Sunday, 26 December 2010

Chimney Chic and Reindeer Ready

Chimey Sweep Chic

Flat caps have bowled out other headwear. We saw a great hat just like this in the window of Issey Miyake on Conduit Street - ours for £400. "In your dreams!" said Santa. A stroll through Mayfair to Piccadilly Circus brought us out by our friends at the tourist tat shop. They had the SAME titfer with one nought less AND they threw in a toy London bus. Can't say nattier or fairer than that! Thank you dear shopkeepers for your Christmas kindness (find them next to the Pigalle Club).

On Dec 23rd, I popped into the Wolseley to see if I had left my orange suede sheepkin flying hat and was asked by Tom Stoppard as we waited shoulder by shoulder at the reception desk if I was Lady GaGa. "Er, no, I'm Lady Caroline!" I told him. In response he gallantly claimed, "I know you are." That was an early present and it will please me for years to come but for now, the EoB and I hope you have had a safe and succulent day and wish that we may all share in well-dressed success next year. Bottoms up!

Friday, 10 December 2010

A moment of calm - yeah right

The reindeer ate my blog-work, what can I say, I'm really sorry about the hiatus, we've had a nutty week. We've been busy moving into our new flat-what-lead-us-to-a-workshop-premises (read on), so much so that we even missed the British Fashion Awards. So without a second's delay more, may we offer our congratulations to Patrick Grant and the E. Tautz team - - for winning Menswear Designer of the Year. That team includes our dashing friend Alexander Lewis -  we saw him sprinting down Savile Row last week and I called from across the street but not terribly loudly, not wishing to desport like a fishwife. We crossed over but he had already bolted down the rabbit hole.

I like very much the quote another chum, Sebastian Shakespeare, got from Patrick for his Londoner's Dairy page in the Evening Standard -
The decline of British men in best dressed lists is due, then, to us having had a female monarch for so long. Come the next King, slouches, scruffbags (and possibly students after last night's distinctly un-debonair to-do in the city) will be first against the wall. And while we're toasting great achievement, hearty congratulations are due to Sebastian and Catherine on the arrival of baby Saskia Shakespeare. HURRAH!

We are lucky to know Alexander via the Earl's great buddy of the North, Brian Leitch. He checked into the seasonally apt damask and dark-wood Baron Willoughby suite at Hazlitt's Hotel last week and met us for lunch at the Bar du Marché. Brian is famous for many things, not least his time at W magazine as Paris correspondent, for authoring "Pret-a-Porter" (as directed by Robert Altman), and for changing the way we are wooed by merchandise with campaigns too numerous to mention here. After lunch we introduced him to the new second-hand shop, Reign Wear on Berwick Street. They had their press opening that morning but we had snuck in the night before and picked up a jade green veiled riding hat for me, and a black leather motor bike jacket for Mark (or was it the other way round??). Brian considered a floor length black leather coat but was off to Berlin the next morning and could probably pick up something authentically sinister in Germany, which is where, incidentally, Reign Wear source most of their stock. The prices are commendably low so - go. I'd like it on the record that I told him to get it as it was such a steal AND IT FIT and the reason that is funny can be found here:
Cole Nahal, our new friend via New York nights' legend, Gerry Visco, had just arrived from Berlin and he and Brian swapped acclaim for their favourite club in the world, Berghain. The surest way to get knocked back by the door men there is to dress up, be advised.

Mark, Mr Leitch and Cole Nahal - the fabulous biker boys

For our Piccadilly swan song, we attended the birthday party of Lady Sandra Bates. A very beautiful woman (photo evidence below), she was Hugh Heffner's London Bunny Girl of 1966 (WHAT a year that was if I say so myself). Sir Charles Clore, then owner of Selfridges, set her up in diamonds and furs, and a predilection for such she has maintained. The Earl did not wish to be ungentlemanly and dig for detail so I am little cloudy about whether they were carnal consorts or man and wife. Sandra was also George Best's best friend, and with him established Blondes nightclub on the very same Dover Street where we partied tonight. She was, too, VERY good friends with Frank Sinatra. As you may imagine, if you know the merest thing about me, that sent me into a sensual swoon of One Degree of Separation from which I am yet to recover. Nowadays, Sandra is a "Patron of the Arts" and the Earl would happily submit to be patronised by her and, indeed, hopes yet to be so. Paying court along with the rest of the party was Mighel Critten, a bespoke tailor who works for A Suit That Fits and it was apparent he and Mr Wesley share a fondness for a double breasted waistcoat (below).
Mighel and Mark

Lady Sandra Bates and Mr Wesley

When we left the party, to walk home all the way across the street, the snow was falling - real snow, not the Bond Street marketing magic from a machine in an upper window. The decorations have been up at the Ritz for a week now but it all did look especially lovely in the icy air of the midnight hour.

The next day Mark trudged deep into the snowy wastes of Sydenham, up hill and down dale, to collect the jumper Lesley had finished. He walked for many miles and many hours, returning with a hair-brained dreadlock of a wooly masterpiece. We were hoping to show it, and some other pieces, to our funny pen-pal Jay Bell, buyer at Barneys, the taste maker store of the USA. As it turned out, he was held hostage by Burberrys and we did not get to clink flutes with him. I can understand there are worse situations to be in. Well we shall have to take the mohair to Mohammad in January and there are worse Plan B's than having to go to New York City, to be sure.

So before we swapped SW1 for SW8 it was only right and fitting that we thanked Elisabeth, my godmother, for the cracker of accommodation she provided for us. We took her to dinner at the caff on the corner, The Wolseley. Jeremy King - along with co-owner Chris Corbin the "Rodgers and Hammerstein of relaxed eating"; "the Rolls and Royce of London gastronomy" - chatted first with Tom Parker Bowles at the table adjacent to ours before coming to greet Elisabeth. Taking our chances, we asked would he consider a fashion show in the restaurant, using the raised areas left and right to send models down the staircases and then around the room? "Absolutely" he answered most graciously "not. I'm so sorry, we do get asked a lot for events and always say no." Oh well. Gotta try. I told him we had posted a photo here of Frankie in his fine chauffeur's coat and he was kind enough to thank us and appear pleased. When I brought Antonio and Patrizia Marras here one evening we were placed on one of the platforms and I thought it showed exceptionally lovely manners that Christopher Bailey - talking of Burberrys - walked from his table across the room and up the stairs to come say hello. This evening, Mark was most energized by the proximity of Top Bloke Jeremy Clarkson and some football chappie called Alan something. News reader and professional fancy neck tie wearer Jon Snow was at the table on the other side of ours and, commendably heroic, he tried to help revive a lady who had fainted on those same stairs coming down from the platform. The paparazzi outside were energised by the rumour Cameron Diaz was within but we didn't see her. Who needs cinema when you have such theatre?

And so to the next Act, to be set at the Oval. We had not been stood more than one minute in our new drawing room with the creamy coloured carpet before drilling started on the other side of the wall, next door; the mantel mirror began to shake; and a ton of crap fell down the chimney (hey, at least it's clear for Santa). The apologetic Project Manager came dashing round with his Vax hoover and cleared it all up. 
"Don't suppose you know of any work units in the area?" enquired Mark, when the man asked if there was anything else he could help with.
"Well it just so happens I may have the very thing you need!" he replied.
Proving once again that the best gifts sometimes come in clouds of dust that may look not just unpromising but downright jolly troublesome then lo! they clear and all is promise and possibility. HURRAH!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

In between making appearances at society functions we have now set up our couture atelier on Arlington Street. With screen printer and sewing machine we have production rolling. Mark's son Harry came with us on a mission down Berwick Street and having kept his eyes straight ahead as we passed down Walker's Court - the little alley where the Raymond Revue bar and other hot spots jiggle and jostle - we found ourselves in those Mansions of fabric porn, Soho Silks, the Cloth House and Shop respectively. We picked up calico for the toiles and a couple of meters of this and a couple of meters of the other.

Having popped in good old John Lewis and got the extra balls of wool for the Jumper Dept. we went down and up to visit Lesley, our head of bespoke knitwear, in Crystal Palace. To say we were thrilled with what she has produced would be a single ply pastiche of the chunky joy of our enthusiasm. The best bit of all is that we came up with a way, kinda rustic, or perhaps I should say Rastic-fantastic, for this first design to bear the mark of the craftswoman who created its pattern. Lesley and Wesley have been pals for many years. Doyenne of Drop One, Pearl One she may be but personal publicity is not her bag. Indeed, she is the Banksy of our operation.

However, I did manage to sneak this shot during the consultation in the games room at Bedlam Towers:

Buoyed up by that, on the way back through Clapham North we called into our new chum Lisa Stickley's Christmas shopping night Lisa knows a ting or ten about getting printed and on her generous advice, the next day Mark called up Karl Vodrey, Printed Textiles Technician at the Royal College of Art. They discussed the merits and costings of digital, and then, also at Lisa's prompting, Mark spoke with Hatley Print -
It seems for now, to get what we need for our upcoming Very Important Rendezvous, we are going to produce the small batch ourselves.

Mark had already run off the Hogarth scene of Bedlam such as Chrissey chose for our website. He attached it to a merino / cashmere crew neck sweater (my mummy did the very teeny topstitching by hand by the light of a stub of tallow candle) and framed it with fraying tweed, also used as a hat band:

And then we got silly and messed about:

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Kenzo encore

Last night we made our way to Bruton Street for the Kenzo cocktail party. From my door-to-door enquiries it seemed that many if not most were there as a result of having attended the V&A show where invitations were on every chair. It was getting crowded so we went downstairs to check the menswear and only discovered Mark's old mate Jay Conley, a man who knows his Zegna from his Margiela. I left them chewing the champagne while I conducted further interviews. There was a cool bunch from the Rochester University for the Creative Arts. Thomas proved Hilary Alexander's pronouncement earlier in the day that duffle coats have gone from Michael Bond books to Bond Street:

Thomas, Kyanisha, two friends, James and Georgia Bronte

James studies Fashion Promotion while Georgia Bronte (not a bad name to bear) is at Kings College, London. She's signed with Select in London and has just done her first modelling gig in New York. We must crack on with some womenswear. They were all of them self possessed in the friendliest way and we shall be recruiting them to expoilt their energy and enthusiasm as soon as an appropriate opportunity arises. The ladies in this next photo must forgive me for mislaying their names but I was on about my sixth glass of champagne by then. One of them (mademoiselle stood to the right) had been backstage at the Kenzo V&A show helping out and is now writing a paper on the re-branding of Halston, something with which my dear friend Cameron Silver was intimately involved (and mademoiselle, get in touch with me as we discussed and I will e-troduce you for a direct quote if he will oblige). On a quick tangent, check out Cameron's sultry denim range named for his famous vintage treasure house Decades -

There was a jolly Italian man in a cheerful scarf:

A genial couple, Jamaica and Craig, the latter sporting an arresting design across his jaw and some red lizard-effect pleather pants that he MADE HIMSELF, hell yeah:

Craig Northam, architect and DIY
 fashion hero
Yet more cool yoof:

And some more mature and extremely distinguished guests, textile designers Suzanne May and Natalie Gibson, Head of Print at St. Martin's, who has her work in the V&A archive and who tutored Ms. May herself at the RCA (1982-85):

It was good to talk to Madame Sylviane Rudier who puts on all the great Kenzo parties, many of which I have had the great good fortune to attend. This is not the finest face Mark has ever presented and truth be told I would have cropped him out if it didn't unbalance the composition but try to focus on the elegance to his left:

He did a better job here with Damir from the London store:
Meanwhile I cozied up to security:

Mr Conley was kind enough to say I was working an Anita Pallenberg look for the evening. I confess I am rather pleased with my new toy, the black velvet hat. Back over the summer, I resisted paying £40 for one almost identical at the vintage fair held once a month upstairs at the Crown & Greyhound pub in Dulwich Village (stomping ground of school days) and, not wishing to sound vacuous but it's a risk I'll simply have to take, I have rued that as a false economy almost every day since. So this week, when I suggested to Mark that we take a short cut through Liberty's and saw this one  - BRAND SPANKING NEW -for £70 I laid my money down and frankly thought it a price worth paying to quieten regret.

The lady who does the Kenzo PR in the UK - - brought along her beguiling baby and I am ashamed to say, eight glasses at least to the wind by then, I did not note the little girl's name neither her papa's:

But I could not forget Mr Sizzle on the decks. Way back when, when I ran a night at the WAG club, my precious friend David  - the very same you will remember who did the Earl of Bedlam's two year cash flow chart spreadsheets - spun as DJ Sizzler. So that name was familiar enough for me to retain it until morning:

Ten glasses down I couldn't get a word of conversation out of this guest but at least she'd made an effort to wear this season Kenzo for the occasion:

The book brought out to  celebrate the Fortieth Anniversary was admired by guests:

Harriet arrived, very late due to traffic pandemonium on Park Lane and as she doesn't drink champagne, and the other cocktails were of the virgin variety, we took up our goody bags with thanks and then Mr Wesley, Mr Conley, H and I tottered round to Cecconis for a night cap:
Jay Conley and Mr Wesley, wrapped up and ready

Friday, 26 November 2010

Bond Street bestows

Well you can only sit around so long waiting for the cavalry. Recently I was bequeathed a gift horse and before I could get too attached to it, decided to liquidize the golden sunflowers painted by John Bratby. Meaning not to put the canvas in the blender but rather give it to Bonhams on Bond Street to auction. So last week we went along to watch it go under the hammer. As we got to the corner where Hermes sits, a gypsy woman plying lucky heather touched Mark's sleeve. Thinking we could do with that we gave her some  coins. "Give us some paper darlin'," she pressed, "it's coming up to Christmas." 
"That's what we're singularly lacking," we explained, "but on our way to conjure if your luck works!" The unlikely oracle promptly dug in her plastic bag and gave us each more charmed talismans before turning yet more intense and giving her dramatic predictions which we will keep to ourselves for now.

The sale was as exciting as going to the races. My beautiful Sunflowers, left to me thanks to the tattoo of the same on my ankle, outstripped its estimate and romped home ahead of another painting by Bratby that had been valued for more. To the left of the auctioneer, next to the tables where the telephone bids were being taken, a screen projected the painting and to the right, the price in British pounds, US dollars and Euros:

When we emerged breathless onto Bond Street there was magic abroad. Snow was falling from the sky while Prancer and Dancer grazed in a paddock. A glance to a lit upper window revealed a shadowy figure in control of the heavenly sugar shaker but sometimes it doesn't matter where or how enchantment is wrought:

Shoppers were serenaded by carol singers while sculptors created a Kelly Bag (I think?!) fit for an Ice Queen (right). Meanwhile Batman and Superman (below) had a camp face-off in bas-relief:

A week earlier Ralph Lauren had shut off Bond Street to stage an altogether spectacular multi-dimensional promotion using their very building as screen. Poler players appeared to thunder out towards the crowd (below, left) while their latest fragrance perfumed the air. At the finale Ralph himself "appeared" to wave from a window and ladies next to me screamed "We love you Ralph!!!" I found the  suspension of belief, the ready suggestibility rather touching. People yearn to be transported. In their window this night was a dress (below, right) startlingly similar to one of my grandma's with now raggedy uneven net hem that my mother is forever entreating me to let her fix:

So we wended our way through Wonderland, and crossed the border between magical Mayfair and more garish Regent Street, encountering fantastical figures as we went, some of whose garbs may or may not find their way into future collections:

But easily the best dressed doorman is Danny, Keeper of the Gateway to our sanctuary-burrow, who was waiting to greet us with customary good cheer, but now in his new hat, acquired that day, to keep the frosty air from his bonce.

