THIS IS THE LIFE

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Indy Lifestyle Online
GPS, it's brilliant man, you should check it out." Daniel Poole is explaining the Global Positioning System. Devised for navigating aircraft and ballistic missiles, it also comes in handy if, like Daniel, you wake up in a nightclub you don't recognise. "It's like a little satellite dish, and you hang it round your neck. Sony gave me one. You punch the numbers in and it sends a signal up to a satellite, and that beams down your location."

Where were you?

"It was Plastic, this disco in Milan. I was with the PR from Paul Smith, I managed to get her tits out on the dancefloor. That was so funny."

Daniel plucks some black gunk from a pocket of his self-designed patchwork coat, rolls it between finger and thumb, and flicks it across the table. He had his Chinchillas with him last night, one in each pocket, and their excrement looks like little balls of hash, a fact he will exploit later, when he hands a piece to a model and says, "Here, roll a joint." He bought the Chinchillas last year, just rang up a pet shop, ordered them on his credit card, and they arrived at his office 30 minutes later. "I said to everybody, `Look, this is really good karma, we gotta look after them, no giving them blow-backs...'" He looks at Raff, who is smiling, but coldly.

"Raff doesn't like this story... Anyway, it's really rare, but they had babies, right, so we had double our Chinchillas, man..."

Raff takes over, mock sermonising, "...and so this was a sign, man, an auspicious omen, a symbol of the future! Four Chinchillas!"

Some days later, Raff arrived at the Soho office carrying a huge pile of Daniel Poole banners and dumped them behind the sofa. When somebody eventually picked them up, they found two dead rodents. "They'd suffocated," says Raff, ruefully. "It was an accident."

"So we..." Daniel trembles with laughter, spilling his pint, "...we called him the Chinchilla killer."

Daniel Poole is the king of techno fashion, a legend on the club scene. Like techno, he's everywhere yet invisible. Like techno, he is brash, uncompromising and not for the faint-hearted. His designs are sparse and utilitarian; workwear given a twist by the use of reflective fabrics, fluorescent colours and industrial graphics; finished with sturdy, no- nonsense details like top-stitching and Velcro fasteners. DP garments are stark and eye-catching, but there is nothing precious about them, which is why young men like them so much. When they're past their shelf- life, they are butch enough for work: they go from club, to pub, to building site.

Go to any techno club anywhere in Europe at 4am, and you'll find hordes of sweat-drenched lads, their eyes on stalks, sporting the DP logo - on the hooded sweatshirts tied round their waists, on baggy pants, nylon jackets and rucksacks. In Germany and the low countries, DP is practically a badge of commitment. It means you're serious about The Life.

And Daniel is their icon. Everything about him is over the top, right down to the way he speaks in capital letters when he's Going Into One about how he loves to get Seriously Outers, man. Like when you've Really Caned It and the whole room starts going Big Time Wibbly Wobbly and you Just Go For It. You know, Major Rock N Roll. And whoever happens to be there, you just Suck Them Into The Madness. Oh, yes, Daniel is living The Life.

Only right now he is looking a little worn. He's hung-over and hassled, his grey eyes are red-rimmed, his goatee beard swamped by three days' stubble. The hair is sticking up in tufts, he looks grubby and sweaty. He's wearing silver rings and bracelets, a reflective waistcoat made of "powdered glass in a plastic film", a navy sweatshirt, black nylon trousers - all his own work - and strange Reebok trainers with heels like cloven hoofs.

His sidekick and former employee, Raff Brodie, 26, is an English eccentric of Dickensian proportions, six feet four inches of swarthy, blue-eyed charm, with a massive head of dreadlocks, tied into a thorny crown. His mellifluous public school tones are littered with black American slang terms. His favourite is "Fuckin' A" - as in "Fuckin' A, nobody's got any spliff". Perhaps it's the upper-crust accent, but it comes out sounding curiously akin to the Wooster-ish exclamation "I say".

Daniel Poole first learned about clothes from his mother, a top-class dressmaker who could take one look at a person, cut straight into the fabric without a pattern, and run up a garment that would fit perfectly: "It's a lost skill. Nobody could do that now." His father, perhaps unsurprisingly, was an assistant chief constable with the Metropolitan Police.

