Friday, 26 September 2008


Fashion, by definition, is ephemeral and transient. Why is it, then, that whenever I open the doors of my wardrobe these days, the contents feel less like a carefully curated collection of seasonal trends and more like a dog-eared old photo album, full of curling pictures of a self I hardly recognise. Have I become hopelessly nostalgic about clothes in my, ahem, middle youth, or has a lack of ruthlessness and a far from bottomless clothing budget meant that I just don’t edit enough. And, like many things in my life, items linger long after their sell-by date.

Who knows? It's just that, in amongst the chiaroscuro anonimity of a work uniform of DVF wraps, Armani trousers and Prada pencil skirts, lurk clothes imbued with meaning. Some of these wear their significance loud and proud: leading the parade is the fabulous and timeless Paul Smith I wore for my wedding with its bold print of ochre, aubergine and viridian leaves and the accompanying provocative pair of purple satin stiletto boots. Every time I put it on I’m suffused with the peace and joy and expectation of that hopeful, sunny October day.

And thus, getting dressed is more a sentimental journey than a simple act of modesty or modishness.

This is brought home to me as I sort through my summer clothes. Finally defeated by the weather, I beat their retreat into plastic boxes where they regroup to fight another, warmer day.

But as I start putting things away, fugitive memories writhe from the folds of a scarlet Ghost dress, plangent with remembrance of times past yet unworn for several summers. A little Proustian madeleine of a frock, it winds me with a sudden punch of feeling, sensation collides with sentiment and I sit down suddenly on my bed, clutching it to me, its fibres great gouts pooling in my lap. Memories start and tremble, calling me by name. At once I’m back at its last wearing: a sultry June day when the cling and drape of its fabric moved over me like urgent fingers, a lover of a dress, enfolding me in an erotic complicity of cloth on skin. The sights and sounds and sighs of that day are as vivid as the flagrant red of the dress and I am overwhelmed. My breath catches.

I fold it, firmly and determinedly, into its box. I shan't wear it again, yet I can't let it go.

Time present and time past
are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Fashion Week. You'd think it was bloomin' Holy Week-it's talked of in similarly reverent tones. You ask someone (anyone) if they can make a meeting or answer a simple question and they look at you like you're a heretic and say indignantly "but it's fashion week" as if I've just asked them to work Christmas Day. But, of course, fashion week is 'work' and therefore, in these uber-capitalist, god-is-mammon times, even more sacrosanct. Work -or what passes for it in my business-is the Supreme Being.

And of course, when one person suffers from a delusion, it's called insanity. When many people suffer from the same delusion, it's called religion. And, this religion is fashion: there's High Church-couture and designer - and Low Church -high street- and the evangelicals, who are usually devotees of Primark rather than Prada and get all happy-clappy about bagged bargains and luxe-for-less sample sales.

And it's a religion with its own festivals: namely fashion week. I can see that this is hardly an original concept: after all, Vogue's been called the fashion bible since it was first published (which kind of begs the question: what's Bazaar? The Apocrypha? The Dead Sea Scrolls?)

Anyway, I've got myself sidetracked-where was I? Ah yes. If fashion is a god, then I'm feeling peculiarly agnostic. I'm Scrooge shouting 'bah humbug' to fashion Christmas as the Mercs line up outside the office to ferry acolytes to ceremonies, or editors to shows. And how anyone can get excited about what we'll all be wearing (or what we'll be told we'll be wearing) next Spring/Summer has always seemed to me faintly ridiculous. I'm only just walking up to the idea that a lot of eye-makeup and a tough black cuff might be all it takes to get me through this season's Rock Gothic trend(though as always, totally over-excited to be able to give up fake tanning my legs and get back into black opaques).

That's not to say that the Shows aren't a beautiful pageant, but it is the apotheosis of the superficial. And also rather odd (I'm not even going to step into the quagmire of the seating hierarchy-this really isn't something to shed tears over, but they do, every season without fail. The General Synod is has far fewer internecine traumas than the fashion pack). And also horribly groundhog day: trends, like history, repeat themselves: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce (well, fashion is rather extreme). Next year we'll all be wearing navy peg top trousers, continuing this season's ankle skimming look and guaranteed to make everyone who isn't 15 and Duchess of Windsor thin look like a dumpy middle aged maths teacher from Wolverhampton. This is the very peculiar contradiction at the heart of my industry: looking au courant has very little to do with looking good.

Anyway: what about the ritual of the Show? Obviously, you've first to practise your fashion face-this is much like a poker face, but rather more bored, dismissive and disdainful. The etiquette as a member of the fashion congregation is to maintain this face at all times: one must never look entertained, interested or even bemused. Catwalk models are particularly good at this, though the boredom part of it probably comes easy: being shoved in and out of clothes can hardly be a fascinating enterprise. It possibly helps with the wearing of the clothes: catwalk samples rarely make it onto the rails, being not only tiny but also what's called in the business 'directional', which loosely translates as unwearable by anyone sane. My particular favourite this week was a succession of dresses which all made the wearer look like they'd lost an embittered struggle with a metal zip, and had just decided to wear it anyway, half on, half off.