And should you wish to know what I want most for Christmas - aside from something from this well-dressed window below - it is for the Gypsy Woman's words to come true.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Paying tribute

Another of the LVMH houses, Kenzo, had their moment last Friday when the V&A staged a "Fashion in Motion" celebration of its 40th anniversary. Mark flew back from France to London City airport in a small plane and I had my hair done, both of which activities guaranteed gales. I put together a Kenzo shirt in Yves Klein blue shirt and weather inappropriate pink suede peep toe shoes also from the label, along with a duckling yellow cardigan scattered with gun metal sequins that I found in LA, a green stole from Etro (that I think may be possum, forgive me Dame Edna) (the French ambassador's wife bought the other one) and a black puffy skirt I found in Topshop a hundred years ago.

We met up with our troupe - Andrea, slinky agent on the inside, our champion at the museum; the Italian mob, the Randolfi family; our French Connection Tim'n'Ian; and LK Bennett's new AD and our old friend Tim Bailey - in the foyer at the museum and filed into the hall holding the Raphael cartoons. Some unwelcome animation came when two ladies appropriated seats in the front row claiming their own had likewise been bagged. When Damien Whitmore, the elegant head of Public Affairs - having expressed his delight that the Earl should deign to attend (the delight was all ours) - asked politely that these ladies move, a vulgar and environment inappropriate word was hurled. I can assure you that none of this impinged upon the serenity of the presentation. Neither did the last minute changes in the programme that were only revealed afterwards. Kenzo Takada, having sold his company years ago to LVMH for some handsome remuneration, objected to his designs being included. That strikes one as strange seeing as it was a non-proft event paying tribute to his talent. It is an honour to be recognised by the museum I would say (and we should know). Communication had gone awry and that was a shame but it was no less a lovely scene that passed before us. So what went down the catwalk was the S/S 2011 collection just lately shown in Paris and it was Antonio Marras, the current Artistic Director, who alone ran out at for his applause:

French Connection Ian was seated next to me and leant in close to comment that I am the only person he could envisage wearing the outfits. Well I should love to. The singular gift that Antonio possesses is how to make clothes so delicate and ethereal yet so strong in spirit. We went backstage afterwards to greet him and his Missus-Muse, Patrizia. I was confused-amused by Mark's reticence to do the meet and greet  - I had to drag both him and Andrea behind the screens where Carolyn was presenting her family to her Artistic Director. I understand that Mark wants a body of work as ballast for when he meets people of significant reputation. Andrea was just being overly self-effacing and modest, which we were duty bound to over-rule. Here's the Kenzo team after the nautical S/S 2006 show featuring the epic liner stage-set, and they were kind enough to invite me into the shot (I'm at the front, centre, wearing the topper. Carolyn and her little girl Mathilde are next to me, Antonio at her right shoulder):

Here's James Greenfield, President of Kenzo, me (wearing the bejewelled, punched and pom-pommed panama hat Antonio created) and Antonio backstage at the S/S 2008 show:

And a photograph from the Kenzo catwalk that rather sums up my delight at having had the honour of being associated with, through my friendship with Carolyn, such a history:

And someone else who was very proud that night, Carolyn's papa, Signor Randolfi, here with Marco:

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Purple Curtains of Paddington

So as you have been extremely well-behaved, here is the story of my grandma and the St. Barnabas' Hostel for Fallen Women. It starts off a little gloomy but should give you hope that even the most dire of unpromising situations can turn themselves around:

On a dark and rainy night back in February, I found myself walking alone across Soho Square, on my way to meet Tracy Cupcake for a spot of supper. Puddles shone silver in the lamplight. The damp aura infected my spirits and the next thing you know my tears were adding to the general wateryness. Then, from the far corner of the square an altogether more dazzling glint drew my eye. It was puzzling to to see chandeliers and works of art in a building I have only ever known as a sad, run down refuge for sad, run down ladies. 

Next to the front door on Greek Street the sign exhorting passers-by to donate pennies via the shoot handily placed for that purpose - reliant on contributions as they were, the holy Sisters who hosted the less chaste - was not only still in place but recently repaired and repainted. I peered in the window for clues. A man with a handsome countenance smiled out at me before making a mime of invitation that I wasn't quite sure how to interpret. I wondered just how far fallen I appeared. The door opened. "Would you like a tour?" he asked. 

"A tour of what?" I replied, trying to appear as elevated as possible. 

He explained that the local authority had closed down the hostel on some daft Health & Safety detail. Socially well-placed entrepreneur Ben Eliot asked permission to restore it, for use as a (phrase du jour) "pop-up" club. He would - and indeed does - donate 99% of the money raised to the homeless. The gentleman then led me through the newly lovely rooms to the secret garden before announcing that the best was about to be revealed. At the end of a stone-flagged corridor he unlocked a heavy wooden door and we walked into a chapel.

