Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Sleep deprived in Piccadilly and serendipity in Hanover Square

Spent a fretful night, fretting. Had fallen asleep by 9pm when Claire, our friend and feretter outterer of vintage bits and handy people called to say "You MUST buy these buttons!"

So then awake I called my ma and ended up wound tighter than a metal thread on a steel bobbin. Cos it goes like that sometimes. Couldn't get back to sleep for hours as worries jack-hammered my brain. Must've finally dropped off but was awake and nasty by six. So reheated the spat with my mother then had ridiculous phone call with Mark. I hung up on him as he said "I don't want to talk to you like this. Let's speak lat..."

I e-mailed back and forth with a Turkish lady who has offered to be our broker with factories there. She responded to an alert Mark sent out on LinkedIn. Facebook's fine for mucking about, but LinkedIn is for serious grown up professional runnin's. Now it seems the UK is beyond our means at this point, I have put out the word to friends to recommend people. Tim Chapman has just come back to London from a big design gig in Turkey after being at French Connection but his top tip was for Portugal; Tim Bailey was going to ask his LK Bennett team for ideas; and Mark Campbell has asked his River Island colleagues for leads. People  - and not just friends either, some of these are busy people I hardly know too - are being extremely kind and generous with their time and advice and connections. 

Next I sent an e-mail to David Bradwell whom we met at my friend Nile Rodger's concert some weeks ago. He is MD of StockingsHQ and we mentioned our handcuff motif and he said wellwhaddyaknow, they had a new product with just that arriving any day! This morning he wrote back immediately to say how nice it was to hear from me and how funny, as he had just been thinking about us, sat as he was with (not in) the new handcuff embellished hose. "Please just let me know if there's anything we can do," he wrote. Gee, even my grinchhead was being softened up by such sweetness. The night of the show David was with his friend, a Mr Swash, who simply will have to own one of our Swash Buckler jackets.

Then I corresponded with Mr Dell regarding how many sample collections he would need (maybe one for Ireland he said, which had never even crossed my mind. Now it has I must, as an Irish citizen, discuss with accountant Colin any benefits to creating the company there).

My darling friend Michele woke up and wrote from New York to tell us a) she had been to see the new "Wall Street" movie and how proud she is to be broke doing something she loves (writing) that at best adds to the world but at worst does no harm than to be a rich "success" by using or worse, destroying, other people and b) about a new bar with which for reasons obvious we must be acquainted:

I was now sufficiently palatable to be allowed out and walked down Oxford Street (urgh) (not the shops but the shuffling pavement purgatory) to my opticians on the Tottenham Court Road, having broken both pairs. As I reached the entrance, two cop cars screeched up at the curb. Police pounded through the doors and, hanging back just slightly I followed them in. Got to the counter just as my phone started to ring. Saw it was Mark. "Miss Butler?" he asked. 
"You are under arrest for being grumpy, the police have been informed and will be there any moment." Turned out they had been called to cart off two shoplifters but once again the cherub of mirth had smiled upon Mr Wesley. 

More serendipity lay ahead. As I walked back to Arlington Street an arresting figure caught my eye. That lean, elegant silhouette could only be one man - Ozwald Boateng. Thankful that I had at least put a foxy coat on, a Moschino leopard, I told him we had witnessed his models boarding the bus outside his shop and he asked well why had I not come to the show in that case?! It was in Leceister Square and had, he told me proudly, something of real magic about it. I replied I had imagined it was by invitation and he gallantly said well of course it was but "for you!" all necessary accommodation would have been made. I couldn't help myself from touching his coat and then confessed this new venture to him. He offered congratulations and again confirmed himself as being not just fitted out as a gentleman but the veritable deal from his head to his toes which is a considerable distance let me tell you. I told him we had seen the cream dream cruiser on Savile Row and that I had even popped in on my walk today to ask the assistants what it was but no one could tell me. Neither could Ozwald. It was nothing to do with him, he said, some guys had hired it.

My mood was mellow as butter now but it took this to make me melt: an article on one of my most favourite lines, from whom I must buy more than any other company, Toast:

They have just launched their first menswear collection and how I love that they rebuff the hoary "who is your target customer" question -
"There is no Toast man,’ Jamie [Seaton]  insists, no notional customer that he designs for. The Seatons’ tastes define the Toast aesthetic or ‘handwriting’, as they call it; a combination of the bohemian, the relaxed, the handmade and the unlikely."

My parents are acting as our press service, clipping out relevant articles - with real flair in finding what's helpful, useful, inspirational - saving magazines and catalogues and newspapers. There's a bit of a backlog and I spent some time looking through it all as I ate dinner. From Sept 17th in the Daily Telegraph is a piece that should encourage investors, about the House of Commons report, the "Value of Fashion":  

I rang my ma again to say thank you. 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Vacancy in Cell 5E

Mark left for the South of France today, checking in the huge portfolio as outsize baggage, and London suddenly felt wintry. A season has rolled on, and, where only recently it seemed we had lots of time in hand, we have to get things done, made, samples to see and touch, or be running to catch the Autumn / Winter 2011 orders.  After I got back to flat 5E, I exchanged a little conversation with the doormen before strolling on my lonesome up Piccadilly. To counter the cold I had my raccoon flying hat on, ear flaps down. We bought one each from a Frenchman who has a menswear store, Conquete, opposite the Chelsea Hotel in New York. He has them made to his own spec. and they are great.

I cut up Bond Street - noting people huddled at the bar in Cecconi's, the tables deserted outside that were thronged a few days ago - and hiked across Regent into Soho. On the corner of Greek Street and Soho Square, at the laudable establishment that is St Barnabas Hostel for Fallen Women (membership fees go to help the homeless), I met our lovely mates Chris and Lee Dyson. Chris works at Universal Records and Lee is an astronomer-musician-digital-design guru. Aside from being a brilliant bloke, he always delivers what Mark is after lickety-spit ("No, Bono, you'll have to wait," he says quite sharply - this is how I imagine it - turning back to our unpaid request). As we were on our way to Heathrow he sent through the Earl of Bedlam logo with its new lettering. Even on the little Bananaberry screen it looked really cool - cos you have to think about how images and other id's will look shrunk onto clothing labels and swing tags. So wotchafink? He's going to play about with a few more versions of it. We'll post them in a couple of days and hone the winner.

Carolyn called from Paris, checking in after a week in Hong Kong visiting factories that manufacture for Kenzo. She is our distinguished knitwear wiz-consultant and had practical advice after an English manufacturer's rep in Berwick Street last week pronounced an innovation of Mark's "impossible". To use that word is to show a lamentable lack of imagination. I said nothing is impossible, we've put men on the moon (we've seen their footprints through Lee's telescope too), at which the tailor conceded it would be "prohibitively expensive". Carolyn counselled to get used to that sort of reaction, but push against it, as many manufacturers have their machines set in one groove and if you ask them to move an inch left or right they get all freaked out and wibbly wobbly, parroting "Oooh can't do that!" Yes you can. You can.

At Terminal Five we got out of the car park lift and I noticed Matthew Williamson crouched on the curb having a smoke. He looked quite fragile, wispy as his moustache. "Did you see who that was?" I hissed to Mr Wesley. "No. Who?" he asked, performing the instinctive unsubtle turnaround that makes it obvious to the celeb-subject that their presence has been remarked. To apologise for my gauche attention drawing, I turned round too with a smile for the designer and he returned it in a most charming way, quite shyly. I hoped maybe he would be on Mark's flight to offer advice.

We had wanted so much to get the line made in the UK but the prices are really brutal we're trying to persuade other people to put their money behind us. We received an e-mail from a gentleman in Turkey this morning, offering his services as a broker, so I shall reply and see what he has to say.

I grumble at Mark for having the telly on loud but the apartment seemed so quiet when I got home that I put it on and turned it up.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The "S" in our post code is important to us - Mark is Catford's own living landmark and I grew up in Dulwich. We wear our South London loyalty on our sleeves and it makes our temporary accommodation even sweeter that we can just maintain it. But yesterday we crossed the demarcation line of Piccadilly into W1 to visit our accountant, Colin Young, he of saintly patience with his roster of creative clients. We wanted to go through money stuff with him - the least enjoyable but utterly crucial component. If you can't deal with it, find a man who will. Colin imparted a sense of can-handle calm. He can register the company for us - which takes about three days, and get a VAT # - up to three weeks. I said to hold off a few days while we try to muster the money to cover the admin costs and his fee. He said something that I found very wise, that experiencing failure is an important part of the process and that no one should enter into a creative venture, from which ever side of the table, expecting a straight trajectory. Corners are part of the journey.

On the way "home" we went into Liberty, #1 best store if London in Time Out magazine's list of said. I wanted to visit haberdashery (# 6 in my personal Top Ten list of words) on Third but we were both in a bit of a daze - talking about money has that effect on us - and didn't figure that the man already in the lift had made his selection already and stepped out like lemmings on Lower Ground with him. But that was a happy accident as I could ask for the contact details of the Menswear Buyer. He wasn't in attendance as Wednesday was fellas' day at Fashion Week. Yesterday, after our meeting with Mr Dell, we presented ourselves to the friendly Menswear Buyer at Browns on South Molton Street. Immaculate in grey CdG waistcoat he said the store was as committed as ever to supporting new designers. Mark said - afterwards, to me - that an order from Browns would make him prouder than any other. He first dream-shopped there when he was fourteen and it has always remained his favourite. I won't put the buyers names as you have to do a little bit of work yourselves.

We wandered on in the sunshine - I tried to take a turn at carrying the portfolio. It's very big, and our artist mate Big David Taborn ( was heap big kind to lend it to us. But the moment I put it down for a rest, Mark took it back even though his fingers were blistered from carrying it. As we made our way down Savile Row, male models were coming out of Ozwald Boateng's shop to board a coach. Meanwhile, a completely fabulous cream dream of a cruiser was waiting to ferry someone worthy of such fabulousness to their event in Leceister Square (I imagine). I have never seen a car like it so could not tell you what it was and neither could Mark. "Shall we get one of those some day?" I asked him. "Deffo," said Mark. "But oh no!" I had spotted an existential roadblock, "We won't know what to ask for!" So maybe I can ask Ozwald, whenever our paths cross again. I got to know him many years ago when I was running club nights in the West End, most (in)famously in the VIP bar of Heaven. We gave a stage to musicians and singers. Some were famous, most were not, some were very good, and some were very, very bad - but those traits can be equally entertaining as X-Factor auditions demonstrate today. Anyway, Ozwald would show up to watch sometimes and one afternoon he even came to tea at my parent's house. My mate James Greenfield would later give him the Givenchy gig at LVMH. But James I know through my old school pal and honorary sister, Carolyn Randolfi. She graduated from the RCA and after working for Hugo Boss, Falke, Chanel, Lagerfeld and more, is now Knitwear Supremo at Kenzo. There, the current Artistic Director is Sardinian designer - Antonio Marras.

I told you our stories have corners. So, on the corner of Old Burlington Street and Burlington Gardens is our "works canteen" - Cecconi's. We take a table outside so that members of our focus group - Harriet, Jane, Andrea and assorted special guests - can smoke. Mark is trying really hard to give up smoking, in that, he is totally committed to wanting to, but this is kind of a super stressy time to be kicking away a crutch. At one point last week it seemed he was covered in patches, sucking on the gross lozenges the doctor prescribed and chain smoking at the same time. Anyway, the drinks ain't exactly pub prices here, but we have done enough pit stop research and figure that when you factor in the free fat olives and nuts - ie "free" dinner - and the priceless pavement show that passes by, you come out ahead. Only trouble is, the octopus is so good (and the courgette flowers) (and the bruschetta) (and, aaargh, dammit, just about everything on the menu) that we generally do order little plates of food too. So we have to make a success of ourselves to continue coming here. Also priceless are the waiters, who are always really nice to us, and tonight I asked one of them what part of Italy he is from. "Alghero," he said, which is where Antonio lives. Naturally I exclaimed, "No way! I don't suppose you know..." and he just about fell to his knees and genuflected at the name. When Carlo could speak again, he explained that Antonio is a hero in the town, the only person from there to achieve artistic recognition and an inspiration to them all. I said well, crumbs, next time he's in London, I shall bring him straight here for a drink (and LVMH can buy the crispy calamari rings! Whoo-hoo!).

Who and what you know matters - some will be famous, most will not, but when you make connections, not just in a naff networking way, I mean proper, human connections, it can reward the effort ten fold. Seeing Carlo's admiration for Antonio's achievements was really touching and inspiring, because it showed again that if you persevere with your dream, and succeed, other people are proud of you and emboldened for themselves.

But more prosaically, get people's names, take cards, don't lose them, follow up, maintain contacts and especially take the trouble to find out the marque of any completely fabulous cream dream cruisers you see cos you never know when you may be in a position to acquire one.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Licensed to beg - and noses pressed to London Fashion Week's windows

This is the preface to our story, the launch of a new fashion label called Earl of Bedlam. 

We hope you will follow as installments flow, ebb, dam up and stutter forth. Actually, we would prefer you at our side, not "following" - beginning now, as London hosts Fashion Week. From our windowless HQ with the finest post code in London - SW1A - we are, thanks to charitable benevolence, occupying the spare maid's quarters in a grand building behind the Ritz with security porters who politely wonder to what we're up (we think they like us, they remind Mark when Arsenal are playing and laugh when we bring our own rubbish down). This is not entirely unlike our position in the professional fashion cavalcade going on about us. And one paragraph in, I have mislead you already - there are windows in our cozy bunker, but they are opaque and only open a couple of inches. Our best view right now is the horizon of our hopes.

See, we aren't attending any do's or getting shoved at shows. Mark Antony Wesley and I have, between us, done plenty socializing in our time. Now we are getting down to business. Last week we had "robust" meetings with potential investors, today we sat down with a gentleman called Anton Dell. He came highly recommended by an agent I contacted who, it turned out, only represents womenswear. Mr Dell was an agent himself for twenty five years and now acts as broker, matching line to a propos agents in territories around the world:  

He nominated the penthouse bar of St. George's Hotel (two blocks up from Oxford Circus) as our meeting place. Downstairs in the lobby, we heard our names pronounced as a question and turned to see a man in a damson coloured velvet jacket, with an appealing, open manner.  I am almost reluctant to tell you about the setting for this most encouraging rendez-vous - it was a genuine discovery to Mark and me. After all, we like to boast between us we've danced on most bars in this town. But, starting as we promise to continue, with generous candour, here's the coup: the express lift carried us all to the fifteenth floor and the spectacle of the city spreading west made our eyes wide with delighted surprise. If Mr Dell did nothing else for us that day, already he had delivered one class revelation. It could, should and yet may be (if we propose our "Nostalgie de la Mud" club night to the management) where the global elite come to party, like the Boom Boom Room, penthouse club of Manhattan's Standard Hotel. But here, no models serve cocktails by the house mixologist in over-thought surroundings. Instead kindly staff, in waistcoats as worn as the carpet, greeted Mr Dell with friendly recognition and brought us tea. 

Then Mr Dell assessed the portfolio. He pondered Mark's sketches and photoshopped outfits, the line drawings and swatches. He praised the standard of the work. He then gave us, based on his many years' experience and the performance of similar projects, projections of wholesale orders in the UK. The majority of these, he said, would be outside of London. Retailing has been hit like other sectors of the economy,  but "when people see something great," pronounced Mr D, "money doesn't matter." "Strong work," he added, "will always sell." Buyers are exercising caution, he continued, but more in ordering from well-established, high end brands. The good news, for us, is that they continue to go for new lines as the very novelty is a draw to serious fashion hounds. As in the music industry (or rather, the one that existed when I worked in it), discovering new talent confers kudos on the buyers, same as discovering a new band would make an A&R man's reputation. Mr Dell treated us to tea, for which we were very grateful, and we parted much encouraged.

Here's the lowdown on the label's id -
Any horse or customer can smell a nervous chancer. Being authentic matters. Mark Wesley’s credentials as criminally irresistible are impeccable from where I'm sat, and his talent is self-evident. However, for reasons much debated, he preferred not to work under the banner of his name. A few likely candidates presented themselves and were almost mistaken for the title role, but when "Earl of Bedlam" rocked up, the fit was sure - a salute in four strong rolling beats to the great South London landmark, the Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum. In time that name elided into “Bedlam”, where, for the price of one penny, the gentlefolk of London would stand about the balcony to be entertained by the crazy folk below. 

Conditions were consistently dreadful, and the care amounted to little more than restraint.... the noise was "so hideous, so great; that they are more able to drive a man that hath his wits rather out of them."  Some of the less dangerous patients were allowed to leave, and issued with a 
license to beg. 
How we are feeling the lament of one-time resident, seventeenth century playwright Nathaniel Lee: "They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me."
In 1815, Bedlam was moved to St. George's Fields, Southwark, now the Imperial War Museum. We paid a visit there on Sunday as antique working men's clothes and uniforms are Mark's favourite inspiration. This IWM is free to visit, not even one penny to they take from you. The inmates must have had an uncomfortable time in their first winter at the new site - no glass was initially provided for the windows, because of "the disagreable effluvias peculiar to all madhouses." [information from].
So at least we have glass, even if we can't see through it. This is not insanity then, but a fine vision awaiting notice. We hope to arrest attention with dark romance of words and cloth, tales with not just edge but corners - mainly our true life story. Mark creates costumes inspired by them. I write them down.

And so goodnight for now, the cell door is shut and the candle snuffed,
Lady C