Wednesday, 28 September 2011

In Expansive Mood at London Fashion Week

You may recall from an earlier posting, Earl of Bedlam was in exalted spirits to be invited to exhibit at the Lord Mayor of London's Georgian palace, Mansion House, in the City of London. This was part of an installation entitled "Expansive Mood", a project curated by Dr. Paul Ryan, our friend and fellow Ovaltino (an adjective that suggested itself to me just this week and with which I am so pleased, as proud resident of the Oval, that I intend to wear it out). "Expansive Mood", to recap, is the term given to the stage of Bi-polar, the psychological state of extreme mood swings, that is most grandiose, when one believes anything is possible ("What's so grandiose about that?!" asked Diane), confident one can ford that river, climb that mountain, win that girl. Paul thought we represented that can-do character in clothes and accordingly asked that we create four outfits to match the mood. As it happened to be the weekend of London Fashion Week we could not have been more willing.
Les, one of the lovely Mansion House staff, with Dr. Paul  ryan who created the exhibition

We drove the wrong way up Walbrook only to see...
On Wednesday September 14th we went there to install our contribution. We screeched up to the door to be informed with impeccable politeness by Les, pictured below, that I had driven the wrong way up the street. Paul is wearing one of the "Expansive Mood" t-shirts that Mr Wesley designed for the occasion.

This plaque stopped us in our tracks. For if you consult recent postings you will be acquainted with our latest gang of interns, Tiny Tim, Merinda and Mary. They sing in harmony as they go about their chores and having spent one lifetime in the music industry I couldn't help but remark, and neither would you, on Mary's outstanding talent. Turns out she got through to the last sixteen contestants in the "Boot Camp" on X-Factor a series or two ago only to be asked to leave when she became "tired and emotional" (an old Private Eye adage) at the hotel. When Mary had to go back to college a few days before our Mansion House event she again got a bit beside herself and is now indisposed, actually taking a rest at Bethlem Royal Hospital (can you credit it?). Accordingly this event will pass without her sweet presence. Now generally Mary doesn't like her surname being revealed for although it is spelt "Haw" it is pronounced "How" but ignorant people insist on saying... well, you can imagine. So we screech up the wrong way, park in the VIP bay as directed by Les the lovely doorman, get out and see this plaque on the side wall of Mansion House. Our blessed little songbird Mary Haw's namesake was worshipped here on this spot. And so we dedicate our part of the exhibition to her and take it as a sign that in time her name will be remembered.

In the weeks running up to the show we worked with Maria P-K, wife of one of the Oval Lounge owners, our neighbouring bar-resto, to create hats for the outfits. We now deem her the Greek goddess of millinery and hope to create many more pieces with her. Maria's teacher is one of the most respected in her field and did all the hats for the movie "Jane Eyre" which is out at the moment. Mr Wesley and I had a lovely tutorial ourselves with Maria, choosing the petersham ribbon for the lining and outer hat band, and the pheasant feathers for the green felt at the Milliner Warehouse on Ebury Bridge Road near Victoria Station My mama provided an Edwardian swoosh for the blue hat, and I must ask Antony Price, expert in all things avian, to identify them. Most of Philip Treacy's feathers come from Antony's collection of fancy fowl. If you wish to contact Maria, here is her email:

So with all the components together, including some of the finest bespoke riding boots and ankle boots you could ever find, courtesy of Jason Amesbury, formerly of Lobb & Co., we assembled the mannequins in an ante-room ready to be moved to the grand hall at the end of the week. Word got round the staff that something cool was afoot and one by one ushers and footmen appeared to sneak a peek.

Mummy Butler tries the High-Top Derby for size, having provided the fine black feather swoosh to set it off

Mansion House staff came in to sneak a peek

From left-to-right, "Top Dog" with a Lock & Co. high top "Coke" hat; "Green Indian"; "Hot Wire"; and "Dapper Fox" - the latter trimmed with the pelt of the same, having been dispatched by old age

When we went back early Saturday morning, the mannequins were in place in the fabulous hall on the first floor of the palace.

