THE BEAT GOES ON

THE BEAT GOES ON

Paris, 2019. Despite embracing the spectacle when displaying his wares, Karl Lagerfeld decided on the opposite when it came to his finale, his last goodbye. Not for him a send off at the Église de la Madeleine, where the ceremonies of the glamorous dead are staged. Coco Chanel for one, in 1971. Madame Pompidou planned something spectacular until the designer’s iffy war time allegiances came to light. Nevertheless here was Coco Chanel sealed in a casket shrouded by camellias, gardenias - her signature flower  - orchids and azaleas. The pews filled with those that modelled her clothes. 'And you and your funeral,’ Lagerfeld was asked months before his death this year, aged 85,  'do you see it more in Sidi Bou Said like Azzedine Alaia, or at the Madeleine?’  Like David Bowie he opted for pure cremation, or what has been catchily termed in Britain  'direct disposal'. No ceremony. No rituals. Ashes to ashes.  Lagerfeld requested that his ashes be dispersed with those of his mother,  and the Birman cat that he cooed over as though it were a lover. The cat survives, clinging for dear life to its nine lives now it's heir to a share of a  £150 million fortune. 

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A HOUSE IN THE HILLS

A HOUSE IN THE HILLS

When the largest, most expensive home in Los Angeles is finally completed at the end of this year, after five years in the making, one of its distinctive features will be an absence of books. There's a beauty salon, a cinema, a bowling alley, a nightclub, a casino, a lounge with walls constructed from tanks of jellyfish, a glass-walled library - yet, no books.  Nobody really reads books, according to Nile Niami, the film producer and real estate developer behind the project (he anticipates a sale price of $500 million dollars). And so the copious rows of bookshelves will be filled with blank books: white covers, white spines, empty white sheets of paper. As though content, literature, history, have been erased from the pages. And, stylistically, this works. It’s in keeping with the monochromatic theme favoured by the architect commissioned by Niami.  A Paul McClean home is composed of marble, concrete, steel and glass; retractable glazed panels erase walls; rooms are exposed to the elements, wet-edge infinity pools, and panoramic views of the Los Angeles landscape. ‘Perfect,’ McClean says. ‘This is the desert. There are no bugs.'

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THE NEW BLACK

THE NEW BLACK

Something changed the day Virgil Abloh’s former mentor Kanye West was dismissed as an unhinged, uppity black man by the modern ‘massah': the rap aristocracy, race hustlers and rich white liberals. Those that control the narrative when it reaches blacks, whites, 'racism', the slavery motif, and the MSM's nemesis and muse President Trump.  It started with a West tweet: I like the way Candace Owens thinks. Hours earlier the 28-year-old conservative and You Tube provocateur challenged Black Lives Matter standard-bearers protesting her presence on a campus panel. She told them they were not slaves but overly privileged Americans. She wants to smash stereotypes; create a ‘blaxit’ within the black community; an exodus; a movement of the people from the Democratic Party ‘plantation’. (Word is, it’s happening).  Her viewpoint chimes with that of the black American economist Walter Williams:  ‘For 50 years, the well-meaning leftist agenda has been able to do to blacks what Jim Crow and harsh discrimination could never have done: family breakdown, illegitimacy and low academic achievement.’ Soon the topic was opened up by the online magazine Quillette in an article by the promising young writer Coleman Hughes, entitled ‘The High Price of Stale Grievances’. He suggests that black leaders are using historical grievances to justify special dispensations for blacks in the 21st century. Meanwhile, a majority of blacks believe that 'bias is not the main issue they face anymore’. Those that express these views are often dismissed as race traitors.

