The Weasel

While it is hard for me to comment on the front of the designer's creations, my lowly station provided me with an excellent rear view of his models
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The Independent Culture
As a life-long observer of female fashion, I zoomed hot-foot to the West End after mysteriously receiving invitations to four shows taking place in London Fashion Week. My feverish excitement abated somewhat when it became apparent that my first invitation allowed me no further than the foyer of the Royal Opera House. The show, by "new generation designer" Antonio Berardi, was actually taking place upstairs. Since it is obligatory for all such events to start late, the black-clad fashion army passed the time with its own idiosyncratic mode of gossip.

"Sam's really pregnant," announced one blonde lovely to a Jeff Beck look- alike.

"Oo's the dad?" he inquired.

"The guy who has his hair cut like this," the gorgeous creature replied, drawing angular lines around her face with a finger.

At last, the electronic bubbling of synthesizers indicated that the show was about to commence. The sound was accompanied by an unplanned percussion contributed by ticketless fashion fans hammering on the theatre doors. While it is hard for me to comment on the front of Mr Berardi's creations, my lowly station provided me with an excellent rear view of his models expertly negotiating the staircase in towering high heels.

By no means an unendurable experience, this parade of posteriors went as follows: an extremely skinny girl wearing a tiny pleated beige skirt, from which dangled a little tail of the same material; ditto with a small building perched on her head; ditto wearing a wildly flared pink leather jacket with minuscule matching peaked cap; ditto with a completely bare bottom and a long spike growing from her head.

After these delights, I vamoosed to the Natural History Museum, where my other three events were taking place in some ghastly plastic tents. Going by his publicity material ("Fairytales, clockwork toys, mythological creatures are adopted into cyber-culture as antiques of the future") I had high hopes that Owen Gaster's creations would resemble the unlikely life-forms which so enlivened episodes of Dr Who. In fact, they turned out to be not too outre, apart from the odd garment resembling a surgical collar. Unabashed by this high art, a massed bank of photographers noisily represented the male heterosexual viewpoint (a faction which is a rara avis in this milieu). A crop-haired blonde in an asymmetrical skirt - it receded to non-existence at the rear - glared with particular venom at the gibbering gallery of snappers. Something was wrong with my ticket for my third show, "Raw Spirit!" by Maria Grachvogel, so I was made to stand on one side like a naughty schoolboy by a PR woman, who demonstrated her assertiveness in both manner and perfume.

"Tamara, dear, have you a ticket?" she demanded of the ubiquitous Ms Beckwith, who flashed her invite with an icy smile. Eventually, the scented sentinel disappeared on an urgent quest and I was able to wander in. The Grachvogel collection was modelled by astonishing blonde towers. With high heels and hair piled up like candy floss, they must have topped 7ft by several inches.

My final show, "Tailored Holes" by Justin Oh, was the most astonishing of all. Well-scrubbed girls striding in thick-soled flip-flops, displayed clever, comfortable clothes. In the world of fashion, that's really radical.

Though we like to think of ourselves as a wonderfully eccentric nation populated by stubborn individualists, we British are in fact a craven, conformist lot - and, it seems, we're getting worse. According to a recent survey by the slightly oxymoronic British Hospitality Association, increasing numbers of three- and four-star hotels are insisting on dress codes. A few nobby five-star joints tried to give the impression that they were above such vulgar requirements, but my experience suggests that they're just as bad. A shoddy, ill-fitting suit might be greasy with dirt or threadbare with wear, but will still pass muster, while a clean, well-pressed pair of black jeans is quite out of the question. I point this out with some warmth because (you may have guessed) I frequently wear black jeans. While I used to pop into the Savoy Hotel fairly regularly, usually merely to buy a magazine or have a quick drink at the bar, the last time I tried to do so, some top-hatted jobsworth curtly declared: "Sorry, sir, no jeans."

Something similar happened at, of all places, the Reform Club. For years, I had been going to an annual party held by an outside body in this fusty haunt. I can't say for certain, but I think I donned the familiar black jeans on every occasion. One year, however, I was halfway up the stairs, when a frosty-eyed official sneered: "But, sir, you're wearing jeans." I pointed out that my invitation only demanded that "Gentlemen must wear jacket and tie" (which I was), and that it was intolerably rude of them to inflict their dress code on guests of the organisation which was hiring their premises. All to no avail, of course. Nor did I receive much sympathy from my hosts - though they did point out a bit huffily that it cost an additional pounds 26.80 plus VAT to add "no jeans" to the invitation the following year.

It was Thomas Mann who wrote the book, though Visconti's film of Death In Venice firmly cemented the link between morbidity and the watery city. The same elegiac theme was central to Nicholas Roeg's Venetian thriller Don't Look Now, based on a Daphne du Maurier novella. Most recently, a gondola-borne cortege featured in, of all things, a Ford commercial. It should therefore come as no surprise that Venice has become a major centre for tourist suicide. Around 50 sad souls have taken the plunge in the past year, though only 10 per cent of these attempts was successful. While being gratified that so many were recovered, I remain slightly surprised that anyone, whether life-loving or suicidal, survives a dip in the lagoon. Such is the tainted nature of the waters that a single swallow is liable to take you well on the way to the Elysian fields. I discovered this a few years ago when enjoying a bracing out-of-season swim at the Lido. After sneaking on to the private beach of some posh hotel, I struck out in the general direction of Yugoslavia (as was). I'd accomplished no more than a dozen strokes when I heard something of a commotion and saw my few fellow bathers rapidly making for land. Soon afterwards I saw what had promoted their rapid departure - and I was back on the beach myself, pronto. I won't go into details, except it wasn't a shark.

The latest issue of Wired, the bizarre journal aimed at post-literate computer freaks, carries a double-page spread about an electronic gallery created in a 4000-sq metre cavern at Baux- de-Provence. Currently, it is devoted to vast enlargements of the Sistine chapel. Thanks to some fancy-pants techno-wizardry it is now possible to observe "dots around the nose of God" and the fact that "the shoddy letter spacing in Michaelangelo's (sic) text has been corrected by painting over". Wired comments incomprehensibly that this is a "tribute to the lamentable lack of an auto-kern feature in Renaissance frescos". It makes you realise how much finer the artist's ceiling daubs would have been if he'd only had the benefit of computer aided design. Still, he knew how to spell Michelangelo

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