Saturday, 21 November 2020

Most of them as a matter of fact wanted dreadfully to be photographed

Oliver Messell, stage designer

All picnics should be like this!

"Subtle and understated" were their watchwords Stephen Tennant, Paula Gellibrand, Edward ‘Boy’ Le Bas, Baba Beaton (twice), Cecil Beaton, Georgia Sitwell

A plethora of "Bright Young Things".

They knew how to party!

...She almost wished in this new mood of exaltation that she had come to the party in fancy dress. It was called a Savage party, that is to say that Johnnie Hoop had written on the invitation that they were to come dressed as savages. Numbers of them had done so; Johnnie himself in a mask and black gloves represented the Maharanee of Pukkapore, somewhat to the annoyance of the Maharajah, who happened to drop in. The real aristocracy, the younger members of those two or three great brewing families which rule London, had done nothing about it. They had come on from a dance and stood in a little group by themselves, aloof, amused but not amusing. Pit-a-pat went the heart of Miss Mouse. How she longed to tear down her dazzling frock to her hips and dance like a Bacchante before them all. One day she would surprise them all, thought Miss Mouse...

...There were two men with a lot of explosive powder taking photographs in another room. Their flashes and bangs had rather a disquieting effect on the party, causing a feeling of tension, because every one looked negligent and said what a bore the papers were, and how too like Archie to let the photographers come, but most of them as a matter of fact wanted dreadfully to be photographed and the others were frozen with unaffected terror that they might be taken unawares and then their mamas would know where they had been when they said they were at the Bicesters' dance, and then there would be a row again, which was so exhausting, if nothing else...

...There were about a dozen people left at the party; that hard kernel of gaiety that never breaks. It was about three o'clock.

'Let's go to Lottie Crump's and have a drink,' said Adam.

So they all got into two taxicabs and drove across Berkeley Square to Dover Street. But at Shepheard's the night porter said that Mrs Crump had just gone to bed. He thought that Judge Skimp was still up with some friends; would they like to join them? They went up to Judge Skimp's suite, but there had been a disaster there with a chandelier that one of his young ladies had tried to swing on. They were bathing her forehead with champagne; two of them were asleep.

So Adam's party went out again, into the rain.

'Of course, there's always the Ritz,' said Archie. 'I believe the night porter can usually get one a drink.' But he said it in the sort of voice that made all the others say, no, the Ritz was too, too boring at that time of night...

Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies was published 90 years ago this year - it was Waugh's intention to satirise the antics of these 1920s hedonists, but in doing so provided inspiration for Noel Coward's A Marvellous Party and Cole Porter's musical Anything Goes, which is partially based upon the novel.

[NB Click on any of the photos above to embiggen]

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

The only natural thing about any of this is the light

From an article by Abby Aguire in Vogue, May 2019:

If you approach Mother Ru from the side, as I did, the first thing you will need to process is the eyelashes. The skull-to-eyelash ratio is so physiologically improbable that it’s a good 30 seconds before I realize that Ru is not dressed as any of his familiar alter egos. Rather, he’s a modern facsimile of Queen Elizabeth I, clothed in a billowing gold-brocade skirt, a corset, and a halo of red dreadlocks.

He knows which side is his good side. He knows how the light is hitting. He knows to lower the lashes to half-mast and let them hover there as the camera clicks. And when, after a while, Leibovitz suggests he remove his headpiece, he knows to object.

“It becomes something else without the piece,” Ru says, gesturing to the rest of his puffy-sleeved costume. “The piece sells everything else.”

“Your hair becomes a crown,” Leibovitz says gently. The exchange goes on for two minutes. Finally, RuPaul puts his (combat boot–clad) foot down. Remove the piece, and he is no longer in character. “Everything here is overdone,” he says, motioning again to his look, and then to the surroundings. “The only natural thing about any of this is the light.”

It occurs to me that RuPaul has just offered up a definition of camp. (“The essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration,” Susan Sontag wrote in “Notes on ‘Camp.’ ”) More remarkably, he and Leibovitz have just unwittingly re-created one of the photographer’s most memorable shoots.

You see, twelve years ago, when Leibovitz took official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II in full regalia at Buckingham Palace, one of America’s most well-known portrait photographers asked England’s longest-reigning monarch to remove her “crown.” (It was a tiara.) A BBC film crew captured the exchange.

