Vogue was running a feature on ‘real’ women which apparently includes me. I am relieved that being real doesn’t require an interest in fashion.
The Fitting: This is a job in itself. It takes place in a room the size of a barn with rack after rack of dresses, skirts, coats, tops and bottoms, stretching into the distance. Between the racks stands a table the size of a football pitch. The table is awash with colour and sparkle; every centimetre covered with costume jewellery; an Aladdin’s cave of bling.
I strip to underwear and stand on a small mat in front of a large mirror. So many combinations are tried. Trousers and suits, Laura Ashley-type floral, hippy tie-dye, tailored wool, cashmere, tweed…..
‘Don’t model,’ the fitter says. ‘Just stand there.’
I just stand there. I am told to move this way, and that. I try to sneak a glance in the mirror behind me.
Then the shoes. Why were heels invented? Supposedly to improve the look of women’s calves. I find my balance and attempt a few steps in each direction. I wish I were wearing Dr Scholl’s. The jewellery – pendants that look like rocks dredged up from a river bed. Earrings with butterfly fasteners so heavy that I fear they will stretch my ears down to my shoulder blades.
THE SHOOT: I am driven to Gunnersbury Park, Acton. I assume that it has been chosen because, as opposed to Kensington Gardens or Regent’s Park, Gunnersbury Park is ‘Real’.
The house once belonged to the Rothschilds and its wings stretch away into the distance each side of a pillared portico. The last time I saw it, I was with my grandchildren and the house was council offices, all ochre and green paint and scuffed walls and lino floors with the threads showing where people had kicked their heels waiting for to be seen. Now it is curated and cared for; painted, polished and scrubbed.
The fitting room had been replicated in a long gallery. We real women sit in uncomfortable chairs along the wall while time ticks slowly by. A young Asian girl in a ruffled satin frock appears. She had been there since 5.30 am and now, at 11.30 was finished. ‘I had to climb a tree’ she said, pointing to her slender, towering heels.
I thought, I’m not young; I will be posed elegantly against the base of a venerable tree.
My hair was done. My minimal make-up. More time passed as I waited for the appearance of either the ‘Laura Ashley’ (floral and long) or the ‘Hippy’ (tiered and long); these are my current styles of choice, which I have worn since the death of hot-pants and mini-skirts.
When my garment arrived it was not long and floppy, but structured; a sculpted copper-coloured tunic with a faint sheen, over trousers. At first I thought they had given me the wrong outfit then I was glad. Who doesn’t want to be cast against type?
A little procession of us walked out of the house. The June sunshine had filled the park with people; families with children, with push chairs, with dogs. We stopped by a pond, with a path around it and then a lawn falling away. Little boys flew kites, little girls screamed as they slid down the slope. Parents struggled to keep up, running behind the push chairs, all willy nilly in the breeze and the sunlight.
I stood on the path beside the pond and slope while the photographer and his team were crouched on the slope beyond the lip of the path, like a pride of lions watching their prey. I waited for instructions.
‘What kind of music do you like?’ he asked.
‘Early Elvis’ I said, without thinking.
Hound dog blasted out into the soft English air. So I danced, and danced in the crippling pinch-toed, heeled, shoes. I danced and jumped and stretched and leapt and knelt. And danced and jumped while That’s All Right Mama and Tutti Frutti and Money Honey sang out over a West London park.