Things have been overlapping in a strange way and pulling me backwards as this new year launches. About 15 years backwards to be precise. Over the holidays I read Champagne Supernovas by Maureen Callaghan which tells of the simultaneous rises of Kate Moss, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs in the 90s, three hellions overturning the status quo, breaking the rules, electrifying the landscape of fashion.
Would I recommend it? It’s gossipy, gnarly and tabloidy, so if that’s your preferred accompaniment to a pot of earl grey, I am the last to judge. I could barely wait for Amazon Prime to deliver it into my sweating palms.
But I felt a bit icky after.
McQueen and Moss’s stories are the two that resonated with me. I glazed over the Marc Jacobs portions of the book. Maybe his pampered beginnings in life rendered him somehow less of a supernova than the other two? I didn’t delve into the why too deeply.
But my response to the portrayal of the other two was emotional. I took what this writer said personally. You see, when I entered St Martin’s to study my Masters, the shadow of McQueen who had attended a handful of years before still hung over all of us within. He was a living legend who had slunk through the same arctic corridors as we were slinking through, probably talked to the same financial aid officer, placed his scuffed trainer on the same sewing machine pedals, drank milky tea in the same student’s union, filled his lungs with the same decades old nicotine still swirling in the air and stood bravely in the firing line to receive a version of the same insults from the same professors who had helped shape him for the fashion industry as were attempting to shape us. We all felt we knew him. He gave us hope.
Kate Moss arrived in the fashion industry around the time I became a fashion student and has been inspiring me, as well as everyone else, since. She combines the hedonism of my favorite 1920s muses, the debauchery of my beloved 1970s rock music, and the halcyon familiarity of my explorative student years in 90s London in one explosive cauldron. I grew up in the fashion industry with her. Her constant appearance within the pages of magazines helped me find myself as a designer. I never tired of how she looked. In fashion spreads she still becomes everything I want her to be. (For this I’m really glad she rarely speaks as that is not however the voice of what I want her to be…) She makes me dream.
But the McQueen and Moss of the book do not offer hope or dreams. They are portrayed as being entirely without joy, two soulless beings who cannot abide themselves, swollen to bursting point on drink, drugs, sex; a clammy, desperate-eyed, loud-mouthed Augustus Gloop and Violet Beauregard ricocheting off the sticky walls of the chocolate factory with a standing appointment in the bathrooms. Maureen Callaghan makes sure to leave us with nothing to love about either of them. She’s as relentless as a Daily Mail paparazzo determined to find the worst angle in exchange for a lousy payout.
Two secondary figures in the book, both dead, stand out more than the featured ones. They provide the most haunting thought provoking passages of the book: Isabella Blow and Corinne Day. If Callaghan does one thing right, it is that she makes us wonder whether McQueen or Moss would have become who they did if they hadn’t had the support of these two people in their respective careers.
So do I recommend it..?
Well, the writing was of the quality you might find on the Yahoo homepage which I couldn’t overlook. But it was titillating, and although covering material we might already know, when smashed together like that in one sitting, could still deliver renewed punch. I would love to hear your thoughts on it…
But to continue with my impromptu 90s revisit, I’m off to see the Helmut Lang art exhibition just a few blocks away. In my early days, I handed over much of my meagre yet hard-earned salary as a design assistant to the staff in his Milan boutique. His clothes were the last word in millenium cool and now he has shredded his entire fashion archive and turned it into art, thus combining three things close to my heart: vintage Lang, recycling, and taking your career in new unexpected directions.
I’m quite excited that the exhibition will remove the hangover taste in my mouth from the Callaghan book.
I’ll report back.
But in case I couldn’t wait, the internet just served up this and all is categorically well.
Celine has chosen Joan Didion as the face of its new ad campaign. Phoebe Philo has thrown open the shutters of her Paris atelier and announced the coupling of two glittering galaxies: fashion and literature. They’re regular bedfellows round these parts, as you know, but now Phoebe’s on board. Here is a British designer from the generation of Moss and McQueen assuring us there can be a soul to fashion––and intelligence and depth of thought––just in case there was any doubt (take that, Maureen Callaghan!)
And so I am filled with the sense of possibility of a new year, my faith in the joy of creativity has been restored, and I’m overcome with the desire to read A Year of Magical Thinking. Happy Wednesday!
The result of my love for fashion and literature is to be seen in my debut novel, Silk for the Feed Dogs, which is set in the international fashion industry and available to buy here.