"So originally this house was run by nuns?" I whispered, partly out of deference to the sanctity of the place and partly because something was dawning on me and I could hardly speak.

"Yes," he replied, "they sold a marble fireplace to build themselves a place of worship."

A chilly tingle ran through me and goose bumps popped up my arms. In front of this stranger, I only started to cry again. The fellow, who looked at me now in a discreetly concerned way, was due an explanation  - "My grandmother," I shared with him, "was born in this house."

Dickensian fashion details have spread like typhoid recently, from the last collection Mark worked on to All Saints to Paul Smith. Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" movie was our shorthand reference for the A/W2010  show that Mark and I took to New York back in January, but my Grandma, born just six months after the death of Queen Victoria, on July 16th 1901, caught the cat o'nine tails' end of proper Dickensian poverty. Her mother, my great grandma Alice Bond, was a spirited and self-sufficient woman, with a mane of such lush beauty that she was asked to sit in Selfridges' window to promote a new hairbrush. Extraordinarily for the time, she earned her own living as the most celebrated freelance chef of the day, cooking for, amongst others, the Empress Eugénie, Sir Arthur Sullivan ("The Pirates of Penzance" et al) and Edward, Prince of Wales, whose favourite pudding she invented. In keeping with her singular way of living, pudding wasn't the only thing that got knocked up. She found herself highly inconvenienced by her condition and was duly placed with the nuns of Soho Square for her confinement. 

In time, the baby was born. A succession of aristocratic Italian ladies arrived to visit the tiny mite, presenting jewellery of some fabulousness, asking that she be christened Ellazina and raised in the Catholic faith. A distinguished lawyer of the day put his name on the birth certificate but he was in the employ of someone whose identity has always remained a secret. Alice took that to her grave. 

Keen to get back to her life, Alice had the baby fostered by various people as evil as any Dickens' character whoever wronged a child (he wrote "Nicholas Nickelby" in the garden of this magical place). At four years old, Ella was sent to stand bare foot in the cold on the corner of Bayswater Road to sell oranges from her apron. A fine lady and gentleman took pity on the shivering child and gave her a gold sovereign so she could get home - the floor of a filthy, empty shop. Upstairs her "foster mother" sat  drinking gin. Ella thought she would be rewarded with some kindness for doing so well and indeed the woman was thrilled - her eyes lit up as she announced "From now on, you can do that EVERY day!" 

But one story she could tell me laughing was this: aged nine, by then a raggedy tomboy urchin, she was sent by the ghastly crone to steal as much of the purple fabric as she could carry from the Oxford Street stands erected for people to watch the funeral procession of King Edward VII. She and her gang were staggering under a load of it when the bobbies blew their whistles and gave chase. For years after, every house in their down-at-heel quarter of Paddington had purple curtains at the windows.

There's a silver lining to this story, never fear, but before I forget, here's a curtain-related sub-plot. When we bought fabric at the curtain warehouse in Finchley, I spotted a roll printed with great big beautiful bantam hens and the legend that they should roam free and happy to lay their eggs in the sunshine. It would take a stronger hearted person than me not to have bought a few metres as a present for my dear friend, designer Antony Price (or "Eyore" as he is quite guaranteed to spot the lead lining in any situation). Antony keeps chickens and other fancy foul the way regular folk have pet cats and dogs. Most plumage in Philip Treacy's hats can trace its provenance to Tone's backyard. I called him to tell of my find and to discuss his rash of press last week. As usual it was news to him that anybody had said anything nice about him, let alone printed it in a newspaper.

His fourth menswear collection has launched for Top Man and it seems Tone might be in danger of being almost cheered by its success:
It's been some years since he had his own shop and despite a devoted private clientele (I number myself amongst them) he was starting to be convinced he would die forgotten and destitute. His epitaph, it seemed, was nominating itself - "Well that was a f*ckin' disaster!" But a second round of glory is not the only thing he appears to have acquired lately. If the Sunday Times "Style" magazine is to be believed, he now has a wife. In their account of the Harpers Bazaar dinner to launch Bryan Ferry's new album "Olympia", they describe Stephen Jones and Manolo Blahnik whipping a scarf off  "Mrs Price" to improvise a hat. The lady in question was fashion writer Judith Watt,  and while they are devoted to each other, no vows are likely to be exchanged. In the Harpers blog, they also gift Antony an "h" in his name. Being dyslexic he has long been pleased to do away with it - "one less letter to get wrong." Mark Antony Wesley feels the same. The two of them share something else - the conviction that it is the boys' turn to show off and dress up once again.

Back to my grandma for the happy ending curtain closer - thanks to the kindness of a wealthy, widowed American heiress who wanted a swell companion with whom to stay in the best hotels, Ella was at the airfield in Paris when Charles Lindbergh landed; attended the premiere of Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer"; shimmied down the balcony of the Crillon Hotel to go dancing with Prince Aly Khan (who would later marry Rita Hayworth); and while not quite taking tea with the Vanderbilts, she did push the baby Gloria in her pram down La Croissette on the Cote d'Azur. So inspired by her resourcefulness and resilience, we are duly making like a couple of curtains and pulling ourselves together.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Tatterdemalian Towers

"Tatterdemalian" was the word reminded to us by Andrea when we were put up (and with) by her mama Jean. Tonight I found its theme:
"We'd open up the safe but we forgot where we put the key" hehe that's us, thread bare scatter brains.

