‘You know full well as I do the value of sisters’ affections: there is nothing like it in this world.’
~ Charlotte Bronte
I love fashion. More than anything. More than African safaris and whippet puppies and even possibly cheese on toast with Worcestershire sauce - so probably more than is healthy. I could live and breathe in the froth and colour and texture and materialistic superficiality of fashion for the rest of my days. And, in my time, I’ve had my fair share of mad, of-the-moment, throw-it-all-on, fashion choices. I have worn feather boas, Tommy Hilfiger sports-eveningwear (we do not discuss this phase), pedal pushers (still tight-lipped) and studded wedges. There was the slashed-back Marilyn Manson tank top stage and the military cape era. I mean variously, at one time and another - not all at once; I’m not Zandra Rhodes.
Ask my sister, with whom I shared the frenzied tearing-through-Vogue years, but who perhaps has developed more of a wholesome sense of her own style, as opposed to the more ‘caution-to-the-wind’ approach that has led to some of my own complicated sartorial disasters. Jesse is a disciple of the oft-repeated Chanel-ism – take off the last thing you put on; less is more. But I like more. If I ever make it to being an old lady, you will find me fiddling in my greenhouse, and I reserve the right to be wearing dungarees, wellingtons and a jewelled satin turban, just because. Probably with an ill-applied scarlet lip.
Earlier in the year I was teetering dangerously on the edge of buying a pair of sheepskin-lined 'Arizona' Birkenstocks – you know, as seen at Celine on Daria what’s-her-face? My sister talked me down from the ledge there. Similarly she has transatlantic-telephone-coaxed me out of buying high-heeled clogs in Bloomingdales (“Put. Them. Down.”), which I had already persuaded myself were essential for general happiness despite their blatant impracticality - and the appallingly uncomfortable experience of actually wearing them.
I’m a huge fan of Pandora Sykes, the Brit version of Carrie Bradshaw who wears suedette – a lot - and says f**k, a lot. And a lot of the time she does look as though she has just clambered out of the dressing up box wearing her mother’s platform thigh-highs from 1962. But I love that about her. She has fun, squirreling around in that dressing up box, and, however eccentric, she always looks cute, because she has ridiculously delicious colt-legs and a cheeky grin and so it doesn’t matter that she’s wearing a satin-effect bomber jacket and a pineapple-print cat-suit at 11am for brunch.
I so adore clothes - of all colours and shapes and sizes - that I have never been faithful to a uniform. Or should I say that I have been devoted to every uniform, fallen for each one, hook, line and sinker - from Upper East Side camel cashmere and Gucci loafers to retro grunge, through every fad in between - though I’m sorry to say I’ve cheated on them all. Uniforms just lose their lustre as soon as the fresher, shinier version comes along. I have tried the Emmanuelle Alt thing several times and it just bored me to tears. Blazer, jeans, Jimmy Choos? Pah! Sometimes a girl just needs an embroidered kimono, you know? I say this because my PayPal account is having a torrid affair with Dries Van Noten right now - but who’s to say that that won’t give way to Calvin Klein nineties minimalism at any moment?
So I’ve given up trying to be monogamous, and swearing devotion to black-on-black, because the next minute I might be simply unable to think of anything more divine than orange. And that’s just me, folks; when it comes to fashion, I’m a fickle fish.
I’m not so much of a gusher when it comes to flowers; strangely enough I find flower adulation quite annoying. Gardens, yes; specific species of daffodil, no. (Actually, aren't daffodils just the most depressing flowers?) I know I am expected to be more prattle-y about the blooms. Sometimes I try, but it’s like forcing a laugh. Everyone in the room knows.
The question I am most often asked is what my favourite flower is, and I almost always have to stifle a yawn and always give a different answer; honeysuckle, ranunculus, camellia, hellebore, blah blah blah. For me, it isn’t really about individual flowers, just as dressing for a party isn’t just about the dress. It’s the accessorizing that’s the fun part – the shoes, the earrings, the hat. (I can hear my sister in my ear now: you don't need the hat). I guess I’m just not that fussed about the starting point – flowers are meant to be arranged into something beautiful; they are there to be manipulated, cajoled, forced to interact together. If I were a painter, would I necessarily giggle and dribble over tubes of paint?
The truth is, I don’t really care about the flowers, per se. All that matters to me is what is made of them - the shape, the cohesion of threaded elements and colours together, massed in a vase or a bowl, the conversation they have with the room around them. I couldn’t give a damn about floristry, I am only interested in the end result, in the design; the styling (which everybody knows is really just slightly mad people fiddling around for hours with a set number of objects until they sing). Well that there’s me. Of course magnolia is divine but more so when it is set into a shadowy alcove in an antique jardinière, and those camellia blossoms only sing when they are set against a mass of pale tissue and bound by a shell-pink satin ribbon. Because petals and leaves and fronds are no different to layering glittering wools or tiers of silk-taffeta. It’s the combination, the juxtaposition of flowers to their setting, to the other materials around them. Like clothes to a body; blossom to a vase.
It is so nearly verging on spring; which would be my least favourite season if it weren't for flowering quince branches. I always find spring a difficult season to get behind. Purple and yellow are the least interesting of colours, particularly together. After months of flower-deprivation it is eternally disappointing when spring comes around and the first blooms to pop up are daffodils (aforementioned) and crocuses. Yellow and purple and more yellow. Ghastly. But as I read Dries Van Noten himself say, perhaps it is more interesting to take something you find ugly and make it beautiful; perhaps the most hideous lilac can, after all, be divine in a little slip of a mohair sweater?
The fashion broadsheets for spring are equally, annually, disconcerting. So many yellows. Really? But there they are - amber and canary and saffron and marigold, all jostling together. I can surely say – with some confidence – that I shall not be partaking of yellow for spring 2015, nor the 1970s, gingham, culottes or one-shouldered tops.
But if you knew me you would know that I say ‘I will never’ quite a lot and never mean it.
Because this weekend, there I was - in my turban (don’t tell my sister) - arranging massed primroses in the most detestable palest duckling-yellow in silver goblets on the dining table.
And so it goes.
It isn’t that I don’t want to commit – to never or forever - it’s that I daren’t; there is a change of season ahead, another love affair afoot, always something new.