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  -www.lisastickleylondon.com 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 - http://www.hatleyprint.co.uk/default.htm
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 - http://www.decadesdenim.com/

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 - http://www.village-press.com/ - 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 EugĂ©nie, 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) - http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3216007/BP-IT-consultant-spends-3-years-at-the-Ritz-hotel.html - 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?