Leibovitz: “It will look better - less dressy - because the garter robe is so...”

Queen Elizabeth II: “Less dressy? What do you think this is?”

The queen of the United Kingdom did not want to take off her headpiece. And here in beautiful downtown Burbank, neither does the Queen of Drag.

RuPaul is 60 years old today.

All Hail!

RuPaul (born RuPaul Andre Charles, 17th November 1960)

Friday, 13 November 2020


When the tea is brought at five o'clock
And all the neat curtains are drawn with care,
The little black cat with bright green eyes
Is suddenly purring there.
- HH Monro

Friday the Thirteenth

Monday, 9 November 2020

Through art, you create your own world

Another day, another Guinness...

...but when that particular scion of the brewing and banking dynasty is Daphne - then there is nothing or nobody who can even come close!

"I just am who I am. And then when people label me eccentric or different, I'm kind of astonished because I think, 'This is completely normal. This is just how I am, it's how I've always been.'"

"If I think about it too much, I can't get dressed."

"I don't regard clothing as disposable, which is probably why I have so much of it!"

"When I think my hair needs a bit of help, I just glue another bit onto my head."

"I don't tell anybody else what to wear. I would never dream of it."

"I don't do event dressing, because every day is an event."

"Through art, you create your own world."

She certainly does that:

Many happy returns, Daphne Diana Joan Susanna Guinness (born 9th November 1967)

More Daphne here

Friday, 6 November 2020

If there’s a duke there, he can sit somewhere opposite me

Lady Elizabeth Anson, who recently departed for Fabulon, was a cousin of Her Majesty The Queen on her mother's side - and by all accounts sounds as if she was quite the hoot. It's not every royal who counted Paul O'Grady as a best friend, or could have had the nickname for Her Maj of "Shirley Temple"...

Lady Anson's forte - her career - was as a party planner, not just for royal events such as HM's 80th and 90th birthday parties and Wills and Kate's wedding reception, but also Sting's wedding, Margaret Thatcher's 70th birthday party and events for clients such as Tom Cruise and Sacha Baron-Cohen, among many others in her 50 year career. All of them had such nicknames, to ensure confidentiality when the Lady was making her arrangements.

From an interview with The New York Times in 2016, here are a few of her tips for success, dear reader, when planning your next dinner party for several hundred people including Baronets and Earls:

  • The invitation sets the tone.
    If you have a cheap-looking invitation, she says, “you imagine there’s going to be acidic wine and miserable food.” Simple and elegant are preferable to invitation one-upmanship: “Someone wanted me to do ‘save the dates’ with Swarovski crystals costing no less than £2,500 a card, and that’s just vulgarity.”
  • Good parties don’t have to be extravagant.
    “A party with good table wine and good pasta or good sausages and mash can be just as much of a success as one with Krug, caviar, oysters and lobster,” Lady Elizabeth says. “It’s not about expensive ingredients. It’s about people.”
  • Good lighting is essential.
    After the guests, the single most important element of a party is proper illumination. “Lighting makes or breaks it. You can use it to make people look nice and to divide a big room up.”
  • Getting everyone seated.
    If you’re trying to get guests to take their seats, tell them it’s a soufflé. “I’ve never had anyone come back to me later and complain that it wasn’t,”.
  • Seat all the bores together.
    “They don’t realize they’re the bores, and they’re happy,” she says. “It’s my biggest tip.”
  • A round dining table is best
    When entertaining at home, Lady Elizabeth is always glad she has a round dining room table so she can dispense with protocol - no worries about determining who is the most important guest and thus seated in the middle. “It makes life easier. If there’s a duke there, he can sit somewhere opposite me if I think there’s somebody more amusing that I want to sit next to.”
  • Pick up the phone.
    It’s the fastest way to get organized, and there are fewer misunderstandings. “It’s old fashioned but it’s instantaneous. I don’t want endless emails and bits and bobs.”
  • End a party when there’s at least 20 people on the dance floor.
    “If you let it peter out, it’s death,” she says. “I made one mistake in the whole of my career, which was being persuaded to restart the band. It was a flop.” Announce (or have the band say) that it’s the second to last dance, and then stop the bar from serving. “People leave fast when they can’t get a drink.”.

RIP, Lady Elizabeth Georgiana Shakerley CVO (née Anson, 7th June 1941 – 1st November 2020)