Oscar Humphries

Diary - 29 September 2007

London Fashion Week is one of those events, like the Lib Dem Conference and the Max Power show, that is important to a few people but passes most of us by.

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It is unspeakably pretentious and whips some of my more fashion-conscious friends into a frenzy of wild-eyed insecurity. Have they been invited to the right parties? Does everyone else know which parties they chose to avoid? Fashion has no mercy apparently. London Fashion Week seems to have very little to do with fashion. There is a schedule of shows where young and suspiciously young-looking designers display their often unwearable cloths on dysentery-thin models. The Americans and the French don’t take it seriously. It ranks somewhere below Tokyo Fashion Week and above Kazakhstan Fashion Week, which by all accounts was a disaster. I went to the Luella party because Fashion Week mania is contagious and I got that ‘If I don’t go, I’ll be missing out’ feeling. The entrance to the Claridge’s Ballroom looked like a branch of Northern Rock except that the people queuing round the block wore black ‘skinny’ jeans and clutched mobile phones, not savings books. They had the same look of panic and desperation on their faces — terrified of losing their social currency. Once inside I remembered why I preferred looking at photographs of Russian models to talking to them. Everyone was obsessing over the PPQ party around the corner. Was I going? Could they come? I was going home, I said. Home? This fashion junkie tried to place the word, wondering if this was some underground club or new brand not yet on their pop-cultural radar.

‘I’m not bothered either way,’ said the man sitting next to me on Eurostar. I’d asked him if he liked art. His answer staggered me. I spend so much time trawl-ing auction catalogues, going to exhibitions and discussing art (non-pretentiously) with other addicts that I’d forgotten that some people feel about art the way I feel about football — that it’s baffling and boring. Everything I collect is destined for the house I will one day buy, but is more likely to end up with the bailiffs. Once they know you a little, art dealers offer you ‘terms’. I represent the bad debt of the art world. Every month I pay the gallery that scares me the most. I get emails and texts, and people call at the house. Sara, my fiancée, has been briefed to ignore fey plummy-sounding men when they telephone. Nothing has been repossessed yet, but I’m waiting, nervously. Pictures are so much easier to buy than they are to sell. Especially macabre drawings by minor Belgian artists. It will either end well — with a studio flat in Ealing (the new Acton) groaning with weird art. Or it will end badly with a headline, ‘Art World Brought to Knees by Art Addict Fantasist. Bank of England Steps In.’

London is tribal. I am on the periphery of several tribes, including the art tribe, the antique tribe, the former scoundrel tribe, and the occasionally writes tribe. I live in Pimlico, home to real estate agents, ex-wives who used to live in Belgravia, and chavs. The youth of today shock even the youth of a couple of years ago. They swear and loiter and dress badly. ‘Think you’re Oscar Wilde?’ said a track-suited thug the other day. He had a good eye. There was something of a Victorian decadence about my suit. These kids also throw stones at people. Three times in one year I’ve been pelted. Once at Hyde Park Corner with conkers. Then twice with small stones near my flat. There is something comical about looking about oneself to see where the rocks came from and the fast-paced scuttling off required to escape. ‘Art scoundrel stoned by kids’ would, I think, force the parents of these stone-stowing tribes into action. I sound fogeyish saying this, but they really are out of control. I never thought I would say this, but the Daily Mail is right about the hooded generation. When I was a teen, ringing on a doorbell then running away was as antisocial as we got. It is unlikely any of them read The Spectator regularly so I won’t fear reprisals.

I haven’t really been paying attention to the party conferences. The Liberal party conference seemed to be the Kazakhstan Fashion Week of party conferences. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sir Menzies Campbell telling people he isn’t too old. I’m not sure I’m with him on that and think the lady doth protest too much. Someone has obviously told Gordon Brown to smile — the ghost of Tony Blair perhaps. Not mentioning Cameron once in his speech seemed a little harsh. Ignoring him completely suggested to me that Brown regards him an entirely benevolent enemy. Gordon Brown has some new suits, made for him by the tailor Timothy Everest. I’d been considering commissioning Everest to make me a teen-chav-provoking suit. I’d requested generous ‘terms’ and was waiting to hear back. Even if he offered me 0 per cent over a year, I wouldn’t want one of his suits. Being patronised by a politician, especially one like Gordon Brown, is the death knell of the tailor. Politicians should be more like bank managers — safe and drab. I wonder if the tailor who hides Prescott’s ample folds in navy-blue wool boasts about it. I think not.

Oscar Humphries is a contributing editor of The Spectator.