Posts Tagged ‘Absolutely Fabulous’

The Saturday job at the chemist provided extra work throughout the holidays which in turn provided me with the cash required to clothe myself as a wannabe hippy in flared jeans and a selection of groovy cheesecloth tops and t-shirts. In a parallel life I was studying for ‘A’ levels, spending copious amounts of time in the art room, wading around in rivers on geography field work or having a wonderful time being properly introduced to Shakespeare by one Mr Herman Peschmann, a diminutive yet cantankerous German who resembled a shell-less tortoise. He had a slight problem pronouncing the word ‘three’ so we spent every lesson forgetting where we were in the text just to hear him repeat ‘Act Three; Scene Three’ which just happened to be on page thirty-three.  To our immature sixth-form minds this was hilarious but he got us through those exams and left us with a lifelong appreciation of the bard.

As if the pressures of the looming exams weren’t enough, we were subjected to our career interviews.  Remember those? You’d be ushered into a makeshift office the size of a broom cupboard (come to think of it, it was the broom cupboard) where an earnestly whiskered elderly woman with bad breath wearing a beige home knitted cable cardigan and flat sandals shuffled a few pamphlets and talked about secretarial college. Or the army.

In days of yore it wasn’t the natural progression to opt for three years at some ivy clad institution slogging your way through every optic in the student union bar and then take a gap year funded by your cash flashing parents – it was still perfectly acceptable to go out to work – and what’s more, there were actual jobs available for those with an inherent  work ethic but fewer theoretical credentials.

With the naivety of youth and a head swimming with implausibly grand ideas of becoming the next Mary Quant, buyer for Harrods or Sunday supplement editor-in-chief I settled in front of Miss Careers-Advice who suggested sweetly that as I had no intention of further education I should definitely think about becoming a secretary. After my dreary filing experience at the bookshop any notion of admin filled me with horror.  I didn’t like to tell her that I didn’t want to BE a secretary, I intended to HAVE one. I left that broom cupboard with a handful of her leaflets and deposited them swiftly into the nearest bin.

I began to panic a bit when several friends suddenly decided that they wanted to be teachers and signed up for various universities. Perhaps I ought to look for something beyond the sixth form, if only to keep the adults in my life from asking what I’d be doing post exams. I trawled through volumes of college prospectuses and finally found what appeared to be a course tailor-made to my lofty, fast-track ambitions. A one year diploma in periodical journalism (an academic year of course means September to June – things were looking better by the minute) at the London College of Fashion in Central London. Marvellous! All my boxes ticked and a year swanning around Oxford Circus: what more could a girl ask for.

I applied, was interviewed and turned up on my first day where I quickly realised that this was going to be the longest year of my life. My fellow course mates, most of whom owned a Chanel handbag, seemed to be treating this as a state-funded finishing school opportunity – a respectable interlude between exclusive boarding school and getting married to a City banker then heading off to the Shires to produce multiple offspring. However, I happily discovered a couple of kindred spirits – one of whom transferred to St Martin’s art college after the first term – leaving me and Val to endure and make the most of whatever came our way.

I have to admit that we probably didn’t embrace our time there quite as we should. We spent considerable time in the nearby Phoenix pub bemoaning our fate over half a Shandy before being dragged unwillingly around all the London fashion shows by Miss Jackson who in her time had been a Fleet Street fashionista but was by now retired and well past her sell-by date. While most of our peers were swooning at the sight of the editor of Vogue in the front row and possibly waiting to prostrate themselves in front of her, Val and I were frantically writing our reports and working out the quickest way back to Oxford Circus to be the first in line for cheese on toast in the canteen before the dreaded evening sessions began. These sessions involved learning a version of shorthand (T-line) which I never got to grips with (smacked of admin) and which I failed dismally.  Then there were the cosmetic science lessons where all I can remember is producing my own hand cream using something called Isopropyle. A word that for some reason has stuck in my memory all these years but which I’ve never had cause to use. The only useful journalistic training we gained was a block of six weeks taken at the London College of Printing. Based at the Elephant and Castle – a less than salubrious area of south London which came as a shock to the haute couture brigade who I don’t think had ever ventured across the Thames, this was where we learned from working journalists about editing, deadlines, printing and the reality of working on a daily paper.  We created our own dummy newspapers, selected stories, set up interviews, had our work rejected. It was fast, fun and furious and Val and I loved it which made returning to the fluffy world of fashion even harder but at least we knew where we didn’t want to work come the summer.

And, as the saying goes, nothing is ever wasted. As the end of the summer term approached, job vacancies trickled in to our tutor at the college. We were encouraged to go for as many interviews as we could. While the Edina and Patsy’s of this world held out for a position on one of the glossies some of us decided to have a bash at anything. So it came to pass that a position presented itself in the press office of the John Lewis Partnership, based at their flagship store a block away from Oxford Circus. I went along for an interview, they liked me; I liked them. It was settled. I said goodbye to the chemist’s forever. I was going to be a partner.

Oh, and by the way, for anyone who has ever thought that the characters of Edina and Patsy in the sitcom ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ are way too over the top, please let me reassure you that they aren’t. I have known people exactly like them – I only wish it had been me and not Jennifer Saunders who had created them. Here’s a hilarious reminder:


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Haute Couture.Valentino

 Back in the day, when I was a student at the London College of Fashion, I attended fashion and couture shows virtually every week as part of the course.  Sitting amongst the world’s fashion press at everything from Norman Hartnell to the Prêt a Porter; Jean Muir to the Top Shop Collection, we were expected to take notes and file reports on each show, to get us practising different writing styles. As I had decided fairly early on that fashion writing was something I definitely would not be doing, it all seemed pretty irrelevant to me; I couldn’t get to grips with the insincerity of the industry as I saw it then.  If anyone who has seen The BBC’s comedy show, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ thinks its portrayal is over the top, I can assure you it isn’t – I have known people exactly like the two main characters, Edina and Patsy.

So when a friend suggested that we meet at Somerset House to view the Valentino exhibition, I went expecting to be underwhelmed. We didn’t book which was foolish as we arrived in the middle of London Fashion Week. A biting north wind was rushing along the Thames at a rate of knots and the queue, huddled against the brickwork, wasn’t. In spite of being British, I’m not good at queuing and neither, fortunately, is my friend. Attempting to retire to Tom’s Deli in the courtyard proved fruitless – we didn’t have the required passes for Fashion Week. Things were going from bad to worse.

While we were curmudgeonly bemoaning our bad luck and ignoring the fact that it was down to bad planning, we were approached by security who suggested we joined a much shorter queue to buy timed tickets for later in the day. Marvellous! This achieved we were then ushered to the foyer where Tom’s Deli was selling cardboard-cup coffee and flapjacks. All was not lost and we settled down for a catch up as we waited our turn to see the show.

Now for a bit of fashion writing:-

The exhibition is a celebration of the life and works of Valentino who, in 1959, at the age of twenty-seven,  returned to Rome from the couture salons of Paris, (notably Guy Laroche) and founded his now iconic label. In 1965, together with his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, he opened his fashion house on the Via Condotti in Rome. He remained at the helm of his empire until his retirement in 2007.

 He designed and dressed everybody who is anybody – from Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly, Princess Diana and Julia Roberts to Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga.

The first part of the exhibition concentrates on Valentino’s private archive of correspondence with the glitterati – letters of thanks from Vogue editor Anna Wintour; signed photographs of Elizabeth Taylor; photographs of Valentino with Meryl Streep and Ann Hathaway on the set of The Devil Wears Prada; a Christmas card from Prince Charles. After this very personal glimpse into his life, we go upstairs to tread the catwalk between 130 seated and standing mannequins clothed in the most exquisite Valentino couture. The fabrics and workmanship that go into creating these works of art is breath-taking; each one is sewn by hand by one of Valentino’s ‘ragazza’s’ (girls).   The exhibition then takes you through the process of their creation, demonstrating on film the painstaking work of the seamstresses and showing samples of work in various stages of completion.

So, there we have it: I was overwhelmed and I did appreciate it – couture is just another art form, after all. That just didn’t occur to me before.

Something else I didn’t appreciate when I was younger: the necessity to moisturise one’s neck.

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