Saturday, 19 September 2009

To Downing Street!

To Downing Street last night for the party hosted by the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown, as an unofficial/semi official/official (depending on who you ask) celebration of the opening of London Fashion Week, which – as is the paradoxical way with fashion – runs for five days rather than seven, with a menswear appendix dangling rather aimlessly from the main body on the on the sixth day.

First up, I have never been one of those Englishmen who loves the British Bobby but I must say that the officers in charge of security at No 10 were exemplars of how to do a very important, potentially explosive job. You know how tricky those Choos and Louboutins can make a girl when she is standing in a dress the size of a postage stamp and the wind is whipping up cruelly from the Thames and she suddenly knows she has been on her feet too long. Firm, businesslike and friendly, they even smiled. Admittedly, in some cases they smiled at us rather than with us, but then fashionistas en masse do present a quaint spectacle, as the open-mouthed tourist at the entrance to Somerset House yesterday made clear.

A message for the PM. Can you spare some of your policemen to visit our airports to train the security officials there in how to deal with the public as if they actually remembered that we are human and NOT the enemy until we have been proven to have broken the law?

Once inside No 10, all is calm dignity as you mount the steps, past rows of photos of forgotten politicians (political lives are even shorter than those of fashion journalists, poor things), and some rather good 20th century British paintings, into the reception rooms, all strawberry pink walls and gold mirrors. It was a bit like being in a production of Lady Windermere's Fan – or more appropriately a Beaton set for My Fair Lady. Beneath the designer finery there were quite a lot of Eliza Doolittles, recognisable by the distressing way their faces went rosey whilst their voices grew more strident as the drink took its toll. All the young designers were there, scrubbed up and conformist, although Burberry's Christopher Bailey was exactly as always (he has in-born style, so needs to play no games with his appearance), Matthew Williamson had tied his hair back in a Chinese topknot—a hint of what is to come in his show?—and Basso and Brooke had shed several pounds between them. London's 'terrible twins', Henry Holland and Gareth Pugh – dressed respectively as a 50s' used-car salesman and Juliette Greco after a rough night on the tiles on the Left Bank – both looked as if they felt the evening needed a bit of BoomBox to liven it up, but Erdem, at his geeky best wearing a bow-tie which he swore he had tied himself, looked entirely unphased by the occasion. 

As usual, the most beautiful designers in the room were Sasha and Fiona of Sinhastanic, who are both as effortlessly elegant as the clothes they design. They are not showing this season. They have great talent and need a long-term backer to help them reach what I believe is a huge, as yet, untapped potential. Antonio Berardi, no stranger to the ups and downs of sustaining a career whilst preserving your aesthetic, was looking Italian-cool and being idolised… and not just because he has decided to show here this season. As always at this sort of do, there was a lot of chat but no concentration. Everybody was too busy looking - and waiting to see if anyone more exciting than Lord Mandelson would come through the door.

I'm sure they did, but I could not wait. I managed to miss the speeches (hooray!) as I was being a very good bunny and left early to go to a show which the BFC had thoughtfully scheduled to clash with the reception. You do wonder quite how these decisions are made — and if the poor designers scheduled against No. 10 will get a big discount on the price other designers in more favoured slots pay. Regrettably, I arrived ten minutes late for the show (Aminaka Wimont, Fashion Fringe winners two years ago) along with a friend, a very senior American buyer who I have known for years. We were greeted with relief at the entrance and rushed to our seats. 'You are a real celeb,' she said as we sat down. I didn't have the heart to point out that everyone was totally fed up with waiting for us to arrive, but I could see the looks on the audience's faces, which told all. And I totally empathised. Few things are more annoying when you have arrived on time to have to sit and wait for 'celebs'. Which, incidentally, I most definitely am NOT, despite my friend's comment.

Just another toiler at the coalface, that's me.