Saturday, 18 May 2013

Gatsby and Bowie and the Alabama 3

As widely reported, the fastest selling exhibition ever at the Victoria & Albert Museum is the scrapbook of David Bowie's cultural influences. I was privileged to meet him when he recorded with Goldie. He came to our studio at St. Anne's Court, Soho, where his "Hunky Dory" portrait hangs in the stairwell (as he recorded that there years before). We had to stop him washing up the coffee mugs. I wanted to say, "Please don't be 'one of us' - we like you being God". He signed a CD for me (which I really must find, it was sitting about on the desk at the old shop for ages and things had a habit of walking from there). Some years later I went to see Arcade Fire play in Central Park, NY, and, their being his favourite band, DB was the surprise guest for the encore. Afterwards, I shuffled into position to reintroduce myself backstage and he said "Hello Caroline! How's Goldie? Do give him my best!" which was pretty remarkable when you consider the parade of faces that must have stared at him in between our last exchanges.

This week we have delivered our first kilt suit to Scott Rodger, dear friend and old colleague from One Little Indian Records. He is deservedly the predominant music manager in the world these days. Arcade Fire is one of his, as is Paul McCartney. After we had the last fitting for the suit - commissioned for his brother's wedding today in Scotland for which we raise a lusty "HURRAH!" - Scott kindly offered me his other ticket for the Bowie exhibition and we spent a good two and a half hours rapt around Bowie's brain. On display was a letter from Decca Records when it used to have its HQ at the Albert Embankment, just minutes walk from the Mews. Never knew that.
Potentially the most useful exhibit for us was this - David's measurements in a notebook from the 1970s:

A few days before seeing the show, I had enjoyed lunch with Nile Rodger's consort Nancy Hunt in London and she had come to the restaurant straight from the exhibition, in something of a funk about it. The absence of "Let's Dance", Bowie's biggest selling album - other than a short burst of music in the headset as you move around - had her upset. I don't like Nancy to be upset, so I looked for an answer to that and it did seem to be the exhibition was about elements that had inspired him rather than the influence he wrought. Of course, he was inspired by Nile's commercial success to engage him to make the album and that that was the case is recounted wryly in Nile's autobiography when he writes how, on getting the gig, he excitedly looked forward to his first art house record while Bowie simultaneously thought, "YES! Pop hits for me!"

Bowie's quilted Liberty print suit

We stood outside the museum, on the pavement of the Brompton Road afterwards and agreed we are both lucky to have, never mind met him, but to have grown up to his music rather than Katie Perry. But we left on a poignant "what-will-become-of-the-human-race" note when Scott revealed a girl at his barber shop earlier had not known who David Bowie is. We shook our heads in some shared sorrow and said our goodnights.

Back in the hot house of the Bedlam studio, Scott's rock 'n' roll kilt suit was taking form rapidly. The brief was to avoid the shortbread tin look and find a tartan that was predominantly black. Nothing could have fitted that better that the "Dark Douglas", a weave that looks black from one angle, only to reveal its plaid secret when the light hits from another angle. Now it was coming together with a slightly feverish timeline after a hiccup when the first length of cloth was delivered, thanks to a dying mishap, with a barely perceptible weave - it was, in other words, just black. Now we had a lighter weight cloth than we had intended to use but that was not an issue - he's not going to stride about the moors in it. The stealth chic of the tartan was what we were after.

The kilt was made entirely from the Dark Douglas and we used it for the cuffs, lapels and pocket flaps of the jacket, as well as the belt at the back, all fastened with real horn buckles. Scott had requested silver skull buttons and you'd think that would be easy enough to find, being such a universally popular motif. Not a bit of it. Our lovely landlord Paul makes models for TV and film shoots in the studio below ours and we were investigating the possibilities of casting our own in his workshop when one day a gentleman walked up our stairs to present his glass cufflinks. Being ex-army he specialises in regimental and family crests. I was about to thank him while explaining we don't really carry other people's stuff so much now we are not a shop, when a skull shaped lightbulb came on in my brain. A few weeks later Stuart Goodings sent our beautiful black glass buttons with silver skull inset. Check out what he can do:

The especially commissioned black glass buttons with silver skull head

Pocket flaps with traditional rib details

One of the three real horn buttons used in the suit

The Angel of the South with the best kilt to ever be exported north!

So here was the happy satisfaction after the first fitting:

And this splendid photo has just zinged down the wire, and given us goose bumps of pride. Our first kilt suit, and Scott's first indeed, and certainly our first sock tassels!

Next this week we got the call to dress up Rob Spragg a.k.a. The Very Rev. Larry Love in his Brixton video shoot. Rob is lead singer in Alabama 3 (or A3 as they are known in the USA). I used to run around at their behest when they were signed to One Little Indian Records, greatest label in the world.  If you don't know their name(s) you almost certainly know their song that was used as the theme music to the TV show "The Sopranos":

He looked sizzlingly sinister in the grey chalk stripe "Tectonic". Rob proudly boasts that he has maintained his "toxic physique" and we had to take in the trousers to show off his 32" waist. Trust me, wheat grass shots have nothing to do with it.

On set, in costume

The director gives notes

We finally got our own chance to dress up this week when our guardian angel, Laura Symmons, pre-eminent press agent in London - who has taken us on as some sort of community service, working out her debt to society by helping the media disadvantaged - presented us with tickets to the "soft"premiere of "The Great Gatsby" (Cannes gets to host the proper bells'n'whistles premiere). 

I got in a fabulous flap, in the 1920s blue and black bugle beaded flapper dress graciously gifted by Madame Randolfi Favel of Prada and my sumptuous blue velvet coat with stand up collar, from lovely Nikki's Revival vintage store in LA

Muccia Prada did the costumes for the film, and the daywear of Daisy's golfing girlfriend, not to mention her millinery, got my motor running. But I suspect the film's greatest achievement will be driving people back to the Robert Redford-starring 1974 version for which Theoni Aldredge designed the costumes, winning an Academy Award for her work.

In the latest version Leonardo diCaprio gives a truly fine performance that withstands the onslaught of gadgetry and noise as chucked at every frame by Baz Luhrman. We left seasick and head achy, suffering an OD of 3D even though we had removed the glasses by the end. People staggered from the cinema like they had just ridden the Cyclone at Coney Island, or Stealth at Thorpe Park (Harry just gave me that more youthful reference, thanks Harry). Carey Mulligan is not as convincing as Mia in the role of Daisy because she seems too smart and engaged, and you can't credit she could be so fickle whereas Mia is like a dandelion puff so it works. The anachronistic inclusion of "Crazy in Love" in the soundtrack and other hip hop-isms, whether jazz-aged up or not, betray the hand of Exec Prod Jay Z. They should have let Bryan Ferry do it all. Toby McGuire makes a great I-am-a-Camera-cypher and the golfing chum, Elizabeth / Jordan, has a profile and presence to rival Angelica Houston. Note to director - a great story and cast, don't NEED all that. My leading man looked like a matinée idol and several gentleman in the audience announced, "I want that coat" pointing at him, not the screen:

Mr Wesley in his Harris Tweed "Jay B" NOT "Jay G" overcoat, "Mr Harrop" waistcoat, "King of Threads" cords and New York 8-pleat Newsboy cap

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The OBE is awarded to Nile Rodgers

For once I am posting in a timely and topical manner. This week sees Nile Rodgers at the top of the UK charts with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and this has caused something of a feel good glow across the nation.

You can hear Nile talking about it here, (hoping the audio doesn't expire after a week? If it does that'll teach you to log in here more regularly):

But while it is a great achievement to reach the # 1 spot at the top of the charts, many people have done it of course. Only one, however, can be the 800th "Likee" of the Earl of Bedlam Facebook page. And that man is Nile Rodgers. In recognition of this milestone, we have created the highest honour bestowable by Bedlam - the OBE, which is to say, by Order of the Bedlam Empire. It is a rosette made of fine English "Amadeus" wool, embellished with a fine gauge 8 guitar string that can actually be twanged:

Pinned to the "Tectonic" suit in J&J Minnis chalk stripe flannel

And here is the track itself, featuring Pharrell Williams on smoothy vocals:

I had a jolly nice time lunching with Nancy, Nile's consort, today. She's in London in her role as President of their charity, the We Are Family Foundation.  The inspiring work they do is another reason for creating the gong, and she deserves one for herself. They set up the initiative in response to 9/11, an attempt to create a network of teenagers around the world from different cultures who would communicate and co-operate, taking those principals into their adult life. Nancy and I concluded our  deliberations by agreeing its all about the story - by engaging the other guy and getting them to understand your authentic story.