So began an almost year-long quest for the perfect outfit. Daphne and her husband, Peter, travelled up to London. They were guests of Christian Lacroix at the opening of his Bond Street store. They met, and were charmed by Roberto Devorik, who looks after Lacroix's business in the UK; and then, oh joy, they met the couturier himself.
Daphne was amazed that Christian Lacroix was neither haut nor grand, but instead charming, kind and concerned that her dream outfit be cut as she would like it and of cloth that she would adore. He took time out to discuss form and function and to agree with Daphne that a trouser suit which she could actually wear could be every bit as dreamy as a ballgown.
She told me later that she wanted something she could wear in her real life, not some dream life (which, unfortunately, the Independent could not provide to go with the outfit). She told me that as she lives in a small house, she wanted something that would fit in the wardrobe and allow the door to close.
Next came the sketches, which were works of art in themselves. A slim- to-the-waist jacket with jaunty, theatrical cuffs was suggested. Swatches of black wool (each infinitesimally different) were attached for the approval of Christian Lacroix's newest couture customer. Should the waistcoat be gold or matching black? Should the pockets be opulently embroidered or chic and plain? These were new quandaries that concerned Daphne Priestley, who had never had to ponder such choices before.
The next stage was rather unexpected. Would Mr and Mrs Priestley like to be guests of Christian Lacroix at his summer haute couture show? Indeed they would.
And so Mr and Mrs Priestley got their first experience of the Channel tunnel and a fashion show (complete with supermodels Karen Mulder and Nadja Auermann willingly posing with them). They stayed not in the Ritz or the Meurice, with the rest of the haute couture customers, but in the Independent fashion department's much-loved old hotel, where they never bat an eyelid when we run photographic wire machine cables down the centre stairwell or process catwalk photographs in the bidet.
Show time is a tense time, as Daphne quickly realised. There was copy to file, pictures to ping electronically back to Canary Wharf and illustrations to be slaved over into the small hours. Daphne Priestley became our voice of reason, our mother confessor. Boy, did our winner earn her keep.
On the hottest day of a boiling hot Paris summer, Daphne had her first fitting (her measurements had been taken in London), when a toile of calico was pinned and tucked and ripped and pinned again.
Madame Evelyne, the chef d'atelier at Lacroix, worked with deft fingers to shift and fit the jacket and to make the trousers sit just so. Meanwhile, Marie Seznec, the impeccably chic former model who runs the Haute Couture Salon, debated with Daphne as to the perfect colour for the matching waistcoat.
Could Madame Priestley travel to Paris for a further fitting? A plain trouser suit, you see, needs even more careful adjustments than a ballgown. We took the early train, just Daphne and I this time, and talked about fashion - and fashion gossip - all the way there.
We were accompanied by a huge suitcase - clothes going out to a photographer in Paris for a shoot, which we had to deliver to a fifth-floor apartment with no lift. Despite being dressed up in her finest for her haute couture appointment, Daphne flexed her muscles and shouldered half the load.
We all thought that lilac was the best idea for the waistcoat, particularly with Daphne's silver hair, and that the trousers were very flattering, slimming inches off her already slender figure. And Daphne and I thought the jacket, with its high flying cuffs, was sensational.
But Madame Evelyne did not agree. As Daphne enjoyed her own reflection in the most flattering outfit she had ever tried on in her life, Madame Evelyne suddenly lunged forward and ripped a sleeve clean out of it.
It was nearly perfect. But not perfect. And perfect is what haute couture is all about.
Afterwards, we went for hot chocolate at Angelina's, the lovely old coffee house on the Rue de Rivoli. We chatted and laughed and ordered another hot chocolate (heck, the fittings were over for the day and Daphne could breathe out).
We sauntered into the street to grab a cab. We waited, we waited. And we waited until I was getting edgy about missing the train. We found a bus stop. As our bus lurched through the horrendous Paris traffic, I had one eye on Daphne's watch; 7.45pm and the train left at 8.13pm.
"I'll have to phone Peter and tell him I'll be on the later train," said Daphne, chin up and hoping to head off her husband, who was driving up to Waterloo to meet her.
"Daphne, there is no later train," I mumbled.
We got to the Gare du Nord bus depot at 8.07pm. "Don't you just love being in control!" laughed Daphne as she leapt off the bus and - despite being in her best high heels and a jolly short skirt - she sprinted off and up the stairs to the Eurostar and made the train.
Then came the strikes. Paris was at a standstill and one gorgeous outfit destined for Maidstone was stuck somewhere within it.
We waited and we waited - then, suddenly, Paris cleared enough for one distinctive hot pink package to find a route out. It arrived on the fashion desk swathed in gold ribbon. Daphne and Peter raced up the motorway and arrived not long after it. The fit was everything one would expect of haute couture.
"We'll keep your measurements for when you come back," Madame Evelyne had told Daphne, and we had all laughed at the notion that any of us would ever be couture customers paying out of our own pockets. Then Daphne saw herself in the mirror and the rest of us saw Daphne.
Suddenly, what had seemed like the most joyously ridiculous prize started looking like the most sensible outfit on earth. "If I only bought one outfit every five years and nothing but knickers in between ..."
We all started to calculate what we would have to do to afford an outfit that made each of us look this good. For, in her made-to-measure suit by Christian Lacroix, Daphne Priestley looks like the proverbial million dollars in something that, after all, cost only pounds 10,000.
When you fall in love with it, haute couture starts looking like a bargain.
The Independent would like to thank Christian Lacroix for making all of us who were involved with this competition feel absolutely like the bee's knees and for making our winner look like the cat who got the cream.Reuse content