Edward VIII, the uncrowned King of England, who as Prince of Wales and then Duke of Windsor was the  style-setter for men's fashion (with the odd garish Palm Springs golfer moment), sits on "Hot Wire"'s shoulder

Bespoke riding boots, black corduroy trousers, and "Top Dog" overcoat in 100% finest "Elysian" English wool

Tiny Tim and Mark printed the cloth for the heads with the same script used on our new t-shirts "Beware, prostitutes and pickpockets operate in this area". Prince Albert looks straight ahead.

"Dapper Fox" over coat trimmed with a London fox dispatched by old age

It had been quite hard for our crew to get their heads round having to give their names for an appointed hour for an escorted viewing of the exhibition and palace. So those that did earn our special thanks. We had a rolling conveyor of VIP clients, colleagues and pals come through that included designer Anne Barclay, Frin from Vanner silks, Peter Wallis (pka York of GQ, Harpers & Queen and "The Sloane Rangers Handbook" fame), Mr Brian Leitch (who wrote the movie "Pret a Porter" amongst other many and varied achievements), Andrea Carr of the V&A, Mei, menswear buyer from Browns and Simon Burstein, CEO of that star-maker store and son of Joan Burstein. 

The Lord Mayor's sword and mace

Edward VIII mans our t-shirt table

Mr Wesley does one last security sweep

Light touch paper and stand well back  - the scorching style duo that is Mr Wesley and Mr Wallis (aka Peter York, style correspondent for GQ, Harpers and Queen and general legend). Between them is Nick Bailey's "Magic Missile" one of the artworks on exhibition

Our darling benefactors Mr Martin White and Mr Philip Pittack flanking the Green Indian mannequin, for whose outfit they sponsored the fabric as they did for all four outfits

With what pride I write this caption! Mr Martin White; The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor Michael Bear wearing the Earl of Bedlam's "Dapper Fox" overcoat and his chain of office; Mr Philip Pittack and Mr Mark Wesley.
Needless to say when no one was looking we misbehaved and indulged in some cheeky aggrandisement, plonking ourselves in the Lord Mayor's throne. Michael Bear is the 683rd Lord Mayor of the Square Mile:

My favourite picture from the event - Mr Wesley, Mr White, Green Indian, myself and Mr Pittack

As well as thanks to Paul Ryan we must doff our feathered hats to Lady Barbara Bear, the Lady Mayoress and distinguished sculptress herself. It was her initiative during their term of office that had the palace filled with contemporary art and she who invited Paul to make this happen. Here she is between us as Top Dog and Dapper Fox stand sentry:

In case you have admired the jacket Mr Wesley is wearing, and if you hadn't, now is your opportunity, we should tell you the story of that. Our friend Alexander Lewis is the head of Brand & Business development at E.Tautz, that won the British Fashion Council's Menswear Award last year So we were lucky enough to be invited to the sample sale and picked up the beautiful pheasant eye tweed he is wearing. Alex told us that when they went to Scotland a scrap of it was found in a barn, attached to which was a yellowing bit of paper bearing the legend of the client's name and year it was woven - 1970, Yves St. Laurent. And so they rewove a bolt and much admired by all comers was Mr Wesley's rig out. Here he expresses his delight at the discreet zips concealed in the sleeves of his own design, the Dapper Fox:

The gorgeous ankle boots and riding boot donated by Jason Amesbury, bespoke shoemaker

More of Jason's bespoke footwear

Close up of the Green Indian in Donegal tweed with diametric patch pockets and green lozenge buttons

Close up of the buttons made from mussel shells on Hot Wire. We used them the "wrong" way round so that the ridges would work with the weave
In addition to the people thanked above we must commend the outstanding helpfulness of the staff at Mansion House. While Lord Mayors may come and go, they are the warp and weft of the upkeep of the palace and all it represents regarding the glory of London. Everyone there was so kind to us but we will name check John Davis the funniest of the guides, with whom I did a double-act turn when he would invite me to say some words to the visitors about our clothes, and William Chapman, who is Private Secretary & Chief of Staff to the Lord Mayor.

