Monday, 26 September 2011

Flying across Arizona

Back in the air again, and high above the mountains and deserts of Arizona. It's such a big country; stating the obvious, I know, but the horizon just seems to stretch forever. I feel as if I've traveled so far in the last nine days -- London to New York, Boston, LA, and now onwards to Texas -- but when I'm in the sky, I realise what tiny inroads I've made, not even scratching the surface of this vast place.
I've never been to Dallas before, and am therefore intrigued: so far, I associate it only with the memory of screen or print images from my childhood. Speaking of screen associations, I still feel thrilled about driving along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and Laurel Canyon. When I get back home, I'm planning to watch one of my favourite films yet again: Chinatown. Just think of the clothes, let alone the unforgettable landscape of an imaginary past...
And then it will be time to re-read The Great Gatsby.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Chanel in Beverly Hills

Up on the rooftop at the Chanel boutique in Beverly Hills yesterday afternoon, where the sky was blue and the conversation intriguing. There I met the Costume Council from the Los Angeles Museum of Art, and we talked about Coco Chanel's visit to Hollywood in 1931, and a vault where her original black dress is still kept in another Californian archive. Guess where I want to go next? Phone calls were made on my behalf, so here's hoping.
I also asked these wonderfully well-connected women to see if they could find out what happened to the long-lost Chanel costumes that were designed for Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never; those, and Chanel's other couture originals commissioned by Samuel Goldwyn for his Hollywood productions in the early 30s.
You never know, a little sprinkling of old-school Hollywood magic may fall from the sky before I go...
PS. More to come about the conversation with Liz Goldwyn at Soho House on Thursday evening.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

In the sky above California

I'm writing this on a flight from Boston to LA, feeling somewhat dizzy from the last few days. New York was amazing, as always. I met so many interesting people, talked endlessly about life and love, through the prism of Chanel, and then arrived briefly in Boston yesterday, where I spoke at the Boston Public Library. What a magnificent place it is; murals by John Singer Sergeant, and 19th century architecture at its most splendid. There I encountered an astonishingly chic 82 year old woman, who looked as alluring as Mademoiselle Chanel herself.
Not sleeping very much -- a combination of jet-lag and nervous energy and different hotel rooms -- but it all feels part of the journey of discovery that Gabrielle Chanel sent me on, many moons ago. Thus moonshine and darkness a necessary element of the voyage...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Coco in New York

I'm taking a deep breath, before setting off for the US on Sunday (directly to the airport from Blenheim). If any of you live in New York, or have friends thereabouts, then a quick note for the diary: I am talking at Barnes & Noble at the Fashion Institute of Technology on Tuesday Sept. 20th at 5:00pm:
Barnes & Noble at FIT
227 W. 27th St.
New York, NY 10001

There's also a chance to get one of the v. chic Lagerfeld limited edition book bags here.

It's 80 years since Chanel went to New York -- she sailed there in 1931, and stayed at the Hotel Pierre, while recovering from a bout of 'grippe'. Fingers crossed that I am fitter for FiT.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Coco at Blenheim Palace: the Independent Woodstock Literary Festival

All went well in Hampstead on Monday -- thanks to everyone who came (and I have been musing over the connections between Chanel and Wallis Simpson since then). Feeling feeble after a subsequent trip to hospital (nothing too serious, but groggy after a general anaesthetic), though the sunshine was warm enough this morning for me to sit outside in the garden reading the Ham & High.
Anyway, I'm going to be speaking again at 10.30am on Sunday morning in the Marlborough Room at Blenheim Palace, as part of the Woodstock Literary Festival. It should be the perfect setting to discuss Chanel's relationship with Winston Churchill (he was born there in 1874, and proposed in the Blenheim gardens to his future wife, Clementine). Which reminds me, have you heard the anecdote about Churchill's response to a question about the circumstances of his birth? Apparently, when asked whether his mother, Lady Randolph, had been dancing at a ball in the Long Library or out with a shooting-party in the park, he replied, 'Although present on that occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it.'
I was lucky enough to go to Blenheim earlier this year, whilst researching the story of Christian Dior's fashion show there in 1954, and it is the most incredible place -- the vast scale is staggering, yet its myriad details the catalysts for an infinite number of stories.
But on Sunday I'll be keeping to the many-layered tale of Chanel and Churchill -- with several new elements, I promise...

Friday, 9 September 2011

Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival

I'm going to be talking on a panel at 12.30pm on Monday 12th September about Heroes and Villains, alongside Anne Sebba, Daisy Waugh, Christopher Stevens, and Melissa Katsoulis (who should win a prize for the cleverest book cover, don't you think?). The conversation will doubtless range between Coco Chanel, Wallis Simpson, Rudolph Valentino, and much else besides. Hopefully, there will be an audience, because last time I appeared at the Ham & High festival, a couple of years ago, with my lovely friend Judy Summers, there were less than a dozen people in the audience, and most of them were Judy's family (though my oldest son also came, loyally...) I seem to remember she had a very successful book in the bestseller lists at the time, but we both felt like complete losers and festival failures (worsened by the fact that we are north London locals born and bred; though perhaps failure is good for the soul in these and other circumstances).
On the bright side, I'm looking forward to meeting such a distinguished list of panelists, and hoping that they bring oodles of fans with them.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Mission accomplished

I failed to make it to Fashion's Night Out in Bond Street (apologies to Dior, Coach, Vogue, etc, though of course everyone got on just fine without me), but achieved a Big Night In instead. Managed to finish my scary deadlines for the Telegraph (phew), and then made dinner in time to watch Star Trek (the movie) with my son. The homemade gravy was good, the sausages a bit pallid (have they changed the recipe at M&S?),the peas as you would expect, and the crumble excellent (ah, the glamour...). I used Delia's recipe, with a few adaptations: oats instead of flour, and a scattering of golden linseed mixed in with the almonds (to convince myself that the second helping of crumble is a healthy option).
For Enid: I have been reading Patrick Lichfield's autobiography, although this is work-related, rather than a literary diversion (but his story turns out to be diverting, nevertheless).
Oh dear, this is a very mundane blog, but I did go out to the Chanel installation at Harrods on Monday evening (yes, in a dress and lipstick and everything). Help, am I lurching towards pathetic bathetic fallacy?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Tillypronie tree stump

Autumn in London, and my late summer roses were blown down by yesterday's gales. Turned on the central heating this evening for the first time in ages; no open fires here in Crouch End, but there will be when next I go to Scotland.
Tomorrow I will cook sausages with onion gravy, baked potatoes and peas, and apple crumble made with the fruit from my generous next-door-neighbour's tree. Falling leaves are amassing in the pavement outside, and autumn is truly in the air, gusting through the beeches.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Farewell to summer

Apologies for the long silence -- I returned to London from Scotland after the Bank Holiday weekend, and have been trying, and failing, to catch up ever since. The photographs (above) were taken on one of the loveliest days in August, on an almost empty Scottish beach -- Lunan Bay in Angus -- where the sea stretches forever into the sky. It already seems a long time ago, walking along the sands, looking out for white feathers, and gathering tiny pebbles that look like gemstones, washed smooth by the waves.
Home again, and blessed by a warm afternoon in the garden yesterday, dead-heading roses, planting spring bulbs (daffodils, snow-drops, grape-hyacinths) and trimming the lavender. The new school term is already underway, and September feels like a beginning, as well as an ending, as always...