asked us to coordinate with Bonhams auction house. Here then is the impressive programme for the sale on Monday September 19th that will benefit the cancer units at Dorset County & Poole Hospitals:

And these features were run by The Daily Mail and BBC yesterday:

Jay Leno, TV host and fellow petrol head - - with Robert
We hope some of you may help make a difference, even attend the sale and put in a bid.  Jay leno has made a short tribute film to his pal:

Below then is our original posting. It was with nervous anxiety that we sent it for approval to Liz and Chris for you could count on one hand the number of times we met Robert after all. It was a great relief when Liz wrote: "a lovely tribute to Robert... You have captured him completely and brought tears to my eyes – Thank you."

We continue the theme of remembrance from the last post with our small tribute to someone who made a huge, positive impact on our lives in a short space of time. Robert White is most likely unknown to you, although in his niche he was greatly respected as a connoisseur-collector and his name was over the door of a world renowned camera business that he founded in Poole, Dorset.

All is a question of scale in life, as well as tailoring. We may not hope to inspire impromptu shrines and murals when we go, but to have standing room only at the crematorium is testament to having done something right.

Robert first got in touch with us because we had "helped his friend in a jam" - by which he meant, providing Gregory Porter with a dinner jacket the day of his Royal Albert Hall performance for the BBC Proms. Gregory's manager was an old friend of Robert's from Poole. He said he was considering a "Mr Toad" suit for wearing when driving his open topped vintage Bentley. Then he said, more practically, having been diagnosed with NET cancer, we should just probably just make him a shroud. I said we didn't do those.

We began to get the measure of each other via lengthy telephone conversations. Unsurprisingly he was variously scared and angry at what was befalling him, having worked hard all his life, building a fortune and a world class collection of boys' toys - vintage and high performance cars and motorbikes - only to be stricken with cancer just as he was about to properly enjoy them. He was curious about the Bedlam MC, the motif on our t-shirts, and sent us beautiful prints of some of his favourite bikes.

Eventually he scheduled to visit us, with his companion Liz. Despite his considerable means and frail health, he chose to travel to London on the National Express coach - one of the more Howard Hughes-style acts at which we puzzled as he complained about the awful people coughing and sneezing their germs about him during the journey.

Robert was most attached to his cuddly toys, and, in particular, his little mascot, Roland the Wonder Dog (nickname, Flops). It was Flops that he asked us to print onto silk for the jacket lining and the waistcoat back. We then made miniature waistcoats for some of Robert's bears. We call every job a "collaboration" rather than a commission because people have to come to us with their ideas and wishes, and then we have the honour of trying to realise them.

Robert's jacket and waistcoat lined with his mascot "Flops"
The muse himself on his silk
Then we made a matching iddy biddy waistcoat...
for Robert's Little Brown Ted

We printed more "Flops" lining in a different colour way, to line a cosy robe for Robert, as he was spending  time in hospital and not going out so much when at home. But Robert being Robert, he wanted the very best and so we had the opportunity to use the rarest, most costly, natural (i.e. not scattered with diamond dust) fabric on earth - Guanaco. This is combed from the belly of but two qualifying beasts up one particular mountain in Peru but only on a night of the full moon when there's an R in the month. I exaggerate only slightly for effect. For your education, here is a guanaco and her baby, cousins of the lama as you might deduce:

From a lovely Irish lady with an attic crammed with dusty boxes of a haberdasher's dreams (she married into an esteemed trimmings family in France) we sourced a 16 ct. gold fringe, made in Lyons in the 1900s, to trim the belt:

When we were ready to do a fitting for the suit we offered to go this time to Robert. To our astonishment, he invited us to stay at his house. When we called the day before to check he was still up to our visit, he confirmed he was looking forward to it, albeit a little puffed out from having been cleaning to make it ready for us. "Does he not, " I asked Liz, incredulous, "have a 'lady who does'?!"
"Oh no," she replied, "he doesn't like letting people in the house."
So it was not lost on us, the trust he extended, not least when he took us to see his magnificent collection of chrome and canvas, pumps and pedals.

There was a fiery red Ferrari next to an any-colour-as-long-as-its-black Model T-Ford in-between a steam powered 1913 White; a 1930s Bentley in  British Racing Green parked a coté un French blue Bugatti side by side with a couple of burnished ACEs. And more. And more. And more.

We visited Robert just over a year ago, on Valentine's Day, but at the time were wracked with nerves at accidentally disclosing the location of his garage, and wanting to respect Robert's privacy, so limited ourselves to sharing one photo of Mr Wesley, like a child in Santa's Grotto, atop his own favourite bike - an Indian. Now all the Brough bikes are gone to Robert's friend, Jay Leno, in the rust resistant climate of California, the rest are ready for auction. The warehouses stand empty.

The bikes - in two further garages - represented the greatest collection of Brough Superiors (the "Lawrence of Arabia" bike) and a host of other "only remaining example in the world"s. Robert was already committed to selling them to fund a new cancer unit at Poole Hospital. He was realising, too, that a collection horded for a few eyes is a collection largely unappreciated, and was open to us bringing some more people to see them. The obvious candidate was Dr Eccles, another of our clients with a penchant for a vintage Bentley - he had recently acquired the late Ron Moody's, complete with 8-track cartridge player in the glove compartment! Robert chose the tweed for his driving suit largely because he saw Dr Eccles at the wheel wearing it in a photograph. When the Good Doctor offered to drive us there and back IN THE BENTLEY in exchange for seeing Robert's cars, he was a shoe-in. But who else could properly appreciate these mechanical wonders?

Someone else had taken Mark Knopfler to see Robert and his treasures. Robert congratulated him on his album "Tubular Bells", told him he had enjoyed that one. So when I tentatively suggested inviting Simon le Bon I was primed for non-plussedness. Robert's face lit up. "He had a most beautiful boat,   [reels of the technical spec of said boat] called Drum!'
"Indeed, he did."
"And he has a MOST beautiful wife!"
"Indeed he does, Robert, a beautiful wife who knows almost as much about cars as you do!"
For Yasmin Le Bon is so knowledgeable about automobiles that she was the motoring correspondent on GQ for a while.
I cannot tell you that Robert broke into the chorus of "Rio", for he did not, but he was absolutely delighted to welcome this trio to share his passion.

Dr. Eccles arrived in the morning sunshine to take us on our trip to the sea side in his magnificent open topped car. 
Yasmin snaps Simon on a Brough Superior while Dr Eccles looks on
Caractacus Potts & Truly Scrumptious 
Oh you pretty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you.

And in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang what we'll do.

Near, far, in our motor car Oh! What a happy time we'll spend.

Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four fendered friend.
Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang our fine four fendered friend.

You're sleek as a thoroughbred, your seats are a feather bed,

You'll turn everybody's head today.

We'll glide on our motor trip with pride in our ownership

The envy of all we survey.

That evening, when we had been safely driven home in stately style by Dr Eccles, Robert texted:
"We enjoyed the day immensely. The guess were great. I am happy & smiling. Thank you so much for brightening my day. Life can be hard and days like today really help xx"

Just a few weeks later he wrote, "Tired just so tired... I sleep and sleep."
By August he was outliving his prognosis and would boast, "Not dead yet. A scan yesterday showed the tumours are progressing, time ticks away. Dreams of my smart suit fade away also..."
He rang in tears to say he had realised he would never get to wear the suit again so Liz had modelled it so he might inspect the details. "It is a work of art," he said, and we both cried down the phone, but not for the suit. 

He wondered why we weren't awash with money - he was a much better business man than us, I think we can state with confidence. "How do you promote yourselves?" he wanted to know. Word of mouth, recommendation, I replied, happenstance, as had brought him to us. Trying to sound like someone with a marketing strategy, I mentioned that should we ever have two spare shillings, I would like to do a poster campaign on the tube as that had been something of a coup when I did that at my old indie record label. But no money in the world could make him better. He had tried two rounds of progressive pellet treatment, developed in California. Cruelly, his second set of "No improvement" results arrived the day an article ran exposing the process as unproven and unreliable.

In September he wrote: "My skeletal form is weak now. Life has not quite gone as it should. I hope you are doing OK and love to you all. Wuf."
The text made my heart lurch, it sounded like a farewell. But then the phone rang and Robert's frail voice asked me to find out how much the posters on the Underground would be, for he should like to bring more business to our door and keep the wolf from it.

That is how, before Christmas, we amazed those who know us by appearing to have an organised and efficient campaign budget sufficient to adorn the walls of Waterloo, London Bridge, Lambeth North (our nearest station), Kennington, Vauxhall and Stockwell - the jewels of the South London network in other words - with these:
You can see Flops is on there too, and the logos of our great allies Huddersfield Fine Worsted. They gave us the cloth to make the cashmere camel coat and the black flannel suit that Mr Wesley his very self models in the poster. The subtext of the story is #madegood - a geezer with a beautiful motor, in some pukka threads, comes to visit his old mum on a Sunday. Bedlam's in-house photographer (when he's not wearing that hat at Ronnie Scott's jazz club) Benjamin Amure took the picture on the China Walk estate across from our studio, and the redoubtable Dr Eccles leant us one of his other Bentley's - a 1968 T1- and held the flash gun. My daddy leant us his 1963 Lock & Co. trilby and spectacles.

No one was more amazed than us to find them in situ:

"Robert, don't you dare die before they go up!" I told him. We texted him the photos you see above. Liz showed them to him and they made him proud she told us. A week into the campaign the spare posters arrived, one for us, one for Huddersfield Fine Worsteds and one for Robert. As we were addressing the postal tube, the phone rang. I saw it was Liz, and knew. Robert had passed away, at home, the afternoon before. 

A few weeks before Christmas we took the train this time, down to the coast, and a taxi to the crematorium. As I wrote at the top here, it was standing room only. The eulogy had people laughing and crying, as Robert had had time to "coach" the gentleman conducting the service - they were essentially his words delivered in absentia. His first choice of music was Louis Armstrong singing "We Have All the Time in the World" - because we don't.

I didn't post any photos of Robert above because there were photographs of him displayed that day as he would want to be remembered, healthy and happy. We were asked to take a photograph of the service sheet if we didn't get one (there weren't enough for the number of people in attendance) and to post it if we were posting sort of people, which we are. is the link should you wish to contribute to the building of the exceptionally well equipped state-of-the-art cancer centre that will bear Robert's name. We made him a promise that we would do our bit to ensure that neither he nor Flops should be forgot. 

After the service we gathered at the lovely hotel that looks across Poole Harbour at Brownsea Island, where we had enjoyed lunch together with Dr Eccles and Mr & Mrs Le Bon. We got talking to a couple of jovial chaps, one of whom turned out to be the Ken,  who had come from the Isle of Man, the very gentleman who created a scale model of Brunel's locomotive for Robert exact in every detail. So exact that when I asked if Robert if it ran, along a track, he told me it would be necessary to shrink water and air for that to happen, as the pipes are so accurately scaled down that one would have to shrink molecules, too. I made the mistake of referring to it as a train. This elicited a response worthy of Lady Bracknell, "A TRAIN?!?!?!" A train is what hangs off the back of a bride's dress, apparently. 12,000 hours of work went into it and it will also be sold to benefit Robert's Trust. 

In his own words, Ken was "a prodigy of Louis Raper of Failsworth, dubbed 'the master locomotive builder',but I sought to raise the bar and in doing so made my work so time consuming that I built only two locomotives in ten years, one for Bill McAlpine and one for Walter Harper. The next project was three Broad Gauge models the first of which was sold to Robert." And here she is:

Dragon is the first of three 10 ¼ gauge locomotives (scale 8.22:1) of the 1880 batch of Broad Gauge GWR express locomotives built at Swindon and known as the Rover class (photograph by Adrian Knowles).

For our part, we are grateful to have had the short, intense, emotional blast of knowing him  - a 150 mph dash down the track. For all his exalted tastes, the memory I hold dear will be his trying to resist the craving for a McFlurry, saying it was not good for him, he mustn't. He was not going to get better at this point. "Robert," I said, "what is the worst thing that could happen? If you want a McFlurry, let's go get one," and we sat in the McDonald's car park, Robert, Liz, Mr Wesley and me eating things that are very bad for you but taste really good. Fast cars and motorbikes can also do you in. Life is short.

So we rev our engines in salute to The Honorary Chief in Perpetuity of the Bedlam Motorcycle Club. 

An enamel Motor Cycle Club badge of Robert's