Wednesday 28 January 2009


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.


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.

Tuesday 20 January 2009


Lately, I have been pondering the legacy of loss. Not loss of possessions-though I'm still mystified by the inexplicable absence from my wardrobe of an exquisite broderie anglaise dress, DVF as if re-imagined byGrace Kelly- but of people.

Some of this loss is merely change: The tectonic plates of relationships shift perceptibly over time, subtly accomodating a changing environment. And the emotional geology moves so gently, so imperceptibly, so accomodatingly, there's no reason to pause,to articulate the difference.

But occasionally, there's rapid climate change, precipitating a catastrophic landslip. The familiar landscape one understood is gone forever. One's compass no longer points north. The map is missing. All one can do is acknowledge the disorientation until one determines to negotiate the new geography.

But whilst blundering about without a theodolite, one occasionally stumbles upon recognisable territory. Astonishingly, the landscape has regenerated in a richer, more fertile form. What was lost is reimagined as a brave new world. This is rare, of course. And precious. And whilst one is groping around trying to find a piece of paper on which to sketch a map of this eden, it's useful to consider what an arse Proust was when he wrote 'the only paradise is paradise lost'.

But of course, there is are things and people one can never regain, and when searching for their traces, there's more to be gained playing archaeologist than mapmaker.

All these weighty and much over-metaphored thoughts were inspired, as ever, by the superficial. One would never normally expect to start an archaeological expedition in Ferragamo, but that's where this meditation on loss and its legacy began.

Despite Mr Wilde insisting that only the truly serious could ever be deeply trivial, the substance of that meditation will have to wait for the next post. I've pulled something over-extending that metaphor, so I'll have to apply deep heat and take a handful of nurofen before I can summon the strength to kick out of the pretentious, oblique and portenteous prose I seem to have trapped myself in tonight. Hmmmm....

Saturday 17 January 2009


"I hate the french and I hate France, Mummy" sobs Trefusis Minor at the start of his second week at the local Ecole Maternelle. "Why can't I just go to English school like everyone else?"

At the school gate we're surrounded by uber-sleek French Mamans and their tiny tadpoles, each of whom is more beautifully dressed than a Bonpoint ad, and all defying the skanky official W6 dresscode to look seriously Bon Chic, Bon Genre. One petit tĂȘtard has a mink lining to her anorak.

Neither TM nor I is looking BCBG. We're looking decidedly Hammersmith, having spent the time I would normally have spent making sure my clothes vaguely went together and my hair was brushed on talking TM down from the parapet. After going through four handkerchiefs drying his tears whilst persuading - bribing/begging delete as appropriate - him to leave the house, I find I can't face trying to get him into the Ralph-Lauren-Goes-Gallic outfit I'd chosen as sartorial camouflage, and he's defaulted to his preferred look of miniature snow-boarder.

Poor T.M. He hasn't inherited his father's obsessive francophilia. He wouldn't be going to the french school at all if any one of eleven local primary schools had a place for him. Mr Trefusis, franco-phone that he is, had put his name down for the French school three years previously, and by some miracle he got to the top of the list just as Hammersmith and Fulham were threatening to force us to send him to the only state school with places in the borough. A school in the middle of a sink estate with 85% of pupils speaking english as a second language. So we've sent him to a school where 99% of pupils speak english as a second language - the one percent being Trefusis Minor, of course- the difference I suppose being that they all speak the same first language and they wear Cyrillus rather than kevlar.

We tried to fast-track TM's french over the Christmas break, which resulted in nothing more than him speaking english with a comedy foreign accent. He sounded exactly like the policeman from 'Allo, 'Allo. He may have heard french spoken all his life, but he seems also to have a strong sense of national identity, and rejects the idea of speaking anything other than his mother tongue. Isn't four a little young for such teenage rebellion?

Oh dear. I hope what they say about children being hard-wired for language is true and that TM will suddenly cede to peer pressure and meet me at the school gate with a cheery 'Maman!'. I hate the thought of him sitting there in class not really knowing what's going on.

I know that a bi-lingual education is a good thing, and at least he won't have to learn 'Human, social and environmental understanding' rather than history and geography, but it doesn't make a new school easier to explain to a tearful Trefusis Minor.

Thursday 15 January 2009


Trefusis Minor joins me the bathroom as I'm massaging into my face the requisite matutinal unguents, evidently in search of something. His eye alights on the Parazone, which he waves aloft.

"Mummy, why do they have programmes for this in the middle of the cartoons?" He enquires and I realise that advertising to small children is extra potent because they have no concept of what an ad is, and make no distinction between the validity of advertising and programming or editorial. I can't think why I haven't realised this before since it's blindingly obvious, but since the editorial context is the highly credible adventures of Shaggy and Scooby, I guess an ad for bleach doesn't necessarily have more or less integrity.

Anyway, Trefusis Minor hasn't finished: I'm about to hear an infomercial on bleach, live in my own bathroom. "This is very strong, Mummy, and it's only to be used in emergencies. Other things like this [he brandishes the dettox spray at me] are fine for just ordinary cleaning up, yeah? But this is for really tough things"

"Thank you, TM, that was very helpful. I'll be sure not to use too much of it then, shall I?" TM nods vigorously and I try to explain a bit about advertising which only results in a complicated and involved conversation about car ads, specifically the Honda one which is apparently stupid because "everyone knows a car can't transform into a robot". I wish account planners in ad agencies had TM in a focus group.

It's not the first time Trefusis Minor has taken an interest in advertising and branding: over Christmas he referred to a series of ticks on a page in a magazine as being 'sports signs'. It wasn't an ad for nike either. And he's always keen to recommend new household products he feels I might find useful, though having a fine understanding of his mother's personality and interests, he only ever points out those that promote themselves as being 'with silk' or 'the fragrance of black orchid' or whatever other nonsense they're putting into fabric softener these days. He's a good all round ad man, is TM: he's not just interested in the creative, he's also grasped the notion of targetting.

I ponder all of this, and wonder if I should worry about the influence of commercial messages on the young and impressionable. Then I remember that I've spent my whole career promoting the virtues of one product or another and realise the infant Donald Draper is merely a chip off the old block.