"There is no way back for me now," are the last words written on the wall at the exit of the Savage Beauty show at London's V&A. But the exhibit is a celebration, not a suicide note.
The show opens with McQueen talking exuberantly about his hometown of London, his dirty laugh echoing around the gallery. "You have to understand tradition to subvert it," he says, and the clothes on display show his talent for cutting. Scissors are sexy when they're slicing something like a dress made of hair.
The highlight of Savage Beauty is a hologram of Kate Moss, in a room of her own, dancing on air in a feathery white wedding dress from the Widows of Culloden collection of 2006. If I were locked in the V&A overnight, as McQueen fantasized, I'd steal this dress and do a Liz Taylor by marrying Mr. Lash again, for the sole purpose of being a McQueen bride.
There's nothing savage about the beauty of Kate's performance as she's transformed from a mesmerizing Miss Havisham into shooting stars, to the music of Schindler's List — possibly a perverse skeleton-chic reference, or just a haunting melody. And when it ends, Kate's glass cage turns into a mirror, so you can confirm you're still the thinnest of them all.Read More
Mr. Lash and I don't do Christmas, though I'm not above accepting gifts any time of the year. But don't you hate getting a mink scarf with a list of instructions as long as your leg about how not to wear it? At least Carnaby Street is only a few Manolos away from Lash Mansion when I need a break from the manservant. A good shoe, like a good wine, improves with age.
Mod central in the 1960s, Carnaby became uncool for a few decades with faux punks spraying their hair blue and fat ladies having their photographs taken. Now Carnaby is cool again. Its Christmas lights went up straight after Halloween and sinister Santa's followers are shopping till they drop.
What sort of people celebrate a mooby man who sneaks into homes with a sack of ho ho ho, then allow their bawling, snot-nosed elves to sit on his lap? Twisted people with eyes wide shut and mouths wide open, that's who. They're the same types who have nothing better to worry about than who Anna Wintour — in London this week for the British Fashion Awards — puts on the cover of Vogue. Kim Kardashian does look like a ho on holiday, but previous covergirl Lena Dunham is practically an ambassador for Alarming Burds Anonymous.Read More
As a Soho-Scottish expat, my heart shouts YES YES YES to the referendum vote. So I was ecstatic that the other Viv, Dame Westwood, dedicated her Red Label spring 2015 show, Democracy, to supporting Scotland's freedom. Even the queue was democratic, with Vivvy's son Ben Westwood — imagine Harvey Keitel in Taxi Driver, but with better boots — and his leather-clad Japanese wife waiting in line behind me.
England's other Queen has been with me at all the big moments. From my first day at school when I turned up in a punk pink Anarchy shirt worn with my midget granny's Chanel jacket and St. Trinian's-style trashed silk stockings, my place was secured as the class-fash leader.
John Waters, who describes his look as 'disaster at the dry cleaners' advises that to be a fashion leader you need to annoy your peers, not your parents. My school uniform annoyed everybody except my best accessory, Fat Cat, the flabster friend who would make even Lena Dunham look thinster if she were sitting next to her. So I sat in the front row with the cheek to wear an old — let's call it vintage — High Street red dress with, of all things, black stockings. Everyone knows it's flesh-colored tights this year. I'm so fucking rad!
The usual questions flashed through my mind the night before Queen Viv's show in Bloomsbury's Victoria House. Will I be the fattest one in the front row? Should I have taken the advice of the skeletor in Yves Saint Laurent, who suggested that I have my chest amputated to fit into a size-zero Le Smoking? Why is Westwood's youngest son called Joe Corre and not Joe McLaren? Is it because everyone shouts "Cor!" when they see his Agent Provocateur underwear? Will I be able to resist putting pins on the seats of those hacks who compete to look more bored than Victoria Beckham? And the big question, the one that haunts me every day: What will I wear?
When Virginia Woolf was fed up with the Bloomsbury world and everyone in it, she wrote two suicide notes — only a weirdo (or a writer!) leaves two drafts — and jumped into the river wearing her husband's raincoat weighted down with bricks. The notes, scrawled in sinister, spidery handwriting, are on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision (July 10 - October 26, 2014).
Virginia had such a nice life. Why did she want to leave that room of her own for the damp riverbed and say goodbye to being sucked up to at parties by T. S. Eliot and Lady Ottoline Morrell, she of the famous 'bird's beak vagina.' The great thing about being a novelist is that you get to diss your ex's genitalia and call it fiction — but the lady is dead, let's not rake over old bags.
