Falling off the bottom line

E. Jane Dickson enjoys an embroidered tale of fashion and fortune; Fighting Fashion by Helen Storey, Faber, pounds 12.99

In 1995, when the designer Helen Storey sent her models down the catwalk with bare bums, it was the most talked about collection since the legendary Emperor's new look. The international fashion establishment sprayed superlatives. The tabloids couldn't believe their luck. Desmond Morris was wheeled on to explain the cultural relevance of the buttock and John Major made an uncharacteristically cheeky showing in cartoons. Three weeks after her succes de scandale, Storey, hailed on all sides as the decade's most original fashion talent, was on the dole. Fighting Fashion, the designer's autobiographical account of her career, is a commendably dry-eyed analysis of the complicated relationship of rags and riches.

There is a strong sense of release in Fighting Fashion, as if Storey sat down to write one day, just to sort things out in her head, and found herself unable to stop.

Autobiography as therapy is a doleful prospect for the reader, and Storey's reflections on her early life, complete with diligent acknowledgement of best friends from the age of five, are sometimes surplus to requirements. The daughter of the playwright and novelist, David Storey, she conjures up the liberal Bohemia of the 1960s and 70s with the deadpan cool of an unimpressed teenager but the occasional, irresistible flash of remembered excitement, like the day Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the passenger seat of her dad's Mini, breaks through. Hampstead Comprehensive was a daily gauntlet to be run, a place which "smelt of pencil sharpenings and feet", where boys lay in wait to flick at girls' breasts with their rulers, but the nights were for clubbing and roller-skating home from Shagaramas with six hours-worth of make up running down her face and the wind in her dayglo hair was Storey's first intimation of glamour.

Later, as a fashion graduate on work experience with Valentino in Rome, Storey was properly inducted into the mysteries of haute couture and she describes the quasi- mystic processes of the fashion industry with a kind of appalled reverence: "There is a force in fashion, at the very top level, that invents it's own manners, sensitivity, standards and rules. They bear no relation to the real world. Untouched by recession, they went unchallenged."

For Storey, however, the real world would constantly disrupt and indeed define her creativity, and as she acknowledges, "to express an instinct outside the arena of clothes on a catwalk is a dangerous thing, or if not dangerous, then pointless." In the final annus horribilis leading up to insolvency she nursed her husband, the architect Ron Brinkers through a brain tumour; designs for the spring/summer collection were sketched at his bedside: "Having a pen in my hand made me feel normal, but I couldn't relate to the fabrics, I couldn't feel them, and in feeling nothing for them I was aware how numb I was. The barometer of my feelings was registered through a lack of spontaneity to cloth."

It is doubtless the hellishness of the cancer ward, evoked in a chapter that is properly painful to read, that allows Storey to maintain her apparently dispassionate view of her professional nemesis. This is not a woman innured to fashion fever - she can write with absolute unselfconsiousness about her "Journey of challenging the expected use of trims", but she has ultimately succeeded in channelling creative energy into an ably concerted campaign for better "fashion management." In an industry fuelled by outsized egos, she is generously concerned that others should profit from her unfortunate experience. "It should be accepted that designers should not be running the day to day, or for that matter any other area of the business other than design.''

Fighting Fashion is required reading for anyone in, or hoping to enter the fashion industry. As a general interest autobiography it is less appealing. Storey's indiosycratic style can at times verge on the incomprehensible. The assertion that "The word 'remission' does not allow a bare arse to its brickwork" is rather more arresting then enlightening, and there are plenty of these teasers sprinkled through the narrative. Storey's extraordinary artistry is there to see in the beautifully produced photos of the collections, but she is not a writer, and this is not a writer's book. And why should it be? No one ever expected Flaubert to challenge the use of trims.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own