When a geek goes to Fashion Week

In case you missed it when it was in t’paper…

before‘My first thought on hearing that ES [The Evening Standard’s glossy magazine] wanted to send me to London Fashion Week to lose my fashion-show virginity was glee. As a curator at London’s Historic Royal Palaces, I look after a vast collection of gowns, and BBC Four has just commissioned me to make a programme about it. It seemed the perfect opportunity for research. My second was that I’d better phone my mum.

‘I need to cancel our date this weekend,’ I said. ‘I’ve got to go to some fashion shows!’

‘That’s a waste of time,’ was her answer. ‘Fashion people are all crazy.’

I told her about the £26 billion that the fashion industry contributes to the economy — not least the 30,000 espressos drunk annually during London Fashion Week — but I was a little downcast. My mum is usually annoyingly right about things.

On Saturday, the first question was what to wear. Luckily, I have a hat decorated with

Afterpheasant feathers, and when I wear it to my office at Kensington Palace my colleagues point and laugh. Maybe this was just the occasion to get it out. Maybe fashion people would turn out to be My People after all.

I set off for my very first show, that of JW Anderson. I’m sorry to say that I had not heard of Mr Anderson, and was hampered in my research by his website having crashed. Luckily, I knew exactly where his venue was — just by the big Waitrose in Bloomsbury where I often do my weekly shop. My Fashion Week experience therefore began on the No 45 bus. So far it was indistinguishable from a trip to the supermarket.

The venue became even more obvious because of the traffic jam outside, including several VIP Mercedes. One of their drivers amused me by gobbling a doner kebab and swilling Lucozade as he waited. There were crowds of strangely dressed people, many of them in culottes, fur coats and those odd Japanese platform sandals, taking pictures of each other, and a big jolly bouncer who let me in. Inside, a scary-looking lady with a clipboard, stilettos and unseasonably bare legs showed me where to sit.

I found my seat on a narrow bench. We were packed in haunch to haunch under hot bright lights, and I began to wonder where the fire escapes were. I nevertheless felt rather smug to discover myself seated among lots of proper fashion journalists, including the influential fashion blogger Susie Bubble. One geek knows another, even in different fields, and we greeted each other warmly.

I asked Susie for advice on what to bring to a fashion show, and she showed me: two telephones, a camera on a rope (so as not to lose it) and no umbrella (it would definitely get lost). Next to Susie sat a young man in a blue satin suit and a furry hat, and next to him sat veteran fashionista Hilary Alexander of The Daily Telegraph. I was pleased to notice that she, too, was following the animal-headgear trend. I think hers was a raccoon.

Suddenly, on the very dot of four, loud and anguished string music began, and a tiny twig of a girl dressed in an oversized corduroy space suit (below right) marched in. She was followed by a very similar girl in a ragged scrap of fleece blanket. Both wore expressions of grim misery. When the music dipped, I could hear waves of gentle shutter clicks from the camera pen, a sound like pixies clapping. I was quite shocked by how thin the models were. Their skinny ankles in their clumping shoes looked so pallid and fragile they made me want to weep. If that was Mr Anderson’s intention, I cannot applaud it. At the end he himself appeared, at a jog, also looking deeply unhappy. There was a smattering of clapping, but not much because most people were too busy Instagramming.

By 4.18pm, it was all over. I asked a more experienced fashion journalist, David Hayes of the Financial Times (and formerly of this chapel), for a verdict. ‘Very trendy,’ he said, ‘but possibly the Emperor’s New Clothes. Nobody knows what to think.’ As I left I noticed a forgotten umbrella under the bench.

Julien MacDonaldThe second show was much more what I was expecting. Held in the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, our host was the king of sequins, Julien Macdonald. He entered my consciousness in about 2001 for his tight bright dresses worn by the likes of Geri Halliwell. My invitation said cocktails at 7pm, but I was still in the queue for the bag search at 8pm, all to the thumping accompaniment of Kylie Minogue. I was intrigued by the hierarchies: celebs were whisked in, mere mortals had to queue. It was like being at the court of Louis XIV.

I had a standing-only ticket, but I muscled my way to a vacant seat next to Woman’s Hour’s Jenni Murray. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ I asked her. ‘Writing an article called “What on earth am I doing here?’’ ’ she answered somewhat grimly. We sat there like two feminist bad fairies as the glamorous but gloomy-faced company assembled. Jenni pointed out Abbey Clancy on the front row opposite us, and we agreed that while the dresses were really pretty, the girls were far too thin. The dresses were like those that ballroom dancers wear, mainly nude mesh with handfuls of sequins strategically scattered across them.

‘Ooh, a little wobble there,’ I whispered, as yet another wraith pirouetted before us.

‘Inevitably, in those ridiculous shoes,’ was Ms Murray’s reply.

At the end Mr Macdonald came skipping forwards, smiling and tangerine, dressed all in black, to receive his applause. I don’t think that we were quite the target audience, but his was much more my idea of a fashion show, with crashes and booms and lights and high-octane glamour. And yet it still seemed to me to be a fairly joyless occasion. At least Mr Macdonald had grinned, and I did like his dresses.

The next day we headed to Fashion Week Central, the courtyard of Somerset House, for me to have my picture taken. I was by now unsurprised to see that it was packed with people photographing each other’s shoes. A young man approached, saying, ‘Mind if I take your photo, ladies?’ It turned out, though, that he wasn’t addressing me. He’d got his sights set on Jenny, my stylist for the day.