Woolf started as a blue-stocking but turned into a fashion junkie after her affair with Vita Sackville-West. Like Princess Diana after her, she was dressed by Vogue, whose editor sourced Matisse print dresses and mannish tailoring for her to wear with her big flat shoes.
To be fair, Mrs. Woolf had lost all her teeth by the time she ruined her hair jumping into the River Ouse. So many parties, so little sanity! She left the gossipy Bloomsbury world behind to be cruelly treated in death, being played by Nicole Kidman and a big prosthetic nose in The Hours. The exaggerated nose was supposed to make Kidman look intelligent, but instead it dominated the film, leaving the audience to wonder if Sam Taylor-Wood was her stand-in.
They try to make you go to rehab and if you're daft enough to agree, you meet a new dealer at the Priory and get a massive medical bill to go with your new habit. Or you die soon after detoxing, like Amy Winehouse, Peaches Geldof and my doctor, Dex, who had a sign on his wall saying: Drugs are only a problem when you stop taking them. They became a problem for Dr. Dex when his prescription pad was confiscated and he ended up in a straitjacket.
It's a toxic world and we're living in it. But being addicted to health is just as dangerous when the Whole Foods freaks have more will for war than the shooting gallery sloths. Hairy vegetarians who stink of hemp fight over the last carton of almond milk and fart all over you until you give them the beetroot from your basket. Their pupils are dilated from kale overdose and their teeth rotted from fruit fasts, and they're losing sleep over the lack of avocados — because the farmers are all growing weed.
Overdosing on bananas is totes smelly for people whose noses aren't blocked with coke, but those wacky-baccie weirdos who sit around talking rubbish and eating biscuits all day are even worse. But if men with hairy toes in sandals upset me, those barroom bores who boast about how much damage they're doing to their livers have me reaching for the roofies. If you can't shut them up, you may as well knock them out.
My father has given up kidney dialysis to spend more time in the bar. Instead of being taken to hospital three times a week with "a bunch of old guys in an ambulance," he's downing vodka shots with a gang of potbellied alkies. It's his life and he can kill himself if he wants to, but crystal is kinder to the waistline than carby Cristal. If Daddy gets any fatter, he won't fit in his coffin.
Alcohol's for uncool crumblies and women who work at Vogue. But heroin addiction's never been a career option for me either, having been surrounded from an early age by chunky junkies who defied smack's rep as an excellent slimming aid. Behind every fat druggie there's an enabler — some big burd feeding them fry-ups, keeping them alive for the next shot of woe. As Irene the Slut said while knocking back a valium with her martini, "You can drink and you can take drugs, but not at the same time."
Sugar and fat are just the saddo drugs of the masses who used to get high on God and Santa Claus. Thank father fuck for my fat friend who reminds me every time I see her that people who eat too many cream cakes start to look like one.
Everyone has a poison and water's mine. Blindfold me if you want to, I can tell Highland Spring from Volvic without even swallowing. Vodka may be God's tranquilizer, but I'm addicted to Evian. It's zero calories and odor-free. Next time I get fed up with the world and everyone in it, I'm taking a bottle of Fiji water to bed with me, to drink while I laugh at the sinister selfies of my Facebook friends.
I can't stand people who put coconut in their water or diet coke in their whisky. To be fair, I'm a shallow not stupid sociopath who doesn't really like people unless they're dead, glamorous, or a combination of the two. Dead glamorous novelist Anna Kavan, who died with a hundred lipsticks the same shade of pink and enough heroin to kill the street, had an emergency shot of morphine from her silver syringe while guests were over for dinner. Why bother inviting them?
Whether your poison drips from your pen or your syringe, if they want you to detox, just say no. Don't spoil your tiny acts of evil by feeling guilty about them.
Listen to Vivien Lash read from her evil twin's book, Spying on Strange Men
When I found out I was going to Berlin for my birthday surprise — Mr. Lash isn't the only spy in the family — I was as excited as Sally Bowles in an Isherwood story, despite my reisefieber, which isn't just the fear of travel. It's a fear that the destination will not be the same as it was before, like an old boyfriend or a pair of flesh-eating pants that you don't love anymore.
Berlin is a city defined by its pasts. The decadent glamour of Weimar survives its sadistic Nazi Gotterdammerung, fading into the schizophrenic years of the Berlin Wall, without which the city is like Hong Kong without the Triads. Demolishing the wall took the tension out of the city, ruining its dangerous glamour. And so the artists move out while the tourists move in.
