Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Wishing you a very Natty New Year!

"A solar eclipse of January 4 will encourage you to be more adventurous and to explore the world with a joyous, curious spirit." So writes my lovely friend Susan Miller for Taureans such as myself on her much consulted site www.astrologyzone.com  
I assure you and her that I am ready to be taken over by such a spirit, Lord be praised, indeed I am. Just yesterday we went to see "Jack and the Beanstalk" at the Hackney Empire - as restored to plush seated glory by Lord Alan Sugar - and you will take my word for it when I say that I thrilled to Jack's warbled vow as he scaled the vital vegetation just before half time - "Now's the time to show your mettle, now's the time to grasp the nettle." 
I don't wish to invite Fate to contradict Susan's soothsaying by quoting too extensively from Mark's 'scope but the words "Hooray - help is on the way dear Gemini" do feature.

Now you may have expected us to have celebrated in some extravagant social situation on New Year's Eve. And in which case you may be surprised to learn that we spent the daylight hours with couturier, and mother to Carolyn, Madame Christiane Randolfi, in her work chalet at the end of her garden in Dulwich. This woman of remarkable and resilient spirit grew up in Limoges (from whence derives the word "limosine", incidentally and a propos  of not much) before making her way to Paris. There she trained as a seamstress before coming to London and working with the Ravhis sisters. This is the only information I could find on them - http://fashion.ukfirst.com/labels/Rahvis/index.html 
So Mrs Randolfi's memories here will add significantly to the archive.

In that exalted couture house of its day, at 19 Upper Grosvenor Street, between 1961-3, Mrs Randolfi - then Mam'selle Christiane Robert - crafted meticulously beautiful clothes for princesses such as Margaret and Alexandra, filmstars including Lana Turner and home grown glamour puss Joan Collins, and even Mrs Butlin of the holiday camp fortune. Every year she had to have her work permit renewed by the Immigration Office, and assure them she was only working as a seamstress. Many of the other girls came from Norman Hartnell's workshop Christiane recalls. There was a Polish lady called Natalie who was a good friend and when Christiane got engaged to master glacier Michael Randolfi of the iconic Joe's Caff on the Old Kent Road, the girls made her wedding dress. Here is a poor scan, for which I take full responsibility, of a photograph of the creation. While the detail definition may be weak I hope the romance is strong enough to vibrate across the decades / screen and thrill your hearts a little:

Mrs Randolfi's wedding day

Christiane was a "second hand", following instructions from a girl called Jessie, the "first hand", who cut the fabric and did all the fitting. On one floor they made coats, on another dresses, and on the top, hats. It was the Golden Age of matchy matchy outfits. If it is considered that each decade does not assume its own character until a few years in then you must remember that the convention of super smartness from the 1950s still prevailed. My mother, then a buyer at Harrods in the Dior Room (she met Christian Dior himself), remembers it as a most prestigious operation. 

Ah A-HA!!!! BREAKING NEWS!!! Mrs Randolfi's son Paolo has put my investigations in the shade and found these Path√© News clips of the Rahvis, one of which references Dior, the Colossus of  Couturiers at the time. What a find these are, and what characters the sisters evidently were (love the dark, dark glasses removed only to answer a question from the reporter). The young Graham Smith appears as their in-house milliner - he went on to make his name with Kangol. Here he looks about fifteen years old but is worldly enough to give a most knowing look to camera at the end having been asked who makes a better designer of womenswear, a man or a woman:

Paul found a second one too (below), as well as a credit for the wardrobe of Miss Harris and Miss Bouquet in the Bond film "For Your Eyes Only" as late as 1981.

So you can imagine our pride to discover that not only has Madame Randolfi deigned to help us with a spot of sewing but that she removed a front tooth over Christmas to get into the Mark Wesley look-alike club:
The Gap-Tooth Gang: Mark and Madame Christiane Randolfi
They worked away together during the afternoon until Madame R called time for tea. Mark was much encouraged to see how fine the top looked that they were sampling:

Incidentally, when my black cat died and I sold my house in London to go to LA some four years back, I dispersed my belongings around those dear to me and the purple witches' hat hanging from the rafter in the photographs above was one of the bits I bequeathed to Madame R. Anyway, her powers lie in the bobbin not the broomstick and I prefer to be a bit more undercover these days. This photograph makes me laugh only because it appears that Mr Wesley is reprimanding Madame R and nothing could have been further from the truth:

We went home and did a spot of tidying up in anticipation of a visit from Harriet and Andrea whose passage across Blackfriars Bridge was blocked by Boris and his barges laden with fireworks. We made a couple of half-arsed attempts at getting lively but recognised the voice of Tony Blackburn coming from the radiogram in the kitchen as the epiphanic moment it was: this was the year to wake up sober and fresh, ready to show our mettle, and seize the nettle. And so it was we settled on the sofa to watch "Ned Kelly" - a distant relative of Mark's by marriage according to his sainted mother (expect some armour-bodied suits some season). But I didn't make it to the final credits. I saw Boris turn the air blue, and red, and green, with his gun powder smoke, but then lost my battle with Morpheus and was sparko shortly after midnight. Wait 'til word gets around and you mark mine, everyone will be pretending they stayed in too.

We are naturally excited to see if Susan's predictions come true but already she appears to be hitting targets - "There is a very good chance you'll be at the airport taking off in February" she writes for Mark and whaddya know?! First day back to work our buddy at Barneys, Jay Bell, e-mails to say "February is sounding better and better" for our trip to NY. 
A very Happy New Year to you all!

PS: Here's a song Tony Blackburn didn't play but we are very taken with it all the same, and could make it our company anthem (with a funky little back beat perhaps??). "Tom O'Bedlam's Song", written anonymously in the sixteenth century and recited most marvelously:
"Of thirty bare years have I
Twice twenty been enraged,
And of forty been three times fifteen
In durance soundly caged.
On the lordly lofts of Bedlam, 
With stubble soft and dainty,
Brave bracelets strong,
Sweet whips ding dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty."

So may this coming year find you clothed and fed and all the rest be a blessing.

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