Monday, 27 September 2010

Some good things in my kitchen...

Proof, at last, that couture cakes and Chanel can inhabit the same kitchen counter. I have been enjoying these delicious cupcakes from Samantha Blears -- although they looked too good to eat, I couldn't resist them -- and have been carrying my book bag with pride...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Coco goes to Scotland

If there are any Scottish readers of this blog, I'd like to invite you to the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh on Tuesday 28th September at 5.30pm. There will be something to drink, time to talk, and I'll be speaking about Chanel's connections with Scotland (including her skill with a fishing rod).
RSVP to:
0208 307 4300

Thursday, 23 September 2010

In the bedroom with Coco

Have been hither and thither this week, but also managed to spend some time in my own bedroom with Mademoiselle Chanel. The pictures above are not, however, in my house -- you'll see from the little film that I've posted that I live within white walls -- but I was lucky enough to visit the London house that Chanel inhabited, during her love affair with the Duke of Westminster. Just look at the birds and the camellias on the wallpaper. They seemed to me to be a magical reminder of her presence -- one of those rare moments when the universe chimes, and the veil between the past and present becomes translucent.
Very much hoping to meet some of you at Waterstones Kensington High Street this evening. Please do come and say hello!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Sunday night, Monday morning...

Internet back on, thank goodness, after 48 hours of irritation and fiddling with widget and hanging on phone for Talk Talk call centre (no talking, just the 7th circle of limbo). Kind of appalled at how dependent I have become on constant online access, but without it, I felt like I'd lost access to a layer of the outside world.
Meanwhile, have been for a walk in the local park, where the leaves are just beginning to look autumnal. Pale clouds scudding across the sky, and on the horizon, Alexandra Palace looked close enough to reach out and touch.
Home to cook sausages and onion gravy with peas and baked potatoes -- comfort food -- followed by apple pie. Reading Bella Pollen's new novel, The Summer of the Bear, and very much enjoying it. It's such a lovely feeling, having been submerged in writing my own book, to discover someone else's. Whenever I'm working on a book, I tend not to read anything unrelated. Hence my reading list for Chanel was entirely focused on the milieus she inhabited -- broad enough to include Scott Fitzgerald, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (Vile Bodies even mentions Chanel), so I can't complain -- but not much time for contemporary novels. So, lots to catch up with...
Up early tomorrow to go to Calcot Manor to talk at a literary lunch. Wish I was staying there for longer, but at least I'll get to sniff a breath of Cotswolds air.
Speaking of which, I've just remembered that I must remind people of a forthcoming event I'm doing at the Bath Theatre Royal on November 18th. Memo to self: must write down dates in my diary, as well as on blog, just in case Talk Talk goes silent again.
PS. Anyway with an interest in Virginia Woolf might be amused (or bemused) by my column about camel coats in the Telegraph today. Incidentally, has anyone discovered Mrs Woolf's articles for Vogue?

Friday, 17 September 2010

Chanel Unveiled

... She is looking pristine, but I am somewhat muddled and smudged, having had very little sleep after an amazing party at Claridges. Today I am juggling calls to a locksmith (a broken key in the back door), an electrician (no lights in the sitting room), my internet service provider (how can it be faulty this week, of all weeks?), the Royal Parks phone line (why do they do they hand out parking tickets on a Sunday evening for Regent's Park?) and the imminent arrival of a television crew. Oh, and I look like a panda.
Still, am feeling very cheered that people seem to be enjoying the book. Here is Jessica Bumpus at Vogue and Rosie Cowling at Stylecramp and something good from pure wow.
PS. Oh, and this is a piece I wrote about Chanel in London in yesterday's Evening Standard. And a q&a in Harper's Bazaar. (There's also a far longer feature in the October issue of Bazaar, but I'm not sure if that's available online.)
And have just been reading Oxford Reader, in a brief window of internet connection. I'm so glad she commented on the delicious scent of a new book. I do think mine smells lovely; a sort of clean woodiness.
PPS. Am going to bed now. Am verging on that dangerous line between tiredness and derangement. But I must say, watching Star Trek with my son, after a hearty Japanese takeaway and a large slice of berry cheesecake, was excellent therapy. Live long and prosper...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Today is the day...

... that my book is published! Just got my order from amazon -- yes, I ordered my own book, because I wanted to get one of the limited edition book bags with a gorgeous black and white illustration by Karl Lagerfeld. I love the look of the book -- although I have twisting knots in my stomach about its delivery into the hands of critics -- but I do feel unadulterated pleasure at finally seeing the book bag. Simple linen, with the clean lines of a Lagerfeld sketch of Mademoiselle Chanel on the front.
I hope those of you who pre-ordered from amazon will have received your copies today. When you do, have a peek under the glossy wrap-around cover, and see the secret beneath...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Through the wardrobe...

OK, here's my attempt at coaxing Chanel out of the shadows. Hope you like the film: it was made in my (very messy) study, where I sit and write this blog, and you also get to see my bedroom. I've just tried to watch the video on amazon, and it keeps crashing (whenever I get to Chanel's apartment -- mysteriously, the computer says no); but hopefully some of you will persevere with it. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

An evening with Coco Chanel

I've just added a few links (see right) for upcoming events and talks that I'm doing this autumn. The first is at Waterstones in Kensington High Street on September 23rd; it starts at 7pm, so I do hope some of you may be able to come.
PS. Have just been contemplating gorgeous costumes and stirring music in 'Coco & Igor'. Can modernism be made into a movie? Not sure, but Mrs Stravinsky looks ravishingly consumptive, the re-enactment of 'The Rite of Spring' is intriguing (and call me shallow, but it's easier to follow than Resnais's L’année dernière à Marienbad, which had wonderful little black dresses by Coco Chanel, and an almost incomprehensible plot; not that narrative simplicity was ever a preeminent feature of the French New Wave). Half a century after Chanel designed for Resnais, the French cinema industry has attempted to lure her ghost out of the shadows of a mysterious past, and into the arc lights. Anna Mouglalis gives a harder-edged version of Chanel than Audrey Tautou in 'Coco Avant Chanel', and an altogether different perspective on the much-disputed narrative of her love life. Naturally, I remain intrigued by the endless reflections of La Grande Mademoiselle...

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Farewell to a jellicle cat

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happens to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.
(T.S Eliot, The Song of the Jellicles).

My Jellicle cat was called Lizzie: a black and white cat who came north to Crouch End from Rotherhithe, 16 years ago, when she was a tiny kitten. She had been advertised, along with her siblings, in the small ads of 'Loot': £5 apiece, although she turned out to be priceless. My oldest son was four years old, and his younger brother was still a baby. Jamie had longed for a cat, and I thought, why not? I liked the idea of another female in the house, so Lizzie arrived at six weeks old, and lived with us thereafter.
She was an independent creature: aloof at times, although she mellowed in old age, when she was happy to sit beside me on the sofa, occasionally bestowing a quick lick on my hand, purring and companionable, a witness to the changes in my life, apparently unruffled by seismic shifts or quakes, a reassuring presence and constant reminder that whatever else, breakfasts and dinners must be served.
In her prime, Lizzie ruled the feline neighbourhood: hence her unofficial title as Queen of the Black and White Club, stalking atop the highest brick walls and wooden fences. As such, she seemed to have more than nine lives: indeed, she survived several days inside the local electricity substation. (No one knew how she had managed to break in, nor her motives in doing so; but fortunately she was rescued by an employee of the Electricity Board, despite his self-confessed fear of cats.) Then there was the morning she disappeared beneath the floor boards, and the afternoon she climbed to the highest branch of a damson tree, and the night she appeared on the roof. But Lizzie always seemed able to find her way back to a saucer of milk in the kitchen...
She had a summer in the countryside, and many seasons in London; picking her way through hard winter frosts, sniffing the soft air of spring dawns, whiskers quivering, then dozing in the warm dusks of June. For a decade or so, she roamed a maze of back gardens, although was never a predator, more interested in sunbathing than killing, but occasionally swatted a fly.
In her latter years, she did not venture beyond her own garden, the walls suddenly grown too high for her; but looked happy enough to be there, especially in the sunlight with someone to stroke her (except when she flicked her tail as a warning, a reminder that there were times when she preferred solitude). Lizzie hated rain, abhorred puppies, and held her own against foxes, even when she was lame and deaf, her back arched with age rather than fury. Not long ago, she appeared to be sleeping as a cub sauntered past; but perhaps she had one eye open, and her claws were still sharp.
Her favourite spot was beneath the magnolia tree, where she retreated more often of late, sometimes breathing so quietly that it was barely perceptible, her black and white fur motionless. There she lay, curled up against the warm earth, enjoying her hiding place on the far side of the tree trunk, enclosed by a circle of lavenders, long after the magnolia petals had fallen to the ground.
As everyone knows who has shared family life with an animal, they gradually overtake us in age; and the days become years, quickening, before you have even noticed that they are gone.
I hope Lizzie is dancing at the Jellicle ball tonight, fleet-footed once more, whisking her way into the darkness, swift as a shadow towards the dawn.

A little taste of Coco

Here is the first extract of Coco, from the Telegraph. Very few pictures -- I'm afraid you'll have to buy the book for those (nearly 300 of them!) -- because of copyright issues and the risk of online piracy. Anyway, hope you enjoy the words now, and the pictures later.
In the real world, am just off to the vet with my elderly cat, who despite her great age and fragility is nevertheless strong enough to bite me when I attempted to cut her extremely long nails last night. Coco Chanel would not have approved of my cat's personal grooming; Mademoiselle was very insistent on a clean-cut manicure at all times, whereas Lizzie appears to be letting herself go...

Friday, 3 September 2010

Wearing another hat...

Here is the new Telegraph fashion website, where you can read my weekly column, The Closet Thinker. Here's one I wrote earlier... I wish I could show you a picture of Charlotte Bronte's ring, but it vanished into a bag of swag (the ring, that is; hence the invisibility of it now).
Meanwhile, have been filming at home today, talking about different aspects of Coco Chanel -- the story behind the book, the view from my bedroom (hope it doesn't look too messy). Will post when the film is finished, but in the meantime, can I offer a small suggestion (hint hint) about the benefits of ordering early on amazon? There is a very special, limited edition book bag for those who pre-order... I can say no more, but truly, it is really rather lovely.