Tomorrow I am lunching at the St. Barnabas Hostel for Fallen Women in Soho and if you are very good, I shall tell you the story of my grandma, who was born there, and how she went from being a street urchin dressed in rags and patches to taking tea with the Vanderbilts. Yes siree.

But for now it's lights out over London, with a "goodnight" from him, and a "goodnight" from me,

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mini-size me, Museum-me

Yesterday, Saturday, morning I had breakfast with Carmen at our caff on the corner, The Wolseley. Georgous Frankie the style-icon doorman was on duty. In 1921 Wolseley cars commissioned a grand showroom and a grand showroom they got. Unfortunately they couldn't shift enough motors to recoup the cost and by 1926 were bankrupt. But we love people who dream big. Aside from the name itself of course, in a salute to that history, Frankie and his colleagues wear the long, traditional chauffeurs' coat, with astrakhan trimmed collar to protect them from the chill. His hat, as ever, was pitched at an angle more debonair than rakish. He asked after Mark. I love our gang of doormen - Stephen and the other gentlemen outside the Ritz (Arlington Street entrance of course) who post my letters, Dan at the Caprice who compliments me on my parking skills (the first time, he was clearly making sure I didn't ding the Ferrari behind), and our own personal protection unit in "our" building of course. Stephen's photo was splashed across the Sun newspaper a few days later (yes, I'm back-posting) - - so here's one of Frankie and Marco Antonio instead:

So I am currently accommodated five seconds walk from The Wolseley and still managed to be late. This is not a characteristic of mine in which I take any pride but having told my friend we would have to sit in the front salon of unreserved tables, by the time I walked in she had secured us the best in the house. Those sort of skills get you employed by busy household names. I shan't drop the salver bearing this particular one to the floor but he is about as liked as it is possible to be -  people do not begrudge him success because he is motivated, so it appears, by wishing to improve all our quality of life, not just his own. And he possesses one highly specific, practical talent. And on that strength he has built reputation and profit. (Or it could be that Carmen looks just like Sandra Bullock so maybe they thought it was her).

Part explanation for my tardiness is that I got to sleep very late. I attribute this to eating a cupcake AND a chocolate brownie rather late during the previous evening's Guy Fawkes' celebrations (out-and-out my favourite day of the year, it knocks Christmas, Easter and birthdays, yes, even, into a cocked hat in a corner) (when I die, if  you find enough small change in all the handbags I leave to buy sufficient packets of sparklers for everyone to wave them round my grave, know I will be smiling) (if there's enough left over for a rocket I will have achieved all I need). The three bags of sugar that hit my blood stream had me bouncing off the walls til nearly 4am. Here are the cupcake culprits, baked by Liz (she delivers):

Still, woke up hungry and as Carmen put away scrambled eggs and salmon, I demolished a crispy bacon roll. Notwithstanding the tastiness, we were distracted by a lady so elegantly emaciated she called to mind Luisa, la Marchesa Casati:
This Italian aristocrat (1881 - 1957), excessively referenced by fashion-heads, dieted competitively with her best friend, author Karen Blixen, to achieve coat hanger proportions. The latter won - a Pyrrhic victory you could say, for she died of malnutrition. After the Marchesa had spent, largely on clothes, the single largest fortune ever inherited by an individual, she came to live out her last years in London. People would note the frail old lady scavaging in the bins of Belgravia, and assumed she was searching for food. Should they intervene, however, they would be told sharply to leave her to look for scraps of lace with which to trim her dresses.

Consuming only a flute of champagne, today's skull and bones apparition pulled at our attention. Her silver hair was pleated beneath architectural millinery providing some considerable canopy. This prompted Carmen to dub her "the mushroom lady", a spin on the lollipop physique. Her face was alabaster smooth, which made it difficult to age her, and powered white as the long string of diamonds and pearls that hung straight down her black dress, unimpeded by anything resembling a bosom. I daresay you could have washed your laundry on her ribs.

Now I am fortunate to know the Marchesa's great-grandson, a lovely gentleman of healthy appetites called Octavius Black. Here he is, if your curiosity is stirred:

He founded a clever company called the Mind Gym. "Five minutes with a genius is worth a month with a fool," he tells us. "One size does not fit all" is another of his tenets, designed to defeat flat-pack thinking.  What resonated with us lately was his advice to "Do fewer things, at an exceptionally high level." This echoes what Jean told us. Jean Carr - you remember, our Head of Hats - is also a famed management and marketing consultant along with her cohort Peter Wallace / York. She was most taken with one of Mark's tee-shirts and councelled him to capitalize forthwith on his talent for printing. To this end he returned to France this week to organise transporting his machines over here. Before he left, we got the wool Lesley needed to start knitting.

Chrissey Sullivan, my old mate from clubbing years, availed us of her specialist talent, web design, and this week went live with the one-page that she was so kind to construct for us -
She lives in Brighton these days and works for tailor Gresham Blake:

After we had nyam-upped our food, Carmen came back to the apartment with me to look at the portfolio. Her employer cannot wear anything with logos when he appears on TV. I would hope we would work on more subtle features of distinction. After she left, I performed some sit ups and press ups before having a hearty dinner.

Woke up bright and squirly Sunday morning to discover the Victoria & Albert Museum website has gone live with the link and could hardly be more engorged with pride and pleasure:
We owe great thanks to Andrea for that. This week looks set to be all about the V&A in fact. No doubt I might mention our association to just a couple of people in passing, and then the Kenzo mob descend Friday for the day of celebratory shows, which Antonio will attend. Perhaps I will get to take him to Cecconi's at last?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tall Hairy Yarns for Hallowe'en

Our first stop in London was Harriet and Andrea's mama's. Beyond all measure of kindness Jean accommodated your gypsy protagonists for two nights. But more than that, she cooked us roast chicken, took us up to a fabric depot called the Curtain Factory Outlet in Finchley and only elected herself Head of Hats by sheer dint of initiative. We showed her an idea for headwear. Not even 24 hours later, lo, it had been knitted! In fact, two had been produced, one in a shiny jersey that gave it a not entirely fashion forward do-rag air, but the one that was executed in wool - slightly off-centre though it may have been - sent a frisson of milestone excitement through the dining room: we had our first prototype! So that style, when it reaches production, will be known as the "Jean-beanie".

We then hauled ass and baggage back to the Ritz (or ever so slightly behind it), and it is from there that I write to you now. As a thank you for her hospitality we took Elisabeth, my gracious 89-year-old godmama, to have her hair done by sexy Rupert at Nicky Clark. She used to see John Frieda when he first set up shop with a little salon at the Ritz. Rupert learnt his craft there and said it was very probable that he had washed Elisabeth's hair as a junior. As his styling took inches off her silver hair, so did the decades fall away. She left utterly sprightly-delighted. On the ensuing days, Mark followed the skein of the knitwear idea, encouraged by the boxes of yarn that arrived from Paris grace a Carolyn. An old and cherished friend of Mark's, lovely Lesley, came to meet us and after a little while, I left the two of them to catch up. They went to the knitting shop on Lower Marsh in Waterloo and made a plan for production involving the exploitation of old ladies.

Or so we thought. Turns out the Old Ladies make the Teamsters look disorganized. So Lesley has taken up the challenge of knitting the samples, a one-woman wonder. Meanwhile, the other wonder, Lawanda, from Max Studio in California, has been corresponding as has Chris Capone, boy wonder of Cosa Nostra. We threw open a host of new communication channels this week, went a bit so'med' potty, opening a Twitter account -!/NewsfromBedlam - and taking lodgings on Facebook -

Last night we schlepped east and attended the birthday party of Rob Diament, one of my alumni from Westminster University's Commercial Music Degree course - in my previous incarnation as Music Biz Bod I was inveigled to mentor a dozen students a year. We toasted his third decade and were delighted to prop up the bar at Shoreditch East with Julie Verhoeven, a fellow South Londoner and celebrated illustrator of fashion -

We had an encouraging chat with Rob's papa who is a master at raising capital. He was as generous with his contacts as you would expect from such a gentleman and proceeded to introduce us to his pal Hamish who is only the master of Bastard the Dog - only the very same pedigree pooch Mark led down the catwalk at the Child of the Jago A/W 2010 show! Yes! Hamish also has a wife, Pearl, but I suspect that rather than being mastered, she cracks the whip there. Seeing as she managed Aerosmith and Motorhead, and other celebrated chamber music outfits of the electronic age, she must have learnt a thing about keeping rowdy boys in order.

On the way home to St. James' the streets and Underground were thronged with ghouls and other ghastly visitations. It was fantastical, marvellous, and to a degree such as I have never seen in London before, being more used to US extravagance for Hallowe'en. We dressed up to Skype-fright Mark's little boy - papa wearing a particularly gruesome mask with buck teeth, while I went wolvereine, donning a black fox hat bought from some Mongol horseman in the market in Moscow when Sneaker Pimps played there back in, oh, whenever; the vintage gloves Mark's mummy gave me that look like bear paws; and the boxy stole in inherited from a friend of my mama's. Here Mark does a house visit to outfit the Adams Family at their last known resting place, Pere la Chaise cemetery, in Paris.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


As the Bewick swans flew in from Siberia - bringing winter with them, some three weeks ahead of schedule – it did seem that the season had switched as abruptly as when Mark went back to France, taking summer with him.  

Me and Mr Wesley (sic) rendez-vous’d in Paris on Thursday evening, to stay with Carolyn, on the Rue Faubourg de St. Antoine. This runs off that famed hub of demonstrative discord, La Bastille. My visits never go unmarked by less than hordes of people taking to the streets with banners and megaphones to broadcast their opinion on my presence.  I was there the weekend Sarkozy was elected and was treated to burning wheelie bins and tear gas canisters.  At that time, I remarked upon the highly economically literate grafito around the column of La Bastille – “Sarko – fils de macro”. I took that to be a reference to macro-economics. “Macro”, I was duly informed, is slang for “whore”. Maintaining the restless tradition, thousands took to the streets on Saturday under a brilliant blue cloudless sky to protest against retirement being pushed back. Meanwhile, Marco and I, we just want to get to work.

Carolyn looked over the portfolio properly for the first time, even constructing a smaller, less cumbersome one for us – a more portable portfolio. She is practical, hands-on, get-it-done.  Her late grandmother's catchphrase was “Never mind eh?” The old lady lived in England over sixty years yet that was pretty much the sum of all she learnt, or perhaps needed, to say. We should adopt it to apply to the let down in funding. Repeat until feel. 

Carolyn proposed we hone the collection around jersey, which would keep production at one factory. We went to meet her at the Kenzo HQ for lunch one day and production manager Corinna joined us. She told how, as of the last two-three seasons, even fat accounts such as Kenzo / LVMH have to pay for samples from the Portuguese factories, and that three times the price of production run was quite standard.

Carolyn presented Mark with a huge chunky scarf in mustard and gherkin and matching mittens she had knitted. I received a silky cardie in Schiaparelli (or, to keep with the theme, beetroot juice) pink. We were glad of them at Pony Club in the Parc de Vincennes on Friday night. My godson Marcello has just started lessons there. His class split into two teams for a game - horseback tag. His opponents elected to call themselves the "Golden Dragons", a name of some inherent intimidation, while Marcello's gang opted for - "Salad". Reversing expectations, Team Salad established a cracking lead only to it away at the end. But as frankly they won hands down in the name game, we consider them to be the victors in the League of More Interesting Choices. 

The cloudless sky meant that the temperature dropped dramatically on Saturday. The moon was ice white as we celebrated Carolyn's birthday.  Her movie star mate Karin Viard (who won a César for Exceptional Interpretation of Interesting Choices no less) and her husband were guests, along with many mummys and daddys from school including a bright, athletic American lady called Maggie who kindly advised me on blogging. Her own is a well-followed journal of the perils and panics of having your singular identity held hostage by your children –
Here's Carolyn's husband Jean Christophe looking Tres Pack de Rat in his Antonio Marras suit with Mark in his gardener's jacket and mossy Ralph Lauren plus fours that I found at a vintage store in Venice Beach:

Also present (am I sounding like Tatler mag's society correspondent?!) were photographer Marge whose wonderful building site studio at Alexandre Dumas we visited (link to her work on an earlier post); the beautiful house model from Kenzo who, I was pleased to note, scoffed cake; and Catrina, one of Carolyn’s closest pals and designer of Jean Paul Gaultier’s jewellery line for nearly twenty years. Maybe it seems like the best of both worlds, when you are creative, to get a long-term tenure with a regular salary, but you risk forfeiting the satisfaction of those beyond the inner circle knowing your name. For all glory goes to the Artistic Director of the house.

Someone who seems to have navigated the rocks and whirlpool of that trade-off is Peter Dundas. He also worked for JPG for a long time, then Roberto Cavalli, before being made DA himself at Ungaro. Now he has hit his Viking stride at Pucci. He sent Carolyn an enormous bouquet as he was in Miami tonight. Moving is progress, and you can get comfortable in the security of a job even if it is deciding that “purple goes with blue” (as Carolyn’s brother teases her). If progress were measured in miles, Mark and I are doing pretty well. Here, Catrina and Karin are the fragrant flowers on the sofa beyond Peter's bouquet:

Lunching in the Marais, I thought I recognised the gentleman at the table next to us, wondered if he was perhaps a former neighbour of Carolyn’s seeing as we were in a restaurant on the corner of her old road, Rue Elzevir. The apartment there must have well designed ley lines - when she left there Peter took it over. Now he is installed in the Pucci palace in Florence. It turned out the man is a famous TV presenter in Greece - not that I watch Greek telly or much of any telly at all come to that. He said he would wear our clothes on the box and get his best mate, top Turkish TV presenter-actor, a Mr Okan Bayülgen, to do the same. So we have Byzantium sewn up.

Before we left for London we went to meet Vincent Smith, formerly a London punk and uncle to a little boy called Soda Pop. He is the menswear pattern cutter at Kenzo and consults for Chinese fashion companies.  Now he has a Neapolitan gig too - he sets up in a hotel room for a day or two and measures up the locals. Maybe he allows a little extra cloth to the left or the right of a jacket, according to where they pack a pistol, I wouldn’t want to say. Someone mused, “Smith and Wesley – guaranteed a lifetime” and like a vision, the logo of scissors drawn appeared suspended before me. His studio in Montmartre was immaculate. An older gentleman was pressing sections of fabric and then running them under the sewing machine needle. He is well into his seventies but comes to work every day because he loves it. He was not on the march on Saturday.

We showed Vince the mini-portfolio and he said he would help if he could when we were ready to tackle the tailoring. We walked up the steep steps of Montmartre to the Marché St. Pierre with five floors of fabrics (more demure than the “five floors of whores” boasted of by the Bangkok brothel "Angelwitch"!) before bobbing along under the Channel on the Eurostar back to London.