At 14, Daniel was expelled for taking tranquillisers from Downer Grammar in Edgware. He took a Saturday job in Oxford Street, and was soon made a trainee manager by the firm, called Jean Junction - the first chain store to specialise in denim, and, before it crashed, the fashion success of the Seventies. It proved to be a formative experience. Daniel travelled the country, opening a new branch almost every other week. "So it was Rock N Roll, Big Time. Imagine if you're 16 and you've got loads of money, you're in good hotels all the time, out every night, your washing's done, it was great."

At 19, he was smuggling low-grade antiquities out of Egypt and luxury clothes back in. After a few years on the fringes of the rag trade ("making a grand a week, very easy money"), Daniel decided to finish his education. "Everybody thought I was just taking the piss, but I got three A-levels." At 23, he went to Warwick University to do a law degree. "I wanted to go to the Bar, but I was taking too much speed and it really fucked me up a bit. I was just bored, really."

Having graduated, he drifted back into the clothing industry, and with two backers, formed Daniel Poole Ltd. Launched during the economic boom of the mid-Eighties, the company was soon employing 150 people, with its own factory in Ireland, and regular orders for fabric measured in miles. Most of his business was tailored contract stuff for chains like Hennes and Burtons - suits, blazers and trousers, mainly. In 1990, he won a Queen's Award for Export. "Yeah, from Princess Anne and everything. Quite funny, really." But then a series of disasters unfolded. The factory was flooded, ruining stock and causing orders to be cancelled. Another order worth £200,000 was lost thanks to a fabric fault which had been overlooked. A joint business venture with a menswear chain went to the wall. Fifty retail outlets were closed. Daniel lost everything. He was 34.

"So, three years ago, I began again, making my own tea for the first time in years. All the little assistants, gone, man. I had to start right from the beginning. That was Fucking Hardcore, I can tell you." He launched his own clubwear, a street fashion label. His collections had names like Ghetto Couture, World Safety Systems, and Techno Tribal. The new label sold well, business flourished, and things were looking good until late last year, when he realised he'd lost a lot of money again. How? "Just being an arsehole, really, just not getting it together. We didn't concentrate, just, like, Lost The Plot a little bit."

It's 10am and we're sitting in the Shakespeare Ale House in Gatwick's departure lounge, Daniel, Raff and I, with a beautiful Indian model called Mahpiya. Fortunately, our flight is delayed by three hours, because otherwise Daniel and Raff would have missed it, along with tonight's fashion show. Supping on pints of Murphy's, Daniel and Raff warm to their theme, which is always the same - how far is Too Far? And when do we get there?

Including trade shows, factory visits, "sourcing" journeys (in search of new fabrics, techniques and ideas) and events like tonight's, Daniel averages an overseas trip every six weeks. Last year, his itinerary read like a bucket shop's classified ad: Goa, Paris, Cologne, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Montreal, Las Vegas, Miami, Tokyo again, Bali again, Milan, Florence, Rimini, Amsterdam and back to Montreal, with a few Continental club jaunts thrown in for good measure.

It is not uncommon for him to leave a London club at 4am on Saturday morning, take a cab to Heathrow, fly to Frankfurt, go straight to another techno club - Dorian Gray, say, which is conveniently situated under the airport - and stay until it closes at midday. Then it's Chilling Big Time, maybe in Amsterdam, another club, and back to London first thing Monday. If he's Seriously Outers and wakes up and can't remember where he is, there is always the GPS.

But this trip won't be Major Rock N Roll, this will be a breeze, this one. Not like the Berlin Love Parade, where they partied all night then dropped acid as they boarded a flight to Amsterdam, and Raff ended up grooving to the sound of the jet engines, which were making "just the most beautiful music". His tongue was so black from eating hash, says Daniel, that a stewardess thought he'd taken poison.

Not like that New York trip where they ended up in a Mafia club on West 21st Street during a police raid, with guns bristling under their noses. And in the middle of this electric scene, with his hands on his head, Daniel starts singing the chorus of a rap song; "It's getting, it's getting, it's getting kinda heavy", and the gangsters start spluttering and laughing and the cops are going white with rage at these "Limey fucks". Minutes later, being English and more trouble than they're worth, Daniel and Raff are climbing into the stretch limo they'd hired for the night.

Not like Florida Keys last November when, after trashing a speedboat ("Had to pay for a new propeller. Stuck it on the plastic, no problem."), they stopped at a bar on the way back to Miami and ended up snorting tequila. Up their noses, plastic straws, neat tequila.

"That was Fucking Hardcore, man," says Daniel, wincing at the memory. "Straight in the mainframe. Hardcore."

