Thursday, 30 September 2010

If to dance is to dream......


“On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined”

Lord Byron


I'm all dressed up, my date is here and the helicopter awaits.   I pick up the beautifully embossed invitation to The Third Annual Willow Manor Ball which has been tucked next to the flowers on my bedroom mantle piece and with a whiz, a whir and a whoop we are on our way!


A little background first....

The lady who defined 20th century fashion was born in 1890 into a wealthy and distinguished family in Rome, where she spent her childhood. She was outrageous from a young age, offending the nuns who taught her in her strict Roman Catholic school and disgracing her family when she attended a ball in Paris wearing only a length of fabric wrapped around her body, which promptly unravelled! When she was 23, she travelled to Paris, and then to London, where she met William de Wendt, whom she married the following year. After the birth of their daughter – Gogo - in 1919, The marriage didn’t last - due to financial difficulties and William's unfaithfulness - and the couple divorced in 1920. This left Schiaparelli a single mother, and fuelled her determination to succeed independently in the fashion world. She moved to Paris and met the celebrated designer, Paul Poiret, who introduced her to the art of couture.

Elsa Schiaparelli wearing a jacket of her new magenta color known as, Shocking.  (Photo by John Phillips//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Elsa became famous for being superbly original in her designs and marketing. She printed press releases on fabric, for example, and produced fashion shows that were uniquely spectacular. These days such performance in relation to fashion is commonplace; in Schiaparelli’s time it was unheard of. Her collections and shows most often had themes. One collection was inspired by African iconography; another drew inspiration from sailors’ tattoos, and dresses bore snakes and anchors. Other collections included 'Musical Instruments', 'Butterflies', 'The Pagan Collection', 'The Astrological Collection' and 'The Circus Collection'. Each collection of highly original and the often eccentric clothes caused scandal and success.


She had a wide circle of friends, with whom she often collaborated. She was good friends with the writer, filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau; Schiaparelli once reproduced a drawing by Cocteau on an evening cape in embroidery. She was recognised as an artist by such people as Marcel Duchamp, Picasso and Stravinsky, and closely connected to the Surrealist movement - for example, Schiaparelli’s 'Lobster Dress' was a collaboration with Salvador Dali. This connection with the wider art world set Elsa Schiaparelli apart from most other fashion designers - she was not merely interested in beauty or fleeting fashion trends, but in art, culture, ideas and innovation. Essentially, Schiaparelli was distinctive in her involvement with the wider intellectual and creative world.

I shall be wearing an Elsa Schiaparelli creation of course – she one of my all-time favourite designers. This bronze-gold gown is, I feel, perfect for the time of year.  I shall wear it with these shoes – just for a bit of funk  – and an African inspired necklet also designed by Schiaparelli.


willow dress

elsa necklace1 

elsa shoes1









As my hair is neither here nor there, I will have to wear a hat. I rather liked this one, but Ranulph said that I looked as though I was about to go on safari in the Serengeti.


elsa hat2

So instead – and to link to the African theme I chose this……hut. Perhaps a few little yellow diamonds scattered like moon dust would add a certain je ne sais quoi. What do you think?

elsa hat4

I’d had decided some time ago to invite Ranulph Fiennes as my (hot) date. He accepted with an alacrity I found utterly charming. I do love the unique combination of reckless adventurer, intrepid explorer, acerbic wit, flawless raconteur, excellent writer and a man of deep – but not overt - familial love. I think you’ll all find him rather entertaining!


Last, but of course no means least, for our most sensational of hostesses, I have a little thank-you gift in the form of some rather luxurious personalized writing paper from the world renown Smythsons of Bond Street just because the lady loves the scent of old paper and words dancing on a page.



 Dance, dream, discover, devour - and desire just a tad! Tess, this is too, too marvellous darling.  Thank you!


Saturday, 25 September 2010

Just an old fashioned girl.


“Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern; one is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly”

Oscar Wilde 



 I love receiving letters. Written in ink and filled with words carefully chosen and eternal. I'd be happy with just one page -- I'm not hard to please. Maybe I'm just a hopelessly romantic dreamer…

With Twitter, Facebook, emails and instant text messaging, writing a letter is so very old fashioned. Hardly anyone writes letters any more: at least not the kind of erudite, humourous missives that are the hallmark of great correspondence. As we are so often told, we live in the digital age. Now we correspond with friends, relations and businesses through email, not snail mail.




Quelle tragedy! Nothing will be left for posterity. Think of those wonderful exchanges between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford for example, or Kinsley Amis and Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath; the letters of people like Oscar Wilde, the Bronte sisters and Noel Coward. Entertaining, informative, sad, witty and even rude – and each a precious slice of social history.

letter books


The other great thing about letters is that they have the advantage of being tangible objects. You could treat them like the latest novel, curl up in your favourite spot in the house, and devour the thick wad of paper full of gossip and news. You could create a mood with your letter the same way you could create a mood with a novel - this is much harder with an email which will have to be read off a screen, in a no doubt office-like environment, while pop-ups go about their business, browsers crash, and instant messaging partners interrupt you.

I sent my brother-in-law a book a couple of weeks ago for no special reason other than the fact he had once mentioned that when he watches the swallows leave at the end of summer, it makes him cry a little. I found Horatio Clare’s book ‘A Single Swallow’ and, along with a little painting I did, popped it in the post to Peter.

It’s important to explain here that Peter is a truly magnificent mix of Rex Harrison and Winston Churchill. Looks like Rex, talks like Churchill – and holds fast to the lost age of chivalry and so eschews the age of technology with a shudder. He will positively not correspond via “that blasted electronic mail nonsense”. I’m so glad he doesn’t, because I want to share with you his beautifully written thank-you note.


p.letter1p.letter2 "One swallow does not a summer make"  Aristotle


Emails are great for getting in touch quickly and easily, but as literary vehicles they are severely lacking. Digital messages tend to oscillate between the deathly dull and formal and the blithely irreverent (complete with BTW, FYI, LOL's and garbled text-speak) with precious little middle ground. Letters can be revealing, expansive and humorous while emails, even at their best, tend to exhibit only one of these characteristics of good writing. Of course, many of us use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, sometimes to great effect; but publishing revolution or no publishing revolution, I find it hard to imagine that generations to come will one day download the "Collected Tweets of a Literary Genius" on to their e-reader.

**Post Script.  Thank you all for standing by while I underwent horrid treatment, drugs and a myriad of tests.  I will never be able to express my gratitude for your loving wishes and warm thoughts.  Every friendship is my very special treasure.**