Determined to get my revenge, I swiped a pair of Prada sunglasses and a white satin Antonio Berardi swing coat from Jenny’s rail and started pulling ridiculous poses. I am told my new blunt fringe makes me look like ‘a young Anna Wintour’. Within 30 seconds, 30 cameras were trained upon me, and people started asking me to ‘talk them through my outfit’. It was all very silly and enjoyable.

TemperleyThen it was off to The Savoy for the Temperley London show — sorry, ‘presentation’ seems to be the correct word. It was in a lovely ballroom, the music was relaxing, I was given some coconut water, and generally it all seemed to be my sort of thing. The celebrities here were rather up-market, too, including Joely Richardson and other English roses with straggly blonde hair.

When the dresses appeared, I seemed, miraculously, over three shows, to have got over the extreme thinness of the models and hardly noticed it. I believe that true fashion-istas might find Temperley a bit bland and bourgeois, but I spotted several outfits that I actively coveted: a beautiful blue silk dress with lace panels, and a posh-looking pashmina embroidered with cerulean Persian cornflowers. The beautiful, detailed, rainbow-hued embroidery reminded me of the 18th-century court dress that’s a highlight of our own collection. You even find it on gentlemen’s waistcoats for court wear. I actually began to relax and enjoy myself.

At the end I stayed in my seat while the crush subsided, and a nice American woman tried to sell me a handbag. I explained, as kindly as I could, that she was wasting her time.

‘Can I ask you an embarrassing question?’ she said confidentially. ‘Who is that woman over there in the black dress?’

I told her I didn’t know, but I wasn’t in any way embarrassed.

Regretfully, I have to conclude that Fashion People may not be My People after all.

18 thoughts on “When a geek goes to Fashion Week

  1. Pingback: When a geek goes to Fashion Week | Lucy Worsley...

  2. Jerry W

    Whatever you may be Lucy you are *not* a geek. Geeks are spotty, and shun the daylight.
    “Elegant historian of note, with head screwed on right” might be more apposite.
    Fashionistas are *so* 1980s

  3. Bob Pi

    You always look good and definitely not geekish. Who said brains and good looks don’t go together!

  4. Susan

    Lucy, you have wonderful dress sense, and your clothes that you wear on your programs are gorgeous.

  5. Dee

    Hello Lucy. It seems your readers are behind the times. Geeks are cool. Prof. Brian Cox. Dr Ben Goldacre. Dr Who. Dr Lucy Worsley. Need I say more.
    Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.

  6. Colin

    Lucy, we love you just the way you are. A new hair style is enough for one year.

  7. Harry Chong

    Were you the only doctor there? Or do you estimate the concentration of doctors at fashion shows are quite high?

  8. david white

    isn’t it so that this is the way of court in days gone by, where not folks squeezed into impossible clothing , parading themselves with impunity much like these days. looking as frail and submissive as possible, methinks that nothing has changed

  9. Alice Toby-Brant

    Interesting. Is it assumed those in the fashion industry aren’t educated? And if so what does it matter. Can’t we accepted we have diffrent interests? I really enjoyed this article as ‘normal’ person’s perspective of a somewhat out there but fabulous event.

  10. Alice Toby-Brant

    And yes I know there is another e in different…

  11. David Kerr

    A very enjoyable blog. I’m looking forward to your appearance on the National Archives catwalk in June.

  12. Paul Plimmer


  13. Angela

    Not terribly interested in fashion personally although I love the sleek lines of 1920s and 1930s clothing along with art and ceramics from that era. What I find most annoying today is the shoes that women wear especially when you see TV presenters having to help women guests on their shows up and down steps because they can’t walk in 6 inch heels. Do you think if someone suggested bringing foot-binding back into fashion, it might catch on?!!

  14. Cheryl J.

    Lucy, I want to thank you for the way you dress. It’s exquisitely tasteful without being showy in itself, and, by that, provides just the background needed to set you off at your best. I am glad to see a notable person refusing to bare leg, midriff and cleavage, just to satisfy the latest deplorable rage. Also sleeves! I wondered if dresses were even made with sleeves any more; I find it almost impossible to find them unless what’s put on the sleeves is taken from the hemline.

  15. Philippa

    I *love* this. I would rather like to see your pheasant-feathered hat, though.

  16. Jay

    Love the ‘absolutely just right’ look achieved with all the dresses and coats worn in the television programmes. (And the just right hair styles). Highly styled simplicity which few TV presenters attain. A joy. *Enhancing*, not obscuring the wearer. The materials and colours are superb. (Tiny quibble. One or two dresses in The Georgians, worn so high above the knee, seemed to tilt the overall effect a little off kilter. I’m a huge fan of your regular stylish on-screen elegance, although change is always interesting).

  17. Venetia Ross Skinner

    I am afraid I don’t know the date of your article on the BBC series If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home. So good but one little error could have serious consequences which is that copper pans are never lined with lead which is poisonous but with tin which is perfectly safe for cooking. I do hope you don’t mind if I point this out
    Venetia Ross Skinner

  18. Harry Wright

    Lucy, apart from your amazing knowledge of so many things, what sets you apart is your ability to captivate an audience, a feat achieved by your talent for communicating an academic subject in a non-academic way. Throw in your wonderful personality and your “easy on the eye-ness” and you have virtual perfection.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *