SIGH, CRY, ALMOST DIE
When I was a child in the late 1960’s my mother took us to live in Morocco for a couple of years. We didn’t have a lot of possessions but I was allowed to take three of my favourite books. I had a paperback of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince which had the most beautiful cover with a thrilling illustration - no pictures inside. I had quickly learned Arabic and I liked to wander around Marrakech and find places to sit and read. One day when I was walking alone through some empty streets, my book in my hand, I became aware of shadowy figures creeping up behind me. Suddenly I was ambushed by some other little children who tore my book out of my hand and ran off. I felt so sad, as apart from losing my precious book, I knew their disappointment would be huge when they realised they had nothing but lines of incomprehensible English words beneath that tantalising cover.
As an adolescent, words felt like the only powerful tool available. My feeling of strength came from selecting succinct language to express my rage and despair about most things. As I became more obsessed with reading, I realised this was the way to improve my mind and escape from how trapped I felt in my particular family set up. I read Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers but I didn’t understand a thing, except that it was quite sexual, and that was interesting.
My father, who was absent as a traditional parent, recommended the occasional book. My mother had told me about the works of Laurie Lee: ‘Cider with Rosie’ and ‘As I walked out one midsummer morning’ which I was consumed by. She also told me my father knew him. When I told him, delightedly, about what I was reading, hoping for a bonding moment, he said he hated Laurie Lee - , and recommended ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ by Alain-Fournier.. This book had a profound effect, it was different from anything I had come across. I don’t remember anything about the story, only that it somehow changed my life.
My first true love at school, Pat Sinclair (he set my taste for tall dark haired men with blue eyes), told me I should read Jack Kerouac, and gave me a copy of ‘The Dharma Bums’. I realised language had so much more scope than I had ever imagined, and I got an A for my Kerouac influenced English homework. I realised with that essay that I was taking a risk, and that the only way to find out if it was worth it, was to try it.
When I was studying fashion in Rome, I read a biography of Coco Chanel and became fascinated by her daring and disregard for the rules of society, while managing to create a whole new code of dressing. The describing of the effect of the clothes, and the figuring out of how to achieve that, filled my mind with images of what I should do myself with my own work. Around this time, I read Colette’s ‘Claudine’ trilogy, about the brilliant minded, incredibly naughty and innocent child woman Claudine. I immediately knew I wanted to dress Claudine and she became my muse and the person in my mind’s eye who made my clothes come to life.
I have made some great new friends through books, some of whom I have yet to meet in person, like Rachel Kushner. I was so smitten after reading The Hard Crowd, her book of essays, that I instructed my PR to find out if she ever wanted to wear my clothes for literary events. As well as being a great writer, she is incredibly beautiful and I knew my clothes would suit her. To my intense excitement, I got a message back with her email address and a request for a jumper with Angel! Written on it. We have been enjoying a sporadic and most lovely correspondence since then.
These are the books I have read and enjoyed the most this year:Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
Inside Story by Martin Amis
Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave and Sean OHagan
Intimations by Zadie Smith
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel
Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino