Tanielle Lobo

Tanielle Lobo CSM catwalk show

Tanielle Lobo CSM catwalk show

For most of last summer, I had to be a fashion designer. This despite the fact that I drew fashion designs obsessively for a few years from the age of ten and proved beyond all reasonable doubt that I’m never, EVER going to be John Galliano.

However, you can’t write a book about a successful designer and not describe a few outfits. I did it tentatively, but as time went on my vision of my character’s party frocks for actresses and It-girls got stronger. A bit Christian Lacroix Does Mini, a bit Marchesa Does Ballet, a bit Matthew Williamson Does India, a bit Rodarte Does Couture Punk, and every now and again a bit Chanel Does Teen. But bolder, brighter, younger and, frankly, sexier.

Last week I went to the Central St Martins Fashion Degree Show. Some might argue that it would have been a good idea to go before writing about the school, the graduates, the atmosphere, the life, but I didn’t know when it was, I didn’t know you could just pitch up and look (you can) and I couldn’t say (as I did this time) ‘I’ve just written a book about fashion and please can I talk to you?’. Instead, I used my imagination and Google.

The show was great. Commercial ‘Please can I join Max Mara?’ alongside ‘I’m mad, me, look at these shoulder pads!’ The BA graduates had hung a selection of their outfits in the middle of the room, with their lookbooks, accessories and other interesting bits and pieces around the edge, and a video of their catwalk shows in the corner.

It took me about two minutes to home in on Tanielle Lobo. Strangely, if she hadn’t been there, I’d have gone away feeling that my imagination was totally out of touch with today’s CSM. But as it was, I just saw my ideas in silk, or in photographs, turned slightly sixties and A-line, with a Bombay background (totally appropriate for book 2). Tanielle does COLOUR. She does SHORT AND SEXY. She does gold silk ruffles, tweed and sequins. High wedge platforms with engraved heels. Sequin necklaces that are about a foot square. She does how every older teenage party girl should look in couture.

I asked a student who was hanging about if I there were any spare brochures of her work that I could take. Next thing I know, I’m chatting to Tanielle herself (this is starting to be a bit of a habit). Tanielle is beautiful, bubbly, Indian and totally dedicated to forging a fashion career in London. I explained that she had effectively just brought some of my imagined outfits to life. She told me how she’s waiting for her first big order, after just hearing about getting a First (yay!). I gave her Threads to read, with my heart in my mouth, because if anyone’s going to find fault with it, it’s someone who’s practically a character in the book herself.

She emailed me to tell me she loved it. Phew.

Now I’ll keep a lookout for those fun, sexy dresses, shoes and evening coats in the fashion forward stores, so hopefully one day I can say ‘Oh yes, Tanielle. I saw her Graduate Collection at St Martins’ and sound like someone from one of my books. As long as I remember to do it in my cool voice, and not my squeaky, excited, ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod voice. Which just isn’t fashion-y at all.

This is me in my head

On the Street, the High School Student, Florence

Florencegirl - The Sartorialist

On a day like today, when it’s warm and sunny and my husband and First Critic has just told me he really likes book 2 and it’s not an abject failure after all, and I’m off to Central St Martins to look at their degree show FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES, this is how I feel in my head.

Needless to say, I don’t look like this. Not a high school student. Not stunning and super-chic. Not wearing a cool dress and perfect accessories. Not standing in the perfect light in front of the Baptistry in Florence (but note, I do at least know it’s the Baptistry in Florence, so I get a couple of marks for cultural know-it-all-ism).

Scott Schuman, who writes The SartoriaList blog and takes the incredible photos, is a fashion genius and his blog is the first place I go to if I want to find out what the coolest people in the world are wearing. They’re almost never celebrities, almost never in head to toe designer, almost never dressed specifically to have their photo taken, often pictured in unpredictable places like Argentina or Sydney or Florence, always gobsmackingly fabulous to look at.

This girl is one of the best. Last time I checked, there were 178 comments saying how good she looked. Mine was the 171st. As I say, in my head I am totally her.

In real life, I’m wearing a Cacharel summer dress I bought in Liberty 22 years ago, which was one of my big fashion purchases and which I’m wearing for the final time in honour of that moment, despite the fact that IT DOESN’T SUIT ME IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER and is responsible for the worst tanlines of my life. It’s a lesson in how short, curvy women should not do high-necked, big flower, backless halterneck dresses with swirly fifties skirts. I look like a dwarf in a tent, but at least it’s a Cacharel tent, and it’s actually very comfy. I’m enjoying the moment before it goes to the charity shop tomorrow and I look for Florence girl’s dress in the shops – or the closest thing I can get to it. And Florence girl’s shoes. And Florence girl’s lighting.

Sigh.

Bluebird

Hmmm.

Had a fabulous lunch with my publisher, talking about my book. I had thought there must be some sort of catch when you do something like that – it sounds so perfect on paper, surely in real life it’s a massive disappointment. But no. The place was perfect (Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea), the food was perfect (mackerel salad – it’s great eating with another woman and not feeling the need to order vast plates of steak), the conversation was perfect (the cover of book 2 and what’s going to happen to the characters next; also the merits of various wallpaper manufacturers – serious heaven), and I left without any of those ‘oh by the way, we can’t actually publish you’ moments, while she headed off to yet another meeting about my book. So far so good.

So there I was in Chelsea, just down the road from one of my most favourite places to window shop for fashion – Bluebird, at the end of the King’s Road – and naturally I had to pop in and ‘do some more research’ before going back to my library and writing. (OK, before stopping off at the Bluebird Cafe and writing, but I did eventually do some writing, honest.)

And now, not only do they have cool shoes (Rupert Sanderson) and cool clothes (Charles Anastase, See by Chloe, Acne jeans), and cool furnishings (see my previous blog about sexy cushions) but they have cool vintage pieces too. I flicked along the rail and came to The Piece I Have Been Looking For Forever: a peacock blue/green devore velvet shawl/coat that would glam up any evening outfit AND keep your arms warm.

I couldn’t help myself. I tried it on. I found out the price (a quarter of what I was expecting), I discovered it was made by Georgina Von Etzdorf, who made my favourite devore velvet and silk scarves a few years ago, and Reader, I bought it.

I was thrilled with myself. I hugged it to me. I took it home (after the writing, which I did eventually do, honest) and tried it on for my husband. My husband who buys me clothes and constantly flatters me and is basically perfect in every way.

He sat there in his Acne skinny jeans (which I occasionally mistake for my jeans, even though he’s a foot taller than me – he is so slim), his baggy linen shirt and Converse, looking like a man who knows how to dress.

His face scrunched up. He seemed loath to speak. But he did anyway. He said TPIHBLFF made me look like a fortune teller. A short fortune teller. An old, short fortune teller. And Reader, he was right.

He said he liked the fabric and everything. Just not in that design. And not on me. And when I checked in the mirror to see if there was some way I could persuade him that it was, after all, the perfect evening cover-up, all I could see was an old, short fortune teller in a nice dress that you could hardly see because it was covered up by this fringed shawl thing.

I’m taking it back later this week. Damn that perfect husband of mine.

Prrrrrrrr

In the middle of book 2 there’s a scene where my characters are sitting round a table and the villain of the piece, a PR guru, almost reduces them to tears. (OK, my villains aren’t exactly super-evil.)

So there I am last week, sitting round the table and next to me is a PR guru who looks disconcertingly like my villain (I made him very good looking) and he is being absolutely ADORABLE and CHARMING about Threads and I LOVE this man.

Listening to him and his amazing colleagues chat about the designers they know, the shows they’ve been to, the fashion events they’ve been a part of, I realise that it’s not only me who has an amazing job. I think they’re expecting me to be equally chic and blase (that should be blah-say but I don’t know how to do accents on WYSIWYG) about the fashion world and they’re a bit taken aback when I bounce up and down in my seat like a schoolgirl every time an iconic name is casually mentioned.

But I am not chic. I am not blase (blah-say). I may write about girls who get to meet my heroes, but I spend most of my life in libraries or clutching babywipes and I get VERY EXCITED when I hear about those heroes and realise I’m sitting two feet away from someone who’s met them often and knows their children.

On the way out, I ask my new BFFs if they could possibly bear to read book 2 for me and check it’s vaguely on track about the world of high street fashion. They graciously agree. Only when I hit the street do I remember about my villanous PR.

What do I do? Do I say anything? Do I make him less good looking? Do I change his (remarkably on the button, had I only known) wardrobe, to foil suspicion?

I haven’t decided yet. I’m only grateful that I hadn’t met ‘my publicists’ before I made up my villain, or I couldn’t have brought myself to create him, and that might have made for a rather saggy middle section.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful that the only real villains of Threads are a bunch of schoolgirls, and it’s not as if I’m going to meet lots of them during the … oh wait. Drat. The ramifications of villain creation in the life of the well-meaning novelist are greater than I could have imagined. Watch out for the super-evil inter-galactic fashion alien in book 3.

It’s the only way to play it safe.

Shhh, whisper it …

Maybe, maybe, tomorrow will be THE DAY. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write the final scene and find out how the story ends.

Ha ha.

No, honestly. I know how the story ends. I started with how the story ends. But I’ll be able to read how the story ends.

But it won’t be The End.

There are still a couple of bumps in the road that I need to go back and hammer out. Other metaphors? There are some kinks in the paintwork that I need to touch up. There are some seams that need straightening. I know! Snagging. That’s it. We’ve got the builders in at the moment. They’re at an early stage. OK, it’s their first day. But further down the line, they will ‘finish’ the job and we will see more or less what our new loft extension (yay!) is going to look like, and we will spot all the bits and pieces that still need tweaking. And we’ll draw up a snagging list and hopefully, soon after that, the job will be done.

Which is why, if I’m lucky enough to write that final scene tomorrow, the immediate next action is to go back and start snagging. It’ll be a fun scene to write. I tend not to end my stories on ‘and then everything just carried on as normal’ notes. Because you don’t, do you? But more than anything right now, it will give me a sense of where to go back and put in the pointers that will make the reader gasp even louder when they reach that final moment, and be even more depressed that they’ve finished the book and immediately check online when the sequel’s coming out. Typey thing.

With Threads, the last scene was a sheer joy to write, but the last line was a nightmare. I spent weeks thinking it would never, never work. When it came, it was a joyous moment and I still remember it. This time, the scene’s more complicated. It has a huge cast of characters and big things are happening to them all. It will be like Hamlet, but with bubbles of happiness instead of bodies. No idea what the final line will be. Maybe it won’t come yet. But if it doesn’t, I’ll wing it. And then on to snagging.

Is it still the best job in the world? Yup, absolutely. Definitely. Yes. I’m not at all worried about tomorrow, or next week, when the snagging continues. I’m really worried about three weeks’ time, when I won’t know what to do with myself. But luckily, that’s ages away. Maybe I’ll drift around, mentally spending the royalties (Don’t, Sophia, don’t, you crazy woman. Your editor might hate it). Maybe I’ll manage to cuddle the husband and children more.

Meanwhile, writing. Yay!

Some day my prints will come

Leah Weller in Angela Thurston, picture by Mary McCartney

Leah Weller in Angela Thurston, picture by Mary McCartney

I know. Old joke. Less relevant now photography’s gone digital. Still like it, though.

But actually, the prints in question aren’t on photo paper, they’re on silk.

Here’s the story.

Last week I went to a book launch event thing and, as meeting writers and readers always puts me in a happy mood, I floated down Piccadilly on the way home, where I read an article about Graduate Fashion Week. It featured Paul Weller’s daughter Leah, who is GORGEOUS. Not ‘my father is a famous super-cool singer so lets overlook the chubby thighs/dodgy squint/spots’ gorgeous, but GORGEOUS. I think this is technically known in the trade as ‘it’s not fair’ gorgeous.