The wall divided the city not only physically and politically; it created a barrier between the past and present. Crossing the border at Checkpoint Charlie is like stepping into a black and white spy film. Even David Bowie seemed to be under a spell when he recorded Heroes at Hansa Studios in 1977, soon after his strange Nazi salute at Victoria Station.
Hitler never liked Berlin, and the feeling was mutual. His fortune-teller warned him never to go there. The bullets from Hitler’s war are no longer etched into the ruins of the Reichstag, transformed by Norman Foster into a vertiginous tourist attraction. Berlin is now a city of beer bikes.
Of course, Mr. Lash wasn't really taking me to Berlin, but to the Adlon Hotel, where every day's still a cabaret. The Adlon used to be owned by Hermann Goering, a fat morphine addict who locked himself in a suite and played with his train set when the war was lost. There's nothing more depressing than a chunky junkie. It's been refurbished since then, back to the Weimar's swinging days.
Marlene Dietrich's thick thighs in Das Blaue Engel, before she was ordered to go on to the Hollywood diet, were a product of the Adlon's apple strudel. And it was the location for Greta Garbo’s movie Grand Hotel, where she first uttered the words 'leave me alone.'
Like Gala Dalí, I tip when I arrive at a hotel, not when I leave, to give the staff motivation to suck up. I prefer to have a butler like Jaipur Jamal, who hid behind a screen at Oberoi Rajvillas, anticipating my whims before I know them myself.
I had no quibbles with my bathroom, which had just enough black marble to be sexy but enough light to admire myself in the mirror. And a glass jar of bath oil, which smells like the blend of Damascene rose, jasmine, and sandalwood that Mr. Lash mixed for me in Syria.
But I did have to complain about the morning sun. The Adlon's whistling handyman — let's call him Fritz, it's probably his name — materialized to black out my windows quicker than I could say Count Dracula.
Mr. Lash judges a hotel by how many attempts at a classic extra-dry martini cocktail the bartender makes. "Did you see that?!" he asked, horrified, when a waiter at Claridges touched the wrong end of a champagne bottle. But Sabrina Funk — no, I didn't make up that name — got the martinis right the first time without Mr. Lash having to jump behind the bar.
The Red Ladies, who must be in charge of sucking up at the Adlon, were certainly well-prepared for my birthday, but I had to draw the line at the kirsch kuchen with my name on it. Mr. Lash made do with the caviar and champagne from my birthday breakfast.
Of course there's always one try-hard. At the Adlon it's Herr Fassbend, who, judging by his expression, must be in charge of checking the hotel's toilets. He tried harder than a constipated dictator to upgrade us to a suite we didn't want, but Mr. Lash reprogrammed him with his diplomatic skills. I wonder if Herr was on duty the day Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the window.
Being sucked up to gets addictive, but we managed to leave the hotel for a walk in the nearby Tiergarten — where have all the monkeys gone? — and a trip to Kreuzberg, where Mr. Lash lived when he was young and spy-free. The Berlin Wall no longer lurks at the end of the street near his favorite Turkish cafe, but everything else is the same, including the ice cream. You can repeat the past, but why would we want to? It's easier to imagine the future and breathe in the present.
Listen to Vivien Lash read from her evil twin's book, Spying on Strange Men
A funeral is a party with no guest list, according to my mom Maddie, who gatecrashed Laurence Olivier's do at Westminster Abbey with mini-me as her innocent accessory. We sat next to Sebastian Flyte, Olivier's son in Brideshead Revisited, and Maddie started a rumor that I was Larry's lovechild.
The really cool funerals, like Alexander McQueen's at St Paul's Cathedral, have bouncers and fashion survivors (victim is just a silly word for anyone who can walk in 7-inch stilettos) who battle to upstage each other. The weeping women in waterproof mascara amble up the steps toward the altar — more exciting than any catwalk. To prove the point, Daphne Guinness, dressed like a crow on acid, nearly prostrated herself with assistance from her precarious platforms.
But what is the dress code for the funeral of someone you love? What will I wear to my brother's funeral? Losing a sibling is particularly wounding. He's the asexual boyfriend I didn't have to break up with. I mourn the children we were and the adult he may have become. Does it matter what I wear? Yes. My brother would have wanted me to look dead glamorous.
I tried on everything in my wardrobe, but Chanel is too schoolmarm on the pull, Prada depresses me, and Victoria Beckham looks appropriate from the front, but that zip down the back is too footballer's wife. I went shopping but nothing felt right. And I couldn't even decide whether to wear black or white. White is the color of mourning in China, where I spent lifetimes, but my brother's being buried in Scotland.
As Sylvia Plath, who died in an oven, wrote in Ariel: "I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty." It's possibly the best suicide note ever written.
Dress dead glamorous to face your enemies, Maddie told me that as I zipped her into vulgar Versace for grandfather Money's funeral. Mummy's microwaved cleavage was concealed beneath the mink she'd inherited from great-aunt Carmen, whose rubies were robbed from her finger by a gigolo who hadn't been paid on account of Carmen dying before he had finished his shift.
If F. Scott Fitzgerald invented the Jazz Age, then David Bailey invented the Sixties — his Sixties, an iconic black and white world full of glamour and possibility. The decade when everybody could be famous for fifteen minutes was reinvented to include East End gangsters and burds like Twiggy with estuary accents.
Bailey is the sexy East End boy who grew up to marry Catherine Deneuve, an ice queen who never married anyone else. Vogue frizzbomb and ex-model Grace Coddington described Bailey as better-looking than the Beatles, though to be fair, the Fab Four would not have been so easy on the eyes without their mod suits and Hamburg haircuts.
Bailey brought Vogue into the 20th century during an era when photographers had been upper class, or tried to be, like Princess Margaret's husband Tony Armstrong Jones and Garbo's mate, Cecil Beaton. He gave the Sixties their swing, creating the coolest decade of the century. Plus, he invented the first supermodel, Jean Shrimpton, a shy girl with a swan neck whom Vogue at first thought was funny lookin' until they saw his images of her in Manhattan.
The Shrimp became the first model as famous as a pop star like Mick Jagger, who was dating her sister. Without Jean there couldn't have been Twiggy, or even Kate. The Shrimp has long since retired to Cornwall to run her own hotel, but even if you don't know her name, you would recognize her face on a bag sold in the gift shop of London's National Portrait Gallery, where Bailey's photo exhibit has just opened. The title of the show, Stardust, comes from the notion that, as he says, "We are all made from and return to stardust."
Bailey became as famous as the people he photographed and he photographed everyone, from the Beatles and the Stones to the Kray twins. Would the East End gangsters, who probably "did" his father, giving him an ear-to-mouth scar, have been glamorous enough to be celebrities without the iconic Bailey image of them that now adorns a mug at the NPG? Apparently god isn't in the details, he's in the souvenirs.
Like most glamorous people, glamour doesn't interest Bailey. He has an obsession with skulls, which predates that of Damien Hirst, another one of his subjects. Like Chanel, he thinks style is more important than fashion. "Whatever you see in the photograph, whether you call it glamour or edge, it's already in that person. I can't put it there. It's finding it and bringing it out."
What is he bringing out in Marianne Faithfull, photographed alarmingly in her bra and pants, no longer looking like the tarnished angel of her Rolling Stones days? Did Ma Faithfull do something to upset him?
Stardust, despite covering the entire ground floor of the NPG, isn't even close to representing his entire body of work. Anyway, the dude's still in demand, having recently turned down Lady Gaga because she sounded like a headache.
His pictures of Kate Moss give her a sophisticated but innocent allure, but a lot of his best pin-ups are boys. Damon Albarn, Noel Gallagher and Karl Lagerfeld are just some of his 21st-century portraits. And Johnny Depp never looked more beautiful that when Bailey shot him showing his Betty Sue tattoo.
Andy Warhol insisted on going to bed with Bailey when he was interviewed by him for a documentary that was banned. But Andy wouldn't take off his clothes, confiding, "I have more stitches than a Dior dress."
Bailey selected the 250 images in this show himself, so there's no annoying curatorial spin. Only one picture of Deneuve, whom he was married to for seven years, but an entire room is devoted to current wife Catherine Bailey, including nude shots which are more sexy saint than Readers' Wives.
There's some reportage, as well as sculpture influenced by his hero Picasso (whose own sculpture was influenced by Gauguin) included in Stardust, but it's his pictures of monochrome faces that seduce the eye. The camera doesn't steal your soul, but the photographer has a good try. "The camera doesn't take the picture, it's the photographer," as Bailey is quoted on my pink fridge magnet.
"I'd like to have taken more pictures of the old East End, but I was busy having a good time," he said. But Bailey doesn't take pictures, he makes them. In an age when everyone has a camera, everyone has bad pics. Instagram can't supply an imaginative eye. "The silly selfies craze will die out," he says.
Maybe. One craze replaces another. But Bailey's work endures. He isn't interested in nostalgia, but understands that "The 1960s didn't end in 1969." Once the world changed, there's no going back. Bury your past in a successful future. "I'm only interested in now. When this moment is gone, it's another moment...But I'll have a word with the devil at the crossroads and see if I can get a bit more time."
Read more about Vivien Lash in her evil twin Carole Morin’s novel Spying on Strange Men
Fashion Galore! at Somerset House is a celebration of Isabella Blow's life in clothes, a seduction as hardcore as her lipstick in Tamara de Lempicka red. She's no longer with us, of course. When she got fed up with the world and everybody in it, she drank weed killer. Sometimes when I'm fed up, I wear Fracas, her favorite perfume.
"In the end I was just lips and a hat," she said. But Izzy was always more than the MAC lipstick she designed (they wouldn't let her call it Blow Job) and the Philip Treacy hats she wore to stop people from swooping in for air kisses. "Fashion is a vampiric thing. That's why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me."
While Isabella had her armor, I have a Please Don't Kiss the Baby sign stuck on my Kelly bag, because hats mess up my hair. Besides, who wants to be loved by the undiscriminating?
I never met Isabella, but I caught glimpses of her enough times to notice what we had in common. And what we didn't. She hated Egypt, and I know that I never want to go back to Cairo, even if it is the only place on the planet to get burnt orange toe paint.
The first time I saw her was in the Tatler office, where I'd gone for a summer job as a sub, but failed the test. "You're not boring enough," the editor told me, as he interviewed me in a closet. "We'll find you something else." I wondered if that meant samples to take home with me. Through a crack in the door, I saw a girl with her sweater open, revealing a black lace Rigby & Peller bra. The queen's lingerie maker never had better publicity than this corrupt angel. "That's Isabella Blow," he said, anticipating my unspoken question.
In those days her name was always followed by the story of her grandfather, Jock Delves Broughton, whose decadent life was made famous by the movie White Mischief, about sex-mad cokeheads in Kenya.
Death always hung over Isabella. This can be seen in Fashion Galore! in scrapbooks and press cuttings about her aristocratic ancestors. When she was a child, her baby brother drowned in a puddle on the grounds of their ancestral home. After his death, her mother moved to London and her father moved on to a new family, disinheriting her.
They never lived in Doddington Hall, but in a smaller house on the grounds. Isabella was homeless in her heart, empathizing with the tramps sleeping rough in Hanover Square park opposite Vogue House. She made art her home, dressing up as a magical installation. "Always accentuate the head and the feet," she said. Her feet belonged to Manolo Blahnik and her head to Philip Treacy, though she planned to have it sent to her father when she died.
Not exactly beautiful, at least in the classical sense, Isabella could have been the Duchess of Windsor on acid with a dash of dachshund on top. Except she didn't need the acid. She had a love-hate relationship with her bipolar self. She must have known she was glamorous, but Crohn's disease and her English teeth filled her with self-loathing.
The next time I saw her, she arrived hat-first to an art opening and effortlessly upstaged the artist Tracey Emin. "Who's that?" Mr. Lash asked. I told him the story about Isabella Blow's wedding dress, which was, like mine, designed by Nadia la Valle, a designer not heard from before or since. Isabella never managed to escape her marriage. Like Dorothy Parker, she could have left the husband and kept the name.
My last glimpse of her was through the window of her apartment in Eton Square. Her black head bowed over a pile of olives she was arranging on a plate, she looked like a sad majestic bird from an Edgar Allen Poe story, or the sculpture of her by artist-couple Webster and Noble that opens Fashion Galore!
A few weeks later she jumped off the Hammersmith flyover. She didn't die that day, but she couldn't wear Manolos anymore, a fate worse than death to a trivial but profound soul like Isabella Blow. It was only a matter of time before she finished the job and became a beautiful corpse dressed by Alexander McQueen, who joined her a few seasons later.
Before that, McQueen paid tribute to his mentor and muse in his show La Dame Bleu, creating a Bird of Light through which the models entered the runway dressed as Izzy lookalikes. This is recreated at the end of the Somerset House show. It reminds me of the moment in The Great Gatsby when Meyer Wolfsheim declines to go to Gatsby's funeral, saying, "Show your friendship to the man while he is alive." Or, reward the woman's contribution to your career by offering her a job when you get the top job at Givenchy.
Next time I wear my white fur coat, I'll spray it with Fracas and think of Isabella Blow.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, November 20, 2013 - March 2, 2014, Somerset House
Read more about Vivien Lash in her evil twin Carole Morin’s novel, Spying on Strange Men