They had driven a couple of miles further when they saw the sign: Skydiving School. "Three hippies and a 1952 Cessna, man. Unbelievable. We went up 10,000 feet in 30 minutes."

"It was the most incredible feeling," says Raff, his expression one of rapture. "And that's what travelling with Daniel is all about. You're chilling in Miami one minute, and jumping out of a plane the next."

In between these bouts of drug-addled Boy's Own bravado, Daniel manages a turnover of "about £3 million", selling mainly in England, America, Canada, Japan, Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy and France. He's just launched a new line, called Sport Technic. Can he describe it? He shrugs, and takes another drag on his Marlboro. "It's all about living The Life, really."

Simona and Ornella met Daniel and Raff at the Miami trade show last year. Two young Italian stylists, they were happy to be Sucked Into The Madness. They have organised tonight's show, including flights and accommodation. All Daniel had to do was turn up with Raff, the clothes and the video. Oh, the video! He knew there was something else. In the end, it doesn't matter. The crowd will be fully distracted: as well as Mahpiya, there are several cute American models flown in from Milan - including Paula Weiss, who appears in little more than pink knickers and a strip of silver tape across her nipples - plus a selection of pierced, shaved and tattooed nightclub habitus from Naples.

By contrast, Fitzcarraldo, tonight's venue, is packed with a predominantly straight, provincial crowd in designer gladrags: Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Versace are conspicuously present and correct. The club is situated on a motorway 35 miles outside Florence, in conservative Tuscany's industrial heartland. Out here, nobody lives The Life. In fact, everyone lives with their parents until they get married.

So, despite being under-rehearsed and somewhat slipshod, the Daniel Poole fashion show, when it stutters into existence around 2am, looks spectacularly exotic, futuristic, sexy and outrageous. Tuscan lads bellow their approval. There is a decadent vibe to the whole thing; it's like a curtain call for some kind of kinky cyberpunk circus. The thought occurs that Daniel Poole is a very strange kind of export. The kind that could only come from England, really.

"Space Transfer. Fucking Hardcore, man, I tell you. We were so out of it. Jumping from one Renault Espace van to another, doing 35, maybe 40 miles an hour, in the middle of Paris, man. Space Transfer. It's true, man. But Raff has done much funnier things than that. Real Big Time Nine- Eleven, man. Life-Threatening stuff, man." We're lying around in Mahpiya's hotel room, drinking beer and smoking joints, while Daniel gives us the dope on Nine-Eleven Party Tricks (911 is the international emergency services telephone number).

"But the funniest thing," says Raff with childlike sincerity, "is that I never mean to do them. It just happens."

A couple of times since we returned to the hotel, Daniel has tried to Suck Us Into The Madness, but we're not having it. As Raff points out later, it's different when Daniel is picking up the tab. You can't say no then, because he's the Boss. But this time, somebody else is paying. Still, Daniel is getting restless.

"You should have been in Tokyo, man," he says, squinting through a cloud of Marlboro smoke. "We got this extinguisher and whacked it, and instead of being CO2 gas, it's white powder man, and it goes everywhere, the whole room is wasted, it just explodes, a layer of ash, like Big Time Vesuvius, man, really scary."

And so on: how they're with this English guy, and he's being horrible to his Japanese girlfriend, so they just Suck Him Into The Madness - booze, drugs and bravado - and carry all his furniture up to the roof of his 29-storey apartment block. "We got the whole panoramic view of Tokyo, looking down on skyscrapers at sunrise, man. So, like, bed, settee, chairs, table, over the edge. He was Seriously Outers, man, and he was thinking it was cool, he was in Pop Video Time, man - yeah, yeah, Pop Video - thinking it was cool, and we're just taking the piss, man. It was so Hardcore, man, I'm telling you. Even the TV went over, man. So funny."

This is The Life that Daniel has lived for more than 20 years, during which he's gone through half-a-dozen windscreens. He's got the scars to prove it. Seriously Outers every time, of course. But that's Daniel. He won't rest until everything is going Big Time Wibbly Wobbly.

Out of the blue he says, "I've had a lot of trouble with police, actually. That's why a lot of our collections are like ambulance, emergency, Nine- Eleven stories." I look over at him. He's staring straight ahead, sucking on a Marlboro, looking half dead: bloodshot eyes, his face a greasy mess, all pink and grey blotches.

I ponder this statement. Is he talking about his father? I'll never know. When I turn back to ask him, he's fast asleep.

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