Only fashion comes between me and my Calvins

I'll go to a second-hand clothes shop and rummage for a cardigan but that's the extent of my interest
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The Independent Online

What used to be called the Duke of York Barracks up the road, once the headquarters of the local Territorial Army, has recently been turned into an upmarket shopping precinct. Some might say that Chelsea needs another upmarket shopping precinct as much as the proverbial fish, as Ned Kelly might have put it, needs an adjectival bicycle. But I am not an important urban planner, however; I am merely a lowly local resident whose views count for next to nothing.

In the old days when the Territorial Army used the place for big boys' games, the officers' mess was occasionally rented out for functions. One year the British Cheese Awards were held there and for some unaccountable reason I was asked to judge the mature sheep's cheese category. Now I probably know as much about mature sheep's cheese as Jordan knows about astrophysics but I'm game for most things, especially where food is concerned.

By an extraordinary coincidence, that was the same year that a friend of mine who started out as a rock drummer and turned to cheese-making only in his 40s, won the Best in Show Supreme Championship, the Big Cheese award, for his delicious little goat's cheese buttons. When he went up to get his award he told the audience that it had always been his farming philosophy that contented goats make perfect cheese. When I later went to see his goats lolling about in an airy straw-filled barn listening to Classic FM, I reckoned he had a point.

That was years ago. The Duke of York's is now famous as the venue for London Fashion Week, which starts on Monday. In huge marquees on the same space where the short-back-and-sides TA boys spent hours square-bashing, all next week tall young women with the minimum of flesh on their backs, their thighs and indeed on everywhere else will be strutting their stuff on the catwalk, showing off outrageously extravagant clothes that no one I know has the money, the figure or the inclination to wear.

This, as you will have guessed by now, is the jaundiced view of someone who hasn't bought what my friend Melissa calls "an outfit" for yonks. I don't do fashion. I occasionally potter down to a posh second-hand clothes shop called Sign of the Times and rummage around for a cardigan, but that's about the extent of my interest in clothes. Melissa, on the other hand, has to look good because she is the big cheese of a successful model agency whose eminently photogenic clients stare out from the covers of glossy magazines and march up and down international catwalks.

Wasn't London Fashion week a bit of a non-event these days, I asked her, with John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Katharine Hamnett and other British designers all working for Dior, Yves St Laurent and Calvin Klein and sidelining London for Paris and New York? And how many ordinary people bought their stuff anyway?

With the patience of a teacher explaining ablative absolutes to a moron, Melissa filled me in on the nuts and bolts of the fashion industry.

Calvin Klein doesn't make his millions, she said, from what Kate Moss wears in the Paris shows. He makes them from underpants and glasses. Every rude boy in south London can afford a pair of Calvin Klein boxer shorts at £19.99 designed specifically so that the label shows above the waistline of low-slung jeans. And girls who couldn't afford to spend £1,000 on a Gucci skirt can easily fork out 30 quid for a pair of spectacles that aren't so very different to the ones you can get in Boots.

As for this year's fashions, advised Melissa, it was romantic and wrap-around and pretty colours like pink and orange, though, having said that, she had just bought a black and white Paul Smith skirt for £800.

"Eight hundred pounds!" I squealed,

"I know, dead cheap, but it was in a sale," said Melissa, "It should have been £3,000 but you know, too, it's worth buying something decent occasionally."

Of course it is, and if I do it will be a beaded jacket by a young Indian designer called Ashish who is as beautiful as the clothes he will be unveiling in his very first fashion show next Monday. I had a sneak preview of his collection which is glamorous and wacky, all hand-embroidered stars and spangles on thick soft crochet which reminded me just a little of the bed-jackets granny used to wear.

Ashish's collection was hanging on rails in the showroom of a young fashion entrepreneur called Obi next to a rail full of jeans.

"Good heavens, are jeans still high fashion?" I asked Obi.

These were, said Obi. They were specially soaked in enzymes which ate through the fabric to give it that unique distressed look. Moth, I find, gives practically the same result.