Fashion: Tibet-a-porter: a fashion fantasy

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Buddhism has been the faith choice of the fashionable ever since Lynne Franks first learnt to chant. But this year has seen it move ever closer to fashion's centre stage, with the success - among fashion folk at least - of Bertolucci's Little Buddha and Jean Paul Gaultier's 'Street tribes go Buddhist' summer fashion collection.

But where to wear all that saffron? French fashion followers, who spend 11 months of the year beating a path to Chanel, have found a solution: the soignees and spiritual are spending the traditional August vacances beating a path to enlightenment. The place to be right now is the Karma Ling settlement in the French Alps. Lee Tulloch (the only fashion follower left in Paris in August) imagines the scene

The entrance boasts a discreet sign: 'Richard Gere Meditated Here'. 'Pack saffron' was the note that the photographer Ellen von Unwerth left stuck to Anna Wintour's steel desk in the American Vogue offices back in New York. Following her acclaimed spread of Amish fashion in Vogue last year, Ellen has just spent a week photographing Cindy and Richard intertwined on the tatami mats and thus knows the form.

'You know, I think Calvin should start using some of those monks in his advertising. They've got bald heads - and they're really real, you know,' Ellen tells Kelly Klein at the launch of hubby's new fragrance, Karma. ('It's the spirit of the Nineties,' Calvin is overheard telling a reporter from W. 'I had 60 copywriters working on the name for six months.')

Anna has had Gianni Versace run up a few hundred stoles in varying shades of orange and crimson and has had them packed - along with Manolo Blahnik buffalo-hide sandals - in hand-stitched carpet bags. Thus suitably spiritual, she arrives at the monastery and steps out of her limo on to a red carpet showered with apricot rose petals and lined by dozens of robed monks reverently bowing: 'Make a note,' she fires at an attendant secretary. 'Give this place a plug in our Spa Special.'

Meanwhile, in a bare cell, Gianni is trying to calm Karl Lagerfeld. Dragged from an overstuffed, lilac 18th-century chair in his overfragrant, lilac 18th-century drawing room, where he has been sketching for his new collection, Karl is not impressed with the austere environment.

'This I cannot do]' Karl splutters as he paces. 'How can I do the sensuality, the street, the Nineties in this prison] I need people, texture, gilt furniture, oil paintings - preferably rare - I need Mozart, champagne, dancing boys, rotting fruit and silk hat boxes to the ceiling]'

'What you need, honeychile,' interrupts Andre Leon Talley, creative director of American Vogue, 'is a good mantra to tingle those lips. Mmemememememem . . . .'

In her cell, Suzy Menkes sits cross-legged on a cot, removes her Yves Saint Laurent gilt necklace, her Christian Lacroix ear-rings, her Chanel bangles spelling Suzy, Coco, Karl . . . unpins her quiff and chants her mantra with utmost seriousness. In the next cell, Steven Meisel, traumatised without his hat, is having a hair crisis and won't come out of his room. Christy Turlington gets her nose chain stuck in her eyelash curler. Giorgio Armani is busy redecorating his bare cell so that it is more minimal. But somehow, by the end of the day, they all manage to meet over dried fish in the refectory.

Grace Coddington, fashion director of American Vogue, who has finally achieved Fashion Stylist Godhead, sits at the head of the refectory table, draped in a saffron silk, her hair and eyebrows shaved, looking upon the assembly with unblinking tranquility. She slowly raises her hands and opens the palms outwards toward her congregation: they have been tattooed with little images of the Buddha. She begins speaking in a low, uninflected drone.

'Soon my time will be past . . . .' Her Grace's voice is sombre. 'I will have reached nirvana and it will be time for my spirit to find a new home . . . .'

Anna Wintour's face muscles barely move but she manages to ask, quite sharply, 'This is not going to happen before the next Collections issue, I hope, Grace?'

'It will happen to all of us eventually,' intones Her Grace. 'Not to me,' boasts Steven Meisel whose make-up is suitably saffron. 'Nuts to that,' squawks Donna Karan. 'DKFU, Grace]'

'Colleagues, pul-ease]' Her Grace raises her voice and startles everyone into silence. 'What I say is true. It is Dharma. We live, we die, we relive. We do the Seventies, we do the Eighties, we do the Seventies again.

'There is Lauren Hutton, there is Christy Turlington, there is Kate Moss, there is Lauren Hutton again. Our skirts are short and then they are long, and then there are flared pants and then our skirts are short again. It is special unfolding of our lives, this life and death. As inescapable as destiny] It will be over soon for all of us. Gianni, Gianfranco, Christian, Karl . . . .'

'No, no, no. I'm having none of this,' Karl flutters his fan. 'One bad collection of gonks on acid and you bury me]'

'I just 'ad an awful thought]' Jean Paul Gaultier giggles in John Galliano's ear. 'What if I come back as Madonna?'

'You could do worse,' replies Galliano drily. 'You could come back as Donatella Versace]'

They both burst into shrieks of laughter.

Her Grace breathes in deeply, eyes closed, and arranges her fingers to form a circle. The assembled group falls silent. 'We are here,' she says eventually, 'to find the new Fashion Lama. I have consulted the oracle and there is momentous news. The spirit of Coco Chanel has been reincarnated]' There are gasps from the crowd. 'Oh, dat is stoopid,' Karl huffs. 'Coco Chanel has not died] She is alive in my genius. She is alive in my Wonderbra bustiers. She is alive in the fragrance Coco. Have you seen the television commercials? Fabulous, eh?'

'I've got news for you and for your marketing people,' Her Grace imperceptibly shifts her focus to Karl. 'She has been reborn and we must find the child. Find the child or there will be no more fashion - only repetition, nothing new. The oracle sees all.'

There is immediate uproar. 'You mean, we won't have to do next spring/summer?' asks Claude Montana, open-mouthed. 'No more fashion shows to cover?' trembles Suzy Menkes, and her portable computer screen fizzles. 'No more models to re-photograph?' wails Steven Meisel. 'No more dead pheasants as hats on the head?' asks Anna Piaggi.

'No more taping shoe soles]' whispers a lowly assistant who is there to carry Liz Tilberis's Prada backpack. 'No more John Fairchild]' says Giorgio Armani, quietly. They all look at him. 'Can't be too bad then, can it?' smirks Vivienne Westwood.

Somewhere in the kingdom of man, the soul of Coco Chanel waits impatiently for its tiny host to grow up and Come Up With Something New In Fashion.

'What does Sanskrit look like?' Jean Paul asks Thierry Mugler. 'I think it would be great on Lycra disco pants, non?'

(Photographs omitted)

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