I once thought I would like to wear a graceful chiton draped over one arm and ascend the shining steps to the Parthenon in Athens’ Golden Age. Certainly some of that sentiment has inspired my choice to learn Ancient Greek. However, when I thought a bit more about the role of women at that time I imagined that I might do better nibbling on pastries as I am fitted for wardrobe by Marie-Antoniette’s couturiers – but that time had its problems too. You will note that my historical imaginings are far more concerned with the fashion of the time than any political or intellectual movements. Of course I have always had a thing about Magdalen College, Oxford and could see myself redefining God at the feet of C S Lewis. But these starry-eyed chariot-rides through time and space screeched to a sudden halt when I read P.J. O’Rourke -.
“In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: ‘dentistry'”.
But I have recently been indulging in this daydream again and I have centred on a more recent time – dentistry still wasn’t the best, but who needs teeth when you are super-cool and never smile? That’s it, dear Annabels, I want to groove along the Kings Road, Carnaby Street and Portobello in the 70’s, rocking a Jimi Hendrix style military jacket with striped velvet bell-bottoms. I will wear white knee boots and paint my eyelashes on. I shall tell Twiggy, when I bump into her under the palms at Big Biba that she ought not to change her name; “Lesley” is a beaut name for a model. She will of course do as I suggest. As I give her fashion tips I shall wave to Mick and air-kiss Paul. Peter Gabriel will reference me in his songs. (Note here: If Twiggy had been known as Lesley, it is possible that my mother would have been tired of the name and have named me something else. Time travel can be complicated.)
Why have I been rethinking this difficult matter, with all its practical applications? I am reading “Vivienne Westwood” by the nutter herself and Ian Kelly. Westwood had two small children, a less than helpful partner, a ghastly accent, a somewhat deluded sense of her own moral goodness and, in place of ambition, a need to get on with it. In the absence of a master plan or bank loan she just did stuff. The same thing that impressed me in both “Quant by Quant” and “From A to Biba” is reiterated here – slightly disingenuous though these memoirs may be. None of Mary, Babs or Vivienne began with a clear vision or a business plan. Each had a strong and individual sense of style, boundless self-confidence, a complete lack of self-consciousness and a sewing-machine. Each lived in London at its most perfect; each made a little dress or attached chicken-bones to a tee-shirt and each created, as much as was caught up in, the zeitgeist. All three worked from home or a small shop at first, often broke, often ridiculed, making sometimes less-than-perfect product and each was, within a relatively short time-frame, running an empire.
The paradox is, that in order to make the most of the epoch to which the fashionista has transported herself (or, ok, himself), s/he will need to be able to recall (precall?) this time, the present, the future. If the bender of relativity has total amnesia, or is simply a soul now born in an earlier time due to some sort of mad wish-fulfillment, he or she will be inherently unable to fully appreciate the chosen era. Nor will s/he be able to know how to do that which, in 2015, seems desirable. If I didn’t know what these women did, I would not know that it could be done, would I? Although the pertinacious Annabel will point out that Mary, Vivienne and Babs – who could not possibly have known – did. Do it, that is. Do you see what I mean?
Look where Vivienne is now. So it must be that it is the mindset – not the age in which the mind is set – that matters ( barring Terrors, famines and wars of course).