Wednesday, 28 January 2009

IN MEMORIAM


So a small trip to buy some shoes turned into something bigger, emotionally-speaking. Doesn't it always? What is it about me and shoes? I've read Freud. He's a pervert and has a very limited imagination.
And I am extremely, grumpily conscious about the limitations of my unconscious.Angst is supposed to have a poetic edge, but mine is merely an epic of endlessly repetitive solipsistic wailing. Less plaintive, more complaintive.


Enough.


Despite someone once telling me that Ferragamos (Ferragami? What is the plural?) were one's feet forcing you to accept middle age (middle age? Hah! Bite me botox-monkey), they've always had a particular relevance for me. As one does slither alluringly into a more grown-up countenance and aesthetic, one becomes more conscious of the style-imprint - an innate sense of what is stylish inherited from those much older, wiser, and proximate than mere fashion magazines. And however groovy one wants to be, sartorial imprinting takes place when one is way pre-season. Way, way pre-season: like between the ages of nine and twelve. It's a very impressionable age.


This explains the ghastliness of the catwalk which seems to endless revisit the car-crash couture of yesteryear. Designers are mostly in their early to mid-thirties so the high-waisted peg top trousers, acid-brights and shoulder pads we're all supposed to embrace S/S 09 have obviously been revived from the days when these Bright Young Things were thumbing through the pages of Smash Hits admiring the crimped hair and pointy shoes of The Bangles and Mel & Kim.


And, indeed, my two key style influencers were more about aching hips than being achingly hip. Both were undeniably aged, yet effortlessly elegant exemplars of classic, timeless style. Both had exceptionally firm opinions on what was acceptable (and everything else was 'common'). Both spent hours leafing through copies of Vogue, Harper's and other women's magazines yet neither bought many clothes, being of the dressmaking generation devoted to Vogue patterns, running up fabulous frocks for a party from an old pair of curtains on a clapped out singer sewing machine.


The first of these childhood fashion icons was, inevitably, my grandmother. Her fervent belief in the power of red lipstick and a smart powder compact (no 'rouge' about which she was inexplicably disapproving), Chanel no.5, the restorative abilities of Arden's Eight Hour Cream, and the importance of high heels turned all these items into my own default fashion setting. She was a woman who adored a hat, and could have made a lampshade look like Philip Treacy. She had a gold bangle she wore high on her upper arm which I thought was the absolute last word in racy sophistication andI was beside myself when it came my way after her death. She strode out in the Cumberland countryside in an ankle length blonde fur coat (awfully transgressive now but screamingly glamourous back then) and spent vast swathes of time rehearsing new purchases of the latest Elizabeth Arden skin creams from the Binn's (now House of Fraser) brochure.


As a child she was a remote and rather chilly figure, not known for her humour and much given to shame-making statements like "no one can accuse me of being a snob: I even talk to the village people". Yet the older I grow, the more I acknowledge her influence on my own attitudes and preoccupations. She had a great love of a bargain, kept slim by taking epsom salts every morning (who knew why? Never been tempted to try it myself), thought tanning was impossibly common and had famously beautiful skin to the day she died as a consequence, and drank whisky every night for'medicinal purposes'.


I think we would have liked each other enormously had she lived.


Her opposite number (not a grandmother of the blood, but very much a grandmother of the spirit) was utterly beyond-trend and immune to the vagaries of fashion. She didn't deviate from a style she'd developed who knew when. The constant was the quality: She wore silk, cashmere, linen, lawn. Her winter coat was the iconic belted Maxmara classic cashmere (did you know they brush up the pile with a scottish thistle before it leaves the factory? You can send it back every ten years to be refurbed with another thistle tickling) But most of all she loved Ferragamo. She had long, elegant, greyhound feet and had their classic pump in a colour to match every outfit.


Every time I walk past Ferragamo and Maxmara on Bond Street I think of her and and her inheritance: firm, if arbitary, opinions on real jewellery when combined with the costume variety, an inexplicable and yet unshakable prejudice against the Duchess of Windsor (whom she'd known whilst in the colonial service in Bermuda), the importance of putting a tin of interesting biscuits out on the bedside table for guests, the necessity of cashmere, good underclothes and smart shoes.


And so it was that I found myself in Ferragamo on monday last, snapping up a pair of scarlet patent high heels with the emblematic grosgrain bow on its narrow toe, in a somewhat belated hommage to both. And later, whilst wearing scarlet lipstick and Chanel No.5, it triggered a wider and altogether unconnected meditation about the aftermath of loss. And I realised that, au fin, that what is left remains forever printed, a tattoo of love, an indelible kiss.

13 comments:

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

well said. well written. well done. even well-heeled.

Mrs Trefusis said...

Why thank-you! I'm most grateful for your kind and generous comment. X

Jaywalker said...

I bought a violet pair of Ferragamo sandals last summer, but the spectre of la Thatcher was breathing over my shoulder the whole time. Slightly unnerving. I love them though.

Now. The thistle thing has captivated me. How do you suppose it happens? Is it now automated, with a thistle machine? Or is there some dour man who does the teasing by hand?

WV: "furrangl". Wonderful word. Well played WV.

Red Shoes said...

I had no idea that Ferragamos indicate a woman of a mature age. But then, my mother was a hippie who wore no shoes and who made me wear boots as a girl that reminded her of Little House on the Prairie and reminded me of that a coal miner might wear. My Ferragamos are shiny and though yes, the toe is extraordinarily round and so sensible... I guess I thought that the 3.5 inch heel made up for it. No? Never mind me. I didn't learn properly.

Mrs Trefusis said...

Yes, I agree, it's nonsense that Ferragamos are for the middle aged. They're divine and fabulous and I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz every time I put them on. And they're absurdly comfortable and so beautifully proportioned that whoever (and I forget who) made the 'mature' comment was evidently a woman of little taste and discernment. And shiny. Shiny is good. Red shoes? Absolutely!

Red Rum said...

I'm glad that you got the bangle. I didn't get ANY of my wonderful Granny's wonderful jewellery when she died. Still an incredibly sore point. Have considered posting about it but too many of my family read me...

Mrs Trefusis said...

Poo! That must have been quite hard. Were there a lot of people in the divvying up queue? I was very glad of the bangle but slightly wistful about wardrobe of fabulous clothes which I would definitely still be wearing. But it mostly went to my aunt which I guess is fair enough. I do think about this with Hunca Munca (Trefusis Minor's baby sister). What a lot of lovely things she'll get by the time I'm old enough to pass them on. But maybe she'll be a tomboy or think labels were just so lame... X

Red Rum said...

Well, it's a very long, complicated story (aren't they always?) and to cut it short - my aunt got it all. Granny died unexpectedly young and she hadn't made a will. All very difficult and not worth churning up, best to keep family relations civil. Totally see where you're coming from with the clothes. Grrr. Love the name of your blog, reminds me of a Persephone novel. Is it a Persephone novel? Will check amazon.

Pochyemu said...

Ohhh Mrs Trefusis, I've only just found your blog (via Jaywalker) and I'm loving it so far. I look forward to delving deeper.

Liberty London Girl said...

There is something about the chain of memory from one's grandmother. I wrote about inheriting her alligator handbag last year, and how it made me feel rooted in my family.

Apropos of nothing at all, do take a squint if you haven't already, at US Harper's. It's so thin it barely exists, as was last months. The writing has to be on the wall there...LLGxx

Red Rum said...

I do have a sampler that says "who has a friend/with whom to share/has double cheer/and half of care" which I LOVE. But would kill to be able to wear something of hers close to my skin.

Melanie said...

Great post. Enjoyed every word.

My favourite Ferragamos are the Audrey. Designed by Ferragamo himself for Audrey Hepburn. I adore them. People who say the brand is "old fashioned" are missing a trick. I started wearing them in my late twenties.

squirrel said...

I love this post, it's beautiful. It makes me think of my own grandmothers, and their own stylish quirks... Thank you.