Anyway, she wore a lot of stuff that was going to feature in Graduate Fashion Week and it was all amazingly good. But best of all was a print dress by Angela Thurston of Colchester School of Art and Design, which was bold and colourful and graceful and happy. Just looking at this dress on gorgeous-girl put me in an even better mood.

And today I went to GFW (it’s GFW to us fashion types, darling) to do ‘research’. Isn’t my job just incredible? And hanging on a rail at the front of a long line of fabulous clothes, was ‘my’ dress from the magazine article. And I sort of jokingly said to the girl manning the desk that if I could (ie if it wasn’t somebody’s degree project) I’d buy it.

Next thing I know, I’m chatting to Angela Thurston, who is – naturally – lovely. Nobody who designs prints that happy could be anything but lovely. And I was saying ‘I’ve got a book coming out’ (I say it a lot at the moment. Never wears off. I even showed her a copy of it that I had in my bag. I am THAT SAD) and ‘if I could choose the perfect thing to wear at book readings it would be a dress like yours’. And SHE was saying ‘well, we could always customise the print. And are you happy with this shape?’

And so basically, I’m going to blow some of the royalties (please buy my book) on a dress I saw in a magazine that ISN’T IN THE SHOPS. And get to know a lovely textile designer in the process.

HOW COOL IS MY JOB?

Very, very cool.

Which reminds me. Must do some more writing. The End.

P.S. Oh, and the very first single I ever bought (when Mummy and Daddy were young, they had little vinyl things called singles and iTunes didn’t exist, darling. Yes, really) was Start, by The Jam. So this dress was meant to be mine. Obviously. Really The End.

The jacket has landed

My jacket

My jacket

The person who always ends up telling me the latest installments of my book’s journey into the real world is Justine Windsor.

How she does it, I don’t know, because I’m not averse to googling myself and desperately trying to find out whether ANYTHING HAS HAPPENED RECENTLY, but somehow I always manage to miss any developments, and Justine always manages to spot them. So thank you, Justine. I now know that I HAVE A PICTURE ON AMAZON.

Hmmm, I’m not sure I really captured the full flavour of it there. Let’s try again.

I. HAVE. A. PICTURE. ON. AMAZON.

My story is a real, live book with a cover*, and no longer just an ‘image not available’. Oh, and by the way, the cover mentions Jacqueline Wilson, who was really nice about the book.

Hmmm. Let’s try again.

THE. COVER. MENTIONS. JACQUELINE. WILSON.

It’s normal at this point for debut authors (see eg Sarwat Chadda and Aprilynne Pike) to point out that they have entered a parallel universe and this isn’t really happening and they’re just waiting for someone to point out the incredibly funny joke that’s been played on them. This is because that’s what it feels like.

It’s the same feeling I got talking to a senior librarian and a senior children’s book club organiser last night (were there any junior people there? No idea), and they’d heard of Threads and were looking forward to reading it. And the Waterstones book buyer was in the middle of it. And the chair of the event was SO NICE about the book that I am now jibbering with terror that book 2 will never be able to live up to expectations.

So I’m in the weird limbo (getting used to limbo) where the book isn’t printed, it isn’t out, there are almost no reviews yet, I have no idea what the general public will think, but people are starting to meet me and go ‘oh yes, you‘. And talking confidently about things that might happen after the book is launched, but probably won’t, which means I have to spend a lot of the conversation going ‘la la la la la not listening don’t believe you’ in my head so I don’t turn into Susan Boyle and end up spending all the royalties on The Priory. Very strange. Easy solution, though. Don’t go to book events. Stay in the library, writing, and keep your head down.

Meanwhile, Threads is gradually becoming an artefact. That is totally thrilling. I love the fact that it’s out of my hands. There is nothing I can do. Nothing I want to do. It’s taking on a life of its own and soon other people will be telling me what it’s about. That’s my name on the cover, just above DAME JACKIE WILSON’S.

Oh. My. God.

*Cover? Jacket? What exactly is it I have? No idea. If there’s a ‘Publishing For Dummies’ book out there, can somebody please let me know?