Talking of Private Secretaries to the Highest in the Land, the postman brought a letter to the shop a few weeks ago and I remarked with some relief its white crispness, a welcome change from dull brown bills. Next I noticed the smart scarlet flash of the franking and asked our friendly posty if that was the Royal Mail's new look. He took it back off me and examined it. "No. You've got a letter from Buckingham Palace," he announced. McCrikey! And so it was. And this is why - when we had our opening party, the blessed Elisabeth, my godmother, who was another sponsor of our Mansion House exhibit, and without whose assistance we could not have achieved what we did, regretted she could not attend as she had to have lunch at Highgrove with Prince Charles that day. She doubted she would be back in time or have any energy left if she was (being ninety years of age). To compensate for her absence she asked if she might take something of Earl of Bedlam to present to His Royal Highness. I wracked my brains but didn't think there was anything particularly a propos. But then inspiration alighted and I thought a-ha! how about one of the Royal Wedding tees for Prince Harry, the one depicting Will and Kate as Sid'n'Nancy with MC Harry Wails on the mic at the post-nuptial party?! As that looked a little lean, we wrapped and presented it in an EoB duffle bag. Lo and behold, now here was a lovely letter of thanks from the young Prince's Private Secretary! This has been duly framed and hung on the wall and later I will investigate the etiquette of posting you a picture of that.

For now, ladies and gentlemen of every rank and class we take our leave of you with a sweeping bow.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten Years Removed

      Ten years ago today I had a window seat on the 8.45 am flight out of JFK. "Looks like the World Trade Centre's on fire" said a voice behind me. 
      I turned and saw a pencil plume of smoke rising from the top of one tower. The first plane had just made impact on the other side, out of sight. During the flight, over and over I checked the news channel, despite my rational brain knowing very well that they are pre-recorded videos. The instant we landed at Heathrow our pilot, in a strict, sombre tone, ordered everyone to leave phones turned off as he had something to tell us. And then he revealed what had had the rest of the world transfixed for those seven hours while we were suspended in elevated isolation.
     If you seek a tribute to the characters of New York City, one of its finest citizens and my precious friend, the musican and producer, Nile Rodgers, has his auto-biography out next month. The New York Times magazine has run this excerpt today. Read it, you will thank me:
     I was privileged to be there as Nile drafted some of the manuscript, in complete admiration of his hip-eloquent turn of phrase and the way his prose had me lead-by-the-hand behind the most exclusive velvet rope then humbled to be party to the most personal recollections. His extraordinary intelligence and his own prodigious musical skill allow him to always credit talent and charisma (and the rare instances they co-incide to make superstars) while never being intimidated, for he is not only on that par but above it. 
     We are privileged, too, to have many more friends in that city, a place that I characterize as a person of irresistibly magnetic qualities. No other city ever inspired me to run my finger tips along the walls of buildings as I walked down its avenues, as if caressing a lover, so happy to be reunited.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bedlam on the Streets of London

As ever at the vanguard of breaking news we deliver you a dramatic bulletin regarding rioting breaking out across London exactly one month ago. If England is a nation of shopkeepers, as its earlier aggressor - and subject of our best selling t-shirt - Napoleon sneered, then the country was at war with itself for a few nasty nights in August. The causes of the trouble are complex but what manifested was saddening to behold. Saddening and scary. At the far end of Clapham Road in Bedlam HQ we heard the hot pant of trouble as it encroached about us. One flashpoint where looting was out-of-hand nasty was a jog to our west in Clapham Junction while trouble to the south in Catford and Lewisham threw out cinders as close as the Camberwell and Walworth Roads. If you are unfamiliar with the geography of London let me tell you that was too close for comfort. Across the road from the Earl of Bedlam store is the Secret Police  / Anti-Terrorist HQ that everyone knows about. One of our regular visitors from there is their man in IT who was put to checking Twitter and the rest to follow whatever "strategy" the looters had devised. He came over to say it would be safer if we closed up.

