This week has been a bit spare with the posts because from my trip to LA, I’ve segued straight into Port Eliot Festival, which kicked off yesterday, after a one year hiatus (to give the beautiful grounds a rest apparently). One full, hot and sweaty day done and instead of waiting until the end of the weekend to round-up the whole shebang, a pressing thought struck me at the conversation between Suzy Menkes and Sarah Mower today.
Menkes was there to talk about her treasured item of clothing as part of a series that Mower is conducting here called “If Clothes Could Speak” for Port Eliot’s Wardrobe Department programme. Her piece of choice was an ultramarine blue Zandra Rhodes 70s dress, tasselled and printed with seashells like an ode to The Little Mermaid, modelled here by Menkes’ own granddaughter. We were treated to a Zandra Rhodes greatest hits show with prime examples of her delicate and whimsical prints on diamond pointed chiffon dresses, modelled by the Warren sisters (a Wardrobe Department fixture) and borrowed from the Fashion and Textile Museum.
It’s always great of course to shine a light on vintage Zandra Rhodes, especially when you see her relevance popping up today. Menkes even had her other granddaughter wear a Rhodes “inspired” current season Kate Moss for Topshop dress, to hammer home her point.
But that wasn’t my main take away from the talk. Menkes talked about her time when she was working at the Evening Standard and had to file her reports on the telephone. In this pre-mobile phone age, Menkes had to be canny to get her story in. At a Dior show, she clocked another reporter near the exit, where outside there was one singular phonebook in the vicinity. Menkes then engineered a move to divert the other journalist so that she could race out to the phone to file her story.
In another anecdote, Menkes recalls not having an invitation to the Chloe show, when Karl Lagerfeld was the designer there and “king of ready to wear” at the time. So Menkes and her colleague decided to buy some cleaning garb and uniform from a shop and dress up as cleaners to get into the show at 5am, hours before the show. The hid underneath the podium and snuck out just as the show was about to begin.
These two stories spoke volumes about Menkes’ work ethic and attitude. It isn’t just her vast knowledge and experience of show-going and the collections that make her so highly respected. It’s her tenacity, her willingness to graft and her unstoppable quest for “the story” that also makes her a great journalist. She’s the only one on the frow that will take out her laptop in-between shows (I do it sometimes too but in truth, I’m only aping Menkes… and err…there really is too much time wasted waiting for shows to start). She’s the first one backstage after every show to speak to a designer (how DOES she get there so fast…?) She always files super fast and in volume, knocking up huge word counts for individual show reports.
She really is the real deal and frankly, as much as I stand for a newguard digital wave (which Menkes is in full support of in her new role as Vogue’s international editor), it’s hard to see how many people still and will operate the way Menkes does with her high level of tireless dedication to fashion reporting. I wonder too whether the showiness and surface of the fashion world (and the exacerbated speed of fashion coverage today) can often mask what is actually important – proper hard work. Journos continue to hash out lazy cliches about generation y/z Instagramming/captioning their way to the top and in fashion, that accusation is ongoing. That’s too simplistic a statement. But at the same time, I can count on my one hand, the people my age or younger who go the sort of distance that Menkes had demonstrated.
With these thoughts in mind, I dashed over to author Andy Miller’s talk in the Bowling Green after Menkes had been crowned as “Queen of Fashion” with Stephen Jones and Jenny Dyson‘s collectively made crown. Miller was talking about his ten point guide to reading books better, based on his humorous tome The Year of Reading Dangerously. The general gist of the talk was to encourage people to really engage with their books, read them properly, finish them and don’t pretend you’ve read something just because culture vultures prescribe that you MUST have read a certain book.
From Miller’s talk and Menkes’ stories, I could draw parallels and glean some old fashioned advice – be the real McCoy, don’t think you can fake it and make it, worked hard and you’ll reap rewards, take the long route and not the shortcut… if I think of any more cliched nuggets, I’ll add them here. It is only day one after all…