And of course, the debate that never tires of itself during Fashion Week is the extreme thinness of the models - true, they're all skeletal teenagers with the appalling posture of a scoliosis sufferer, but this has nothing to do with the pressure to conform to a rigid stereotype of 21st century female beauty.

The reason they don't eat is much more obvious than that: They're merely fasting to get closer to God.

Friday, 12 September 2008


Even I am weary of all ths solipsistic wailing: the sound of my own voice comes back to me like a fractious, over-indulged child. I definitely wouldn't invite myself round for a play-date.

So I'm going to attempt to stem the tide of egoistic self-absorbtion. Though I suspect that the very act of blogging is firmly predicated on the self-conscious and self-regarding, like a diary one deliberately leaves in a taxi in the hope that someone might read it and secretly find one fascinating.

And I'm quite sure there's something deeply suspect about my colluding with the whole conceit, but since I've started, I shall make a heroic effort to do away with the weltschmertz and angst. I shall cast off Werther's yellow waistcoat, whilst keeping my vest pulled firmly down over my navel, to discourage gazing at it.

If this is an online diary, let it at least be something sensational to read on the train.

Monday, 8 September 2008


The fashion cupboard is the work equivalent of the long dark night of the soul, stirring up every anxiety and provoking every demon one thought vanquished years before. Exquisite be-spangled frocks billow superciliously on their hangers, defying you to find yourself worthy of their mythic beauty. Tiny and perfect, this season's little black dresses gang up together on the rail - mean teens thrusting you into an agony of inadequacy, reminding you that no amount of grooming, good shoes or expensive highlights will ever exorcise the fact that inside you're still that pallid, lumpen redhead, sidelined, blotchy and frozen, last to be picked for the netball team.

It's certainly not the place to be a mere hour before an awards ceremony, locked in futile combat with the zip on a catwalk sample, and where the threatening rustle of silk and scratch of taffetta seems to grow and swell in the racks into a merciless whisper of 'impostor'. Exotic regiments of impossible shoes look down from their shelf in quiet pity. Perhaps I could file myself neatly away somewhere in the 'returns' rail, and await collection.

And then I pull myself together - though it's a shame I couldn't do the same for the sides of the fabulous but hunger-strike skinny dress.
How could I let myself be whipped into a frenzy of paranoia by a load of jumped up drapery? It's just not right to be intimidated by a frock.

Evidently, I have hidden shallows. Whilst I acknowledge that most of the people I will meet this evening won't even notice what I'm wearing (as long as it conforms to the narrow confines of expectation in these circles), I also acknowledge my dependence on the armour plating good costume provides. It's a handy barrier against an aggressively superficial world, where appearance is everything and content nothing. And I do belong to this world - albeit by default - so feeling neither beautiful or thin enough for it is utterly pointless. I wouldn't dream of actually eating a chip - so there's no point having one on my shoulder.

At last, I find a retail sample, less fabulous, but not designed to fit only the etiolated or permanently hungry.

It will do.

Friday, 5 September 2008


I am in Daniel Hersheson having my hair blow-dried for an upscale magazine's awards ceremony. The hairdresser is tattooed from head to toe (only his face is clear, but that too looks threatened by the encroaching cabbalistic whorls, piratical signs, Chinese emblems, and other whatnot). He is also wearing a black leather cap on a shaven skull, an haute-Catholic rosary, the full compliment of facial jewellery and has his jeans underneath his arse in the modern way. He is clearly extremely impressed by himself. But what's even more disconcerting is the way he appears to be drying every hair individually, then when he's about to take the brush out of it, bending down and kissing it.

Is he living in the Shampoo of his own life? Am I supposed to be playing Julie Christie to his brought-up-to-date-for-a-contemporary-audience Warren Beatty? Is this more Blow-up than blow-out? Is this all going to end horribly badly, or could it be the start of a mutually rewarding relationship? I do always slightly regret eschewing the attentions of the wealthy American who took an unhealthy interest in my shoes at the Ritz one evening (but I was in a terrific hurry and didn’t really have the patience to indulge the fetishistic whims of a stranger in the lobby of a hotel, but I have always rather wondered whether it wouldn’t have been a case of fair exchange being no robbery – his slavish devotion to a well-turned ankle and narrow foot, and my penchant for seriously expensive shoes). Putting fantasies of free twice-weekly blow dries – albeit off-beat ones – to one side, I pay his, ahem, styling technique closer examination. I think I’m relieved to discover that he’s actually blowing on it – presumably to cool it down and set the curl. Very strange. Finally, his creative genius exhausted, he brandishes a vast bottle of Elnett, and I’m done.

Mr de Mille, I think I’m ready for my final close-up.