So we dressed up one of our mannequin ladies as the Home Guard in the Royal Navy band uniform coat and the other in the black tail coat with silver buttons and frogging that Aurélie and I had found at the South Bank Vintage Fair and left them in the window with warrior streaks on the faces and Age of Reason blood-splattered silk standards on their heads. Then we pulled the heavy-as-heck olive tree in its lead planter right behind the door, rolled down the shutter and retreated into the bunker with some bottles of Beaujolais, a rusty musket and some damp powder.

The next morning we found that not only had we escaped the attention of the aspirational looters but had actually inspired some pity - a few meagre sticks of furniture had been left on the shop front platform, kinda like the story of the burglar who surveys the household at his mercy only to tidy up, cook dinner and leave some money on the kitchen table.

Meanwhile, back down the Junction, people were gathering to show support for local traders, armed now with brooms and bin bags, to clean up and repair their district. If you recall from last month's post (actually, yikes, end of July's - August was a post-free zone, how utterly slack) (but entirely down to being worn-ragged busy, not lolling on some beach), wearing our Ocean Colour Screen hats, we had won a big print run of t-shirts for St. Peter's Church in Battersea. And here, with thanks to Mark Simpson at the church for the Daily Telegraph link, you see those same sunshine yellow shirts in that positive pro-active throng, behind the vicar as he addresses the film cameramen:

Then an invading horde with a different battle in mind next descended upon us for the England vs. India Test Match at the Oval. We did a brisk trade in Panama hats, and here Mr Wesley models the "Gambler" style, straight outta Atlanta, GA.

The cricket fans chose themes for their costumes that seemed to the untrained eye somewhat random, but then I don't even understand the rules of the game let alone the code of dress.

August was always going to be quiet but the moody antics of the disaffected pretty much hobbled any casual opportunist shopping. Luckily for us we had a commission from a highly focussed local, a gentleman of New York City as distinguished as he is handsome, about to return there after thirteen years in London. He had acquired some tweeds on various forays into Scotland and asked if we could make him two jackets and a suit, fully bespoke, as his souvenir of these isles. Another gentleman, Rob Streeten, who works at Paramount Films, helped pay the bills - and paid us the highest compliment  - by asking us to do his Big Day suit, for his wedding at the end of September. The neighbourhood also turned up trumps when Wesley from the Stockwell Job Centre brought in another intern for us, "Tiny" Tim, who is not only extremely tall but comes with two cohorts, Mary and Merinda, who come in every day as well - three helpers in one. There is a good deal of squealing and cigarette smoking and spontaneous close harmony singing that erupts but they have been invaluable to us while we work on our contribution to a forthcoming exhibition curated by Oval's own art world tottie, Paul Ryan:

I originally knew Paul through my old pal Jeremy Deller, Turner Prize winner and much more importantly for his CV,  Keith Moon-inspired drummer for our school-days band the "Avant Gardeners", for whom I sang, barefoot like Sandie Shaw. So Paul happens to live across from the EoB store and has followed our development with regular drop-ins. Now he has invited us to install four mannequins in the theme of "Expansive Mood". That is the term for the stage in the mental condition Bi-Polar of a grandiose state of mind where one senses no restrictions of reach. This is to be held at Mansion House, highly grandiose residence of the Lord Mayor of London - where, under broken shop glass, the streets are paved with gold. The exhibition runs over London Fashion Week weekend thus making us, the only sartorial participants, the Corporation of London's acknowledgement of that critical sector of the capital's commerce. We are delighted, honoured and touched by the generosity of Philip and Martin from Crescent Trading who have sponsored the fabric for the event - all 100% wool woven in England. From the official Press Release I quote:

