Fashion: Off the peg: A new diary every season? Yes, darling, as long as it's a Smythson
Saturday 22 August 1998
play product poker on the front row at the catwalk shows? It is a no-cards-necessary duel. Grande Dame X perches on her gilded seat shrouded in a charcoal grey pashmina shawl. Grande Dame Y perches next to her and casually fingers her shahtoosh stole. Made from the soft underbelly fur of Tibetan antelopes, shahtoosh is expensive and - unlike pashmina - illegal. Game on.
Madame X pulls a silver Mont Blanc pen from her black leather Dunhill clutch bag. With a sly sideways glance, Madame Y "accidentally" drops a pair of sterling silver Gucci handcuffs from her Prada purse. With a flourish, Madame X takes out her Smythson baby-pink glove-leather notebook. Game to Madame X.
Smythson's pink leather notebook, embossed with the legend "Think Pink", is as rare as a Tibetan antelope's tummy and just as silky smooth. It was the key piece in Smythson's spring/summer stationery collection and fashion editors would give the blood of their first-born to possess one.
The fact that Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, photographer Mario Testino and designer Antonio Berardi are Smythson devotees is not in itself particularly mind-blowing unless, of course, you're a fashion editor. Smythson is significant because it has successfully given a Nineties face-lift to a brand born in 1887. Smythson has a fistful of Royal warrants and could list Grace Kelly, Sigmund Freud and Cecil Beaton as illustrious past customers. But what it couldn't do was entice the new generation - until creative director Samantha Cameron decided to "Think Pink".
You'd think our race towards the millennium with e-mail and the Internet would have killed the bespoke stationery business. "Quite the opposite," says Cameron. "Writing letters and sending invitations has become a luxury and luxury is a key word in fashion. I've noticed people want more ostentatious invitations, diaries and stationery. Pieces must reflect their personality and their times."
"Think Pink" (pounds 25) and the Smythson fashion diary are just the beginning in Smythson's hip replacement (bear in mind this store still sells "Game Books" and "Opera Diaries"). Cameron's genius is in preserving the Smythson charm while subtly paring down the classic products to appeal to modernists. So, gradually, the oxblood leather desk sets give way to pieces such as Cameron's minimal camel-coloured leather secretaire which would segue effortlessly into a Wallpaper room set.
For autumn/winter '98, Cameron has produced a limited edition box (pounds 19) of correspondence cards and envelopes in the season's signature dove-grey. Each card has a peacock feather attached. Smythson also has a bespoke service and can produce the fashion diary in any colour you desire. One eccentric Smythson client orders the season's new colour stationery and then demands the tissue lining in the envelopes and borders of letter paper match the colour of her lipstick. Now that's product poker. James Sherwood
Smythson of Bond Street, 40 New Bond Street, London W1, enquiries 0171- 629 8558.
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