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TRIPLE FANTASY

TRIPLE FANTASY

Utopian Fantasy #1.  In 2011, I wrote and presented a BBC 4 documentary on the history of social housing entitled 'The Great Estate’.  It opened with the sprawling council estates that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s inspired by Le Corbusier, and that coterie of European modernist architects between the wars. The buildings were a glimpse of tomorrow’s world as viewed from the vantage point of the past. To underline the point, to drive the point home and park it, I chose for the soundtrack 'This Used To Be The Future' by the Pet Shop Boys. It’s a second-rate song with a lazy lyric, but it suited the moment: Why don't we tear the whole bloody lot down and make a new start all over again? By the time these buildings were completed the ‘future’ was over.  They were  an old-fashioned utopian idea; a further blot on dystopian landscapes (to cynics, at least) in a bleak, overcast decade. Certainly a departure from the modernist radiant cities that worked so well on paper, and perhaps in a suburb of Paris and Marseilles, but not on a patch of urban pavement between Old Kent Road and Elephant & Castle.  Some of the British schemes were heralded as towns for the 21st century, yet they barely made it past the millennium.  The one I was most familiar with, on that aforementioned stretch of south east London, was demolished in its forties having been completed in 1974.  Those of us with a keen eye on the future  -  adolescent outliers anxious for the shock of the new - welcomed every breeze block that brought change. We congregated around a clunky cassette player in the stairwells of those tower blocks to listen to David Bowie’s ‘Future Legend’ with its references to the ‘sterile skyscrapers’ of ‘hunger city’. Diamond Dogs was big, big, big that summer.

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MORE OR LESS

MORE OR LESS

I was unaware of it at the time, but I opted for the ‘voluntary simplicity’ championed by the social philosopher Richard Clegg in the 1930s as a teenager in a 1970s home stacked with stuff. This included ephemeral gadgets (‘As advertised on TV’) and furniture passed down for generations and harboured by parents with a post-war make-and-mend mentality (‘It’s good enough for us’). There were the keepsakes bought on seaside beanos, and the talismen believed to bring luck: a horseshoe, a shillelagh. It wasn’t simply that the stuff was overwhelming but that it related to the past. In a bleak season of platforms shoes and power cuts - heels were higher than hopes - some of us were preoccupied with the future. At least those of us that believed the future would be minimalist. The clues were there in the designs of Dieter Rams, the award-winning interiors from Kubrick's 2001, and its poor relation - those clunky television series that convinced us the 21st century would be metallic wigs and foil tabards.  That was tomorrow, in those days.

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PRADA DAYS/MIAMI NIGHTS

PRADA DAYS/MIAMI NIGHTS

Day One. Months before a Miami trip was mentioned the Baxter Dury track of the same name was uppermost on my Spotify travel playlist sandwiched, oddly, between ‘Moskow Diskow' and the latest from Mr Jukes. On arrival I wondered if Dury had a point: 'Welcome to Miami now/Broken promises are here'.  The city was new to me. Prada, the reason for my visit, less so. (The new store here is a break with the past and a glimpse of the future). It was January. Winter in England. In Miami it was 75°F. A semi-dry season between two moments synonymous with the neon city: Art Basel Miami Beach pulls in the rich for a week in December. Spring break attracts the young to Florida. It's aptly captured in Harmony Korine’s film ‘Spring Breakers’, in which the voice of Faith (Selena Gomez) is heard over images of drunken, drug-fuelled, sexed-up teenagers, semi-naked at beach parties: ‘I'm starting to think this is the most spiritual place I've ever been’. The designer-clad curators and gallery owners drawn to the Art Basel fair engage in their own bacchanalian excess in a city that's currently re-inventing itself.  Something it's done throughout its history, and often in the aftermath of riots and hurricanes. To the fore of the transformation there's a visionary entrepreneur. This was true with the creation of Coconut Grove, which launched Miami at the beginning of the twentieth century, and neighbouring Miami Beach which blossomed on a mangrove swamp between the wars.  Since the 1950s the city has been a haven for the émigré seeking exile. Little Havana is here. Little Haiti is here. A less official Little San Juan is here. And now another enclave between these neighbourhoods, attracting the rich foreigners passing through second or third or fourth homes in the skyscrapers altering the landscape at the water’s edge: the new Miami Design District.

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IN MEMORIAM: PIERRE BERGÉ

IN MEMORIAM: PIERRE BERGÉ

'In time people will tell one another, "You really should know about these two guys, who lived in the 20th century in Paris”.’ This was Pierre Bergé in his later years, reflecting on his prolonged partnership with Yves Saint Laurent. Was he referring to their story as erstwhile lovers? Was he alluding to the global fashion brand the couple created, driven by Bergé’s crusading zeal and business acumen. Arguably, it was also a reference to how Paris, Europe, society changed during their lives, and the active role figures like themselves played in bringing about that change. The couple’s presence was felt beyond the confines of their fashion empire. Bergé was notable as a political campaigner and a patron of the arts. The couple’s art collection was famously auctioned for almost €400 million in 2009. The most expensive private collection ever to go under the hammer, according to Christie’s. The money was donated to AIDS research, and the charitable foundation now responsible for the two museums dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent that opened this month. A move the couple had planned for over half a century. Almost as long as they were together.

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THE ENGLISHMAN & THE EEL

THE ENGLISHMAN & THE EEL

"Nobody can be said to know London who does not know a true cockney". So begins Virginia Woolf in her 1931 essay 'A Portrait of a Londoner'. In writing of the fate of a Mrs. Crowe the novelist is anticipating the fate of the city breed the character is part of: "Mrs. Crowe is dead, and London - no, though London still exists, London will never be the same city again". A few decades earlier two other writers, the American author Jack London and the social reformer Charles Masterman, each of whom had temporarily settled in poor London neighbourhoods, suggested this tribe would soon be obsolete. Partly because of the impact of migrants from the countryside who were stronger, healthier, but chiefly because the polluted city air would bring these lives to an end. Yet the London native survived until the 21st century. The cockneys were not wiped out - they migrated to the suburbs, the coast and beyond. While the elders left behind appear landlocked in a landscape altered by immigration and redevelopment.

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CALVIN COUNTRY

CALVIN COUNTRY

London, 2017. At Phillips auction rooms in London’s Berkeley Square an image by Bruce Weber has just been bought for £87,000. It’s the most expensive auctioned work the photographer has ever sold: a sensuous black and white, full length shot of a toned, tanned man and woman up close and naked on a swing ( 'Ric and Natalie, Villa Tejas, Montecito, California’). The iconic photograph was used in an ad for Calvin Klein’s scent Obsession, in 1989.  As fresh and provocative as the perfume campaign was it marked the culmination of a chapter in the evolution of Calvin Klein.  The game-changer came six years earlier with the launch of his men’s underwear range. Weber's image of Olympic pole-vaulter Tom Hintnaus in a pair of briefs - the luminous white that Persil promised - against a spotless white-washed wall, beneath a cloudless Grecian sky.  Emblazoned across a billboard in Times Square it halted traffic and attracted crowds.  Not as newsworthy as images of the moon landings or the assassination of a president….but a contender, nevertheless. The following year, American Photographer magazine cited it as one of the ten pictures that changed America. 

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ON LUXURY

ON LUXURY

Of all the major fashionable figures, past and present, that have come to epitomise luxury one of the most eloquent is the master French perfumer Serge Lutens. He has also gone to great lengths to interpret luxury. Perhaps most famously with a line which loses its polish in translation: ‘Luxury is the distance (the greater between you and the object, the more luxurious)’. He seemed to be stating the obvious when mentioning that ‘luxury can not be mass’. Then in 2013, the man that created the illustrious Nombre Noir, who believes that perfume should neither be accessible nor worn every day, had an absolute rethink.  'This entity, what we call luxury, annoys me’, he groaned. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t like the name. The idea of a luxury—what is it?’ It’s a question that is uppermost in fashion at present.  Both casual wear and heritage brands are re-interpreting the concept of luxury.  The casual outperforms the sartorial, but rumour has it the beautifully cut classic look, the customary mode of luxury, is coming up on the outside. Rebooted.  Although a number of streetwear designers may disagree in their bid to recast luxury, colonise it, and build a modern elitism by producing less in an age of more. ( Something Serge Lutens achieved by attracting a clientele of ‘connoisseurs’ rather than casual customers). ‘Luxury was always something that was scarce’, Vetements CEO,  Guram Gvasalia, informed Vogue. ‘Today, I don't consider Louis Vuitton to be a luxury brand - Yes, the quality is luxury, but if you can go to the store and get whatever you want, it's not luxury’.

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MAN IN A SUIT

  MAN IN A SUIT

Having refurbished Hitler’s Haus Der Kunst in Munich and the Kaufthaus Tyrol, the biggest shopping mall in Austria, the Brioni store in Paris wasn’t an altogether surprising move for David Chipperfield. The modernist architect has cornered the market in museum design, with a neat sideline in monolithic stores for luxury brands. As Warhol once promised: 'All museums will become big stores and all big stores will become museums’. And they have - from Apropos to Zegna. This year’s marble is this year’s model. Something Wallpaper columnist Nick Vinson highlighted in 2014: ‘black Belgio’ (Prada)…..‘grey Cala Paonazza’ (Tom Ford)…..and ‘boiserie-style paneling, columns, arches’ at Viktor & Rolf on rue Saint-Honoré, Paris.One of the biggest stores on rue Saint-Honoré is the Italian heritage brand Brioni. Following the shock recruitment of the rakish Justin O’Shea as creative director in April the interior of its Parisian outpost was recast as a ‘gallery of clothes’. Following his exit six months later his tenure may one day be seen as an aberration, and the Paris store his legacy. The building's transformation heralded his arrival and declared that this was to be more than a mere store. It was a ‘destination’ in a city that was less of a destination following the series of terrorist attacks.  ‘Paris has to make an effort to become Paris again’, Karl Lagerfield said recently. Chances are it will and is. As Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast: ‘Paris was never to be the same again, although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed’. On rue Saint-Honoré and similar avenues there is the Paris of the modern designer museums - those native fortresses of fashion where fantasy and illusion are a refuge for the wealthy consumer: Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent. To paraphrase Audrey Hepburn, Paris is still a good idea

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INTERVIEW: MICHAEL C HALL

INTERVIEW: MICHAEL C HALL

Michael C Hall and I are comparing notes on all that’s been done in the name of David Bowie since his death in January this year.  ‘Did you see the Lady Gaga tribute at the Grammys?', he asks, that familiar eyebrow raised. ‘The BBC Bowie Proms was far, far worse’, I cut in.  ‘I swear you could hear him turning in his grave when Amanda Palmer brought her baby on stage'. Luckily Hall missed it all - he was back home in New York. Now he’s in England, having arrived for the Mercury Prize for which Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ was a contender but not a winner.  He performed the track Lazarus, the title of the Broadway musical in which he played the lead. It opens in London next month, which means this city is his home until early next year.  For the moment, Hall is Bowie’s representative on earth.  The part of Thomas Newton was his before the audition. He was cast on the back of his roles in the awarding-winning series Six Feet Under and the groundbreaking Dexter rather than Hedwig & the Angry Inch, the Broadway musical about an androgynous glam rocker in which, again, he was the lead.  At his Lazarus audition Hall began with ‘Where Are We Now?’, the song that coaxed David Bowie out of exile in 2013. He tells me: ‘Meeting him and singing his songs felt like more than a formality. David didn’t come to see Hedwig. He was aware of my acting, but that was the first time he heard me sing. I did puddle on the floor when he left, for a second’.

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CORRIDORS OF POWER

CORRIDORS OF POWER

Almost no one talks about the Albany. Those that do always mention the silence. On hearing this I thought of the silence 'like a thin rain’ that Graham Greene, a former resident, described during his sojourns into the fictional landscape of ‘Greeneland’. It has seeped into the very being of those that live here and those that have left. And so, for centuries this Grade 1 Georgian apartment block on Piccadilly has kept its mystique.  Bombs, scandal and the 1960s left few scars and brought little change.  In 1969 The Beatles gave their last public performance, on the roof of the Apple Corps building at No 3 Saville Row.  At the 69 apartments of the Albany, concealed behind its shuttered rear entrance on Vigo Street, at the foot of Savile Row, windows didn’t open and curtains didn’t twitch.  Not even‘Don’t Let Me Down’ echoing through its cloistered Rope Walk, through its hallowed corridors punctuated by marble busts of revered inhabitants from the past - Lord Byron among them - could stir the Albany. Aristocrats, historians, writers, actors and several prime ministers have occupied its ‘sets’, as the apartments are known. The day the Beatles played Edward Heath - he became the British premier the following year - was a resident.  In his novel  'The Bachelor of the Albany’ (1848),  Marmion Wilard Savage reveals that it’s' the retreat of superannuated fops, the hospital for incurable oddities’.  In recent years the designer Christopher Gibbs, a long-standing resident, gave the New York Times a thumbnail sketch of life on the inside.  He cast it as a monastery in which the customary Trinity has been replaced by 'secular devotions of exacting taste, the pleasures of life and a romantic nostalgia for England’s past’.  

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NOW VOYEUR

NOW VOYEUR

Writing about the trade of his Italian father in the 1989 essay ‘The Brave Tailors of Maida’, Gay Talese notes: ‘A tailor’s eye must follow a seam precisely, but his pattern of thought is free to veer off in different directions, to delve into his life, to ponder his past, to lament lost opportunities, to create dramas, imagine slights, brood, exaggerate - in simple terms, the man, when sewing, has too much time to think’. Talese attributes his sartorial elegance and meticulous approach to writing to his father.  'I essentially write like a tailor,’ he once said. 'My idea as a writer is to make the stitching last. The writing, the shape of the story, the seriousness with which it is approached, the sense of craftsmanship.’  I first heard of Gay Talese in 1981 when I was a shallow manchild grudgingly serving an apprentice as a London tailor. He featured in a magazine story following the publication of  'Thy Neighbour’s Wife’. Talese spent the 1970s writing this experiential take on the so-called sexual revolution; attending orgies and nudist colonies, managing a massage parlour in the name of research.  It was his look that struckme; the writing hit me much later. Along with Tom Wolfe - the best-dressed pioneers of the new journalism of the 1960s - he sports hats, bespoke suits and hand-cobbled shoes. Dressed as though heading for Wall Street, he leaves his five-storey town house on New York’s upper east side to descend into a former wine cellar below. The windowless-room where he works is surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves containing…….everything: ‘I want to report on what I have seen and heard and people I’ve known, and what I’ve done, because I think it’s connected to history. I keep records to testify to the fact that I’m alive’. 

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PLAYING THE ACE CARD

PLAYING THE ACE CARD

Years before she unsettled the LGBT lobby with her views on the transgendered female, Germaine Greer offered an opinion on the unattached heterosexual man. ‘The unmated male’, she writes in Sex and Destiny (1984), ‘is more likely to wind up in prison or in an asylum or dead than his mated counterpart’.  So where does that leave unattached asexual males and their female counterparts, then and now? A group that’s part of the ‘fourth orientation’ when it comes to sexuality, and one that has also incurred the wrath of the LGBT lobby.  Asexuality was once the preserve of ameobas and aliens - or so we believed.  But now  asexuals- many choose the collective tag ‘Aces' -  have become an embryonic movement of men and women seeking a voice in the mainstream. At the last major head count in 2004 they made up one per cent of the population, according to a survey of British residents  published in the  Journal of Sexual Research. That’s just two percent below the estimated (openly) homosexual quota of the time. The veteran activist Peter Tatchell has said - in a subtle volte face -  there now exists ‘a league table of oppression’ as so many vie for the prize of most oppressed minority. As a minority intent on playing the Ace card, asexuals face strong competition in this infantilised atmosphere of safe spaces and trigger warnings.

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