"Expansive Mood, which forms part of the ‘Open House London’ weekend on 17 and 18 September, brings together artwork by up-and-coming sculptors, such as Nick Bailey’s Magic Missile, and pieces from established British artists, including Daniel Baker’s Ornament. Four mannequins by ‘Earl of Bedlam’ will be included in the exhibition as a nod to London Fashion Week, which takes place during the same weekend.
Barbara Bear, Lady Mayoress of the City of London, who herself is a visual artist and sculptor, will host a reception at The Mansion House for the artists, their tutors and potential patrons, on Monday 19 September to congratulate them on their achievements.
Speaking before the event, Barbara Bear, said:
                     “Art features strongly at The Mansion House and I am delighted that the Lord Mayor and I will use the House to showcase the work of these artists to add a contemporary twist to our traditional surroundings. As a sculptor myself, I am particularly looking forward to meeting the artists to talk about the inspiration and techniques behind their eye-catching creations and - whether they are established on the art scene or just starting out in their careers - I hope they enjoy taking part in the show.”
Paul Ryan, the artist who has curated Expansive Mood, said:
                     “The theme of ‘Expansive Mood’ explores themes of grandness, which is entirely appropriate to The Mansion House. I wanted to include works that boldly embody, or thoughtfully investigate, the type of psychological energy and super-confidence that is valued by the City, and that is embodied in this type of building.”
Exhibitors include Daniel Baker, Sarah Woodfine, Paul Coldwell, Elizabeth Wright, Nick Bailey, Russell Hill, Zuza Mengham, Roxy Minter, Naomi Dines and Joe Sutherland. Visits to The Mansion House during 'Open House London' weekend can be booked in advance by writing to the City of London’s Public Relations Office at the Guildhall to enter a draw for tickets – more details from "
While thankfully our shop sustained no damage from the rioters then possibly some passing drunks had done for some more spindles on our platform balustrade - with its table it does tend to make a handy stop for them during nocturnal peregrinations. Fearful that someone could fall through it now I set our youthful inmates to making warning signs. Paul Ryan arrived for a Mansion House meeting but was cajoled into overseeing the art class. A Blue Peter generation baby like myself, he volunteered to fetch sticky-back plastic without a second's hesitation and here you witness his distinction prove no obstacle to offering hands-on help:

Paul Ryan applies the sticky back plastic to our young inmates' warning signage. "Tiny" has the nervous constitution of Vivienne Leigh, and as you can see, the tension of avoiding air bubbles was almost too much for him

One upshot of the trouble was, I hope, that people learned how much they actually do love their own little corners of London and how it is important to cherish the pockets of independent commerce. Not saying that it's any less reprehensible when Foot Locker or Debenhams gets done, but there was a palpable surge of protective instinct towards those family businesses who offer an alternative to mass chain stores. 

Eager to play our part in the repair process and support our local boozers and bands, last Friday we took our New York stockist and friend, Andrew Clancey, of down to the Queens Head on Stockwell Road. We went to see Rooster, the band fronted by the stunner of the South, Sara Stockbridge, the original and best face of Vivienne Westwood. And who walked in but the Queen of London herself, Dame Viv with hubbie Andreas! We had a totally tip top time, Rooster rocked, and much money was rung into the local till. We love South West London.

Sara on stage - this was only their third gig. You can see she has Debbie Harry cool locked down

Vivienne Westwood and husband Andreas Kronthaler got on their bikes to support Rooster

Dame Vivienne, Queen of Old London Town chatting to her muse in the break outside

Mr Clancey threw himself into the spirit of the evening, here wearing Mr Wesley's Lock & co. high top Coke (their name for a bowler hat as they invented it at the behest of gentleman farmer Mr Coke) that we found at the Southbank Vintage Fair

Mr Clancey of course was our first US stockist. In the effort to win more overseas orders, we were extremely pleased to be visited by the most beautiful emissary of the UK Trade & Industry Commission, Nicola Briars-Coan. So on and up trade the good burghers of Bedlam!
Nicola from the UKTI with Mr Wesley