Friday, 15 April 2011

Spring is another Season

With the rolling of one season into another, on the night the clocks gained an hour and time jumped forward, we celebrated my godmother Elisabeth's fine ninety years. We gathered at the former Romanian Embassy in Belgrave Square. This was an appropriate rendez-vous for while she comes from eccentric and authentic English stock - the Pilkington family - she married the Scarlet Pimpernel of Romania, Ion Ratiu whose first London home this building was. That he was a hero to many was proven when over 10,000 people attended his funeral. Many, likely most, of those had not known him personally, rather they were demonstrating their allegiance to a cause. In this case, to the spirit of democracy. But in a quieter, utterly unpolitical, unself-serving way, Elisabeth has won the fierce devotion of everyone whose life she touches. Dedicated readers of this chronicle will know that she helped Earl of Bedlam on its way by accommodating Mark and me in the fine neighbourhood of St. James', and by contributing genuine interest and a sturdy sewing machine.

While waiting to be called upstairs to the birthday dinner, guests mingled in a reception room hung about with photographs and portraits of Elisabeth from across her life. If I thought I was familiar with most of it, the startling freshness of her portrait as a debutante, a young woman about to be presented at Court, made me realise I have only ever known her as a "grown up". Of all the tributes paid the one I thought most apt had someone relating how they rankle to hear Elisabeth described as "a marvellous woman for her age".
"Elisabeth," corrected the speaker, "is a marvellous woman for any age."
My mother was one of the people invited to give a speech, which she did with assured sincerity, recalling when she was Elizabeth's manageress in the Dior room at Harrods. She had gone to work there when she needed a spell of "normal" life.

Elisabeth as a debutante at court

Next to the photograph above was a letter from Iancu (the familiar term for "Ion"). You may read how determined he was to win her, despite the many arguments against their union, not least that he was, by his own admission, "in for a risky sort of life":

"They are right to be worried, and undoubtedly I'm in for a risky sort of life"

In 1945 they did marry, for she was quite as determined to have him, and so they stayed until his death in 2000. There is too much to relay here of what happened in between those times, but some danger and despair would be experienced as a direct result of that strong-headedness. Undoubtedly she could have chosen a more tranquil and unchallenging union but as Taffy said the other day, "You have to go out on a limb to reach the fruit". In confidence I will tell you that Mr Wesley was moved to tears during the speeches, declaring later that you do question quite what you have done with your life in the presence of such quietly massive accomplishment. When Serban Lupu, the celebrated Romanian violinist whose talent was nurtured by Elisabeth and to whom she gave a violin made before Mozart was born, played his appreciation, Mr Wesley declared it quite definitely the Biggest Fattest Gypsy birthday party he had ever attended. Here is Serban playing the quintessential Romanian composer George Enescu's Sonata for Piano and Violin:

Below is a picture of Mr Wesley with one of Elisabeth's current daughters-in-law, the pulchritudinous Pamela who was formerly MRS DEMIS ROUSSOS (talking of massive, um, accomplishment) (and you thought I was going to say Big Fat G...) (you did).

And a pair of photos that will long be dear to me, of Mr Wesley and Elisabeth sharing a secret oath:

A few days after this, at Harriet's much less super-annuated anniversary, Andrea revealed that while taking her pre-soirée shower she had suddenly been consumed with the burning need to know the latest vis-a-vis Bedlam and Barneys department store. I confessed I had been somewhat at a loss to know how to broach the topic, which had indeed begun to hum here somewhat conspicuously in absence. For there had been a "rethink". It had been decided in the light of some "seasonal over-commitment" that we could get established first in London then re present for Spring / Summer 2012. The trajectory of the New York chapter had been so deliciously upward that it seemed to spoil the story to introduce a bump. "But you promised us a docu-blog and with such a platform comes responsibility!" Andrea reminded me. "It's important that the students [of life and fashion, if the two can be cleft sunder] understand there are false starts and stalled engines. You have to address this!"
"It's true," I concurred, "there is no conveyor belt to the top of the mountain."
"It's like the Jewish faith," nodded Chrissey designer-of-our-web-page-now-with-groovy-added-map-feature-so-at-least-one-thing-is-made-easier, "you have to prove you're worthy of admittance by persevering even though you may be turned away three times!"
"Oy-vey," my shoulders slumped but for a moment. "But Holy Moses you're right!" I rallied, and, regaining posture and composure, dialled Mr Bell direct.
It was a delight as ever to talk to him, and hear him say how really really REALLY proud of us he is, that one little bump pushed us into what has proven yet better momentum - the one that has created the shop; that we were not cowed by risk but galvanised.
"Spring is another season," he wisely intoned, before revealing he is coming to London in May to write the orders for Spring / Summer 2012 and that we shall get to welcome him through the door of Bedlam.

So the blossom that wraps the branches like cotton candy now will turn to sweet fruit soon enough. And day by day out along the limb we inch, ready to reach for it.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Ensign Raised, Drawbridge down, Friendly Hordes Invade

The ensign has been raised over the shop! The Earl of Bedlam name is at last emblazoned:

Mark and Lesley of the Knit painstakingly cut out the letters, which were then glued to the shop front and varnished

Our visitors included the Birkett family of Dulwich, that leafy South London suburb not normally associated with harbouring agit-pop history-makers. Do not be fooled, however, by their placid demeanour. For Derek and Sue Birkett are the King and Queen of Musical Misrule. At a kitchen table in Sydenham they created One Little Indian Records. They brought you Björk, The Shamen, Chumbawamba, Alabama 3, Sigur Ros, Sneaker Pimps, Skunk Anansie, Emiliana Torrini and a riotous host more:
They created Partisan Records for me when we - Si, Sean, Rhodesy, Gav and myself - left Moving Shadow and if they asked me to walk over a cliff I would trust they had good reason to do so and oblige. Derek always said our records sounded like pots and pans being thrown around.

My long term spa Mr Andrew Roachford also paid a visit. He is currently rehearsing as new lead singer for Mike and the Mechanics. We hope to provide a few choice bits for him to wear on tour and we're playing with designs for his own merch tees too as his own album is out later this month:  
Here he is modelling a hat from Lock & Co. of St. James', the finest gentleman's hatter in the world, although he eventually plumped for a Homburg:

At this point the infernal decoupag-ing of the display units had reached something of an impasse. Progress was hindered by my needing to read every bit of paper to assess if it was suitable for adding (I don't like stories with bad energy man) and to help me catch up with world events. In this way I only found out that Pine Top Perkins had died! He was 97, oldest Grammy winner, blues pianist. I was in a bar in Austen Texas late one night a few years back, after a day riding as the red-headed stranger in the Bandera Hills, when Pine Top shuffled through the door and sat in with the band. So there was more PVA glue in my hair than on the shelves when Mr Tim Balmain-to-Bedlam Chapman took pity on me and went off to the hardware store to buy a packet of wallpaper paste which he said was a much easier medium - quite the most thoughtful and touching present I have ever received - and then came back day after day to help finish it. On Saturday he and Ian came in with the other Timothy, Mr Bailey, Artistic Director of L.K. Bennett, who taught us the Welsh word for trainers. Which I now forget. He signed our visitors' book while taking a hit of panda. Lou-Lou looks on:

Yet another handsome man passed through the door, and introduced himself as Paul Robinson, star of the West End (He didn't come in and say "Hello I am Paul Robinson, star of the West End", we discovered that subsequently). We apologised that decorating was still on going and mentioned we would like to display work by local artists. He promptly revealed another talent when he came back bearing a large canvas. As it complemented to a remarkable degree the black, white and red check pants in the window we hung it on the prime spot of wall without a second's hesitation:

We're waiting for Paul to bring his mate Joan Collins in
Another playwright-thespian came to hang out - they have nothing to do during the day don't you know - and brought a fine bottle of champagne to boot (to drink, actually). I don't wish to state that Miss Tracy Whitwell has now set the precedent and bar (in every sense) for visitors to the shop but if you wish to take it that way, hey, don't be hindered. Tracy's hubbie is Don Gilet who recently played the evil pastor in "Eastenders". Previously he was in a series called "Babyfather" with one of my dearest class mates from (the) RADA, David Harewood.

While Tracy was with me our first ever real life customer came in! So he got a glass of champagne to celebrate. He had to wait while I sewed in a label anyway and what nicer way to pass the time? Claire Griffin had sent Chris along and I must thank her for that and also the extraordinarily successful experiments she has been conducting in burning, searing and stamping our logo onto various stuff (technical term) to try out for the Bedlam Centurians' Commemorative Medal such as I promised a few months ago - silence does not mean it has been forgot. My favourite is the green oak. Smaller wooden discs we may now use as our house buttons. I need to get images off her to show you but meanwhile here's the Commemorative Snap of Customer #1:

I was in a fluff of excitement and couldn't find a Bedlam Lifer Bag so Chris got a Fortnum and Mason one instead (IOU a bag Chris, come back for it!). A-HA! Get me, I figured it out, grabbed it from Facebook, here is the EoB logo branded on a disc of green oak, just how beyond beyond is that?

The next adventurer to stagger across the South London savannah to sit and sip a gin sling with us was Mr Andrew Clancey, our stockist in New York. He and Mark worked on some exclusive designs for the Any Old Iron store. He was keen to have plenty of Royal Wedding themed t-shirts for the upcoming celebrations.
Mr Andrew Clancey and one he shot earlier
Mr Wesley and Mr Clancey propose to you the delights of "The Daily Terror", in house magazine of Child of the Jago, Barnzley and Joe's label that brought us together

And a nice snap Mr Clancey took of us, a little blurry but then so was I

Mr Nick Curtis, the Menswear Correspondent of London's Evening Standard, lives around the corner from our store and a few times already he has popped in to check up on progress. He, too, was taken with the Royal Wedding Commemorative Tee and we hope he enjoys wearing it. We are going to ask my old pal Goldie to present one to Prince Harry, seeing as they are quite close now and just did a TV show together. On May 7th Goldicus goes to the palace to meet HRH The Queen and we are hoping he may even be wearing Earl of Bedlam when he does. "Arise Sir Cliffy of Wolverhampton" - it's just a matter of time.

A selection of the super-luxe swatches of English woven cloth we hope will be fit to greet Her Majesty the Queen.

And here, to close this episode, our Royal Wedding offering, "One Day I will be Queen", presented in all loyalty to the crown and sovereign, displayed, somewhat incongruously I concede, with the Navajo arrow I bought from a trading post in Utah, a place